Leadership magazine Sept/Oct 2018 V48 No. 1 - Page 24

Five Essential Elements to Avoid Chaos News travels fast and school leaders often struggle to keep up, especially when there is a crisis. The old way of having 30-60 minutes to gather details and distribute information is extinct thanks to social media. You only have seconds to respond and in the absence of answers, people often come to their own conclusions. And those conclusions can create panic and chaos. For too long, school leaders have positioned themselves as defensive com- municators. Instead of guiding the story, school leaders are forced to back peddle, answering myriad questions without any strategic purpose. During crisis when the stakes are higher, this defensive mindset is the difference between calm and catastrophe. Strategic thinking and contingency tactics will help you navigate through crisis. But the art of winning the crisis communications battle begins by delivering the Five Essential Elements to Avoid Chaos. District leaders should adhere to the following sequence: 1. WELL-BEING: It’s important to remember the primary goal of the district: provide a healthy and safe environment for the students, staff and teachers. Your first state- ment should be similar to this: “The first priority of the Anytown, USA Unified School District is to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for all of the students, staff and teachers.” 2. WHAT HAPPENED: Less is more in this category. If you have 5 pieces of information, give your listeners 3. If you have 3, give them 2. The strategy here is to keep the crisis moving and have more information during your next communication. Having 1-2 details in your pocket allows you to drive the messaging. 3. YOUR ACTIONS: What did you, the district and/or law enforcement do. 4. THE NEXT STEPS: What has the district planned to support the students, staff and teachers. 5. WELL-BEING: It’s tough to say, but in the case of crisis, listeners don’t care about you. They only care about the students, staff and teachers on campus. Make sure to remind your listeners of your district’s primary goal and the condition of those students, staff and teachers. Naj Alikhan is ACSA’s Senior Director of Marketing and Communications. Before joining ACSA, he spent 8 years as a news reporter and anchor with CBS and NBC News focusing on crime and breaking news. 24 Leadership incident is being handled appropriately. OMSD has protocols in place that safely deploy district administrators to school sites immediately to support the school. Any- time there is a threat or perceived threat, district administrators go to the school site and help assess the situation and sup- port the steps that need to be taken. Addi- tionally, the district has also provided each classroom with food and water in the event of a prolonged lock down. This would allow students to stay in class and not worry about having food or water. 5. Planning ahead The truth is that no one is fully prepared for every situation that can happen, but planning and practicing will help you make better decisions in an emergency. Staying abreast of the best research will help schools modify the way they choose to evacuate and deal with emergencies. In OMSD, planning and preparing also built confidence with the staff. This includes going to active shooter training and making sure all administrators have a plan of action for these matters. This fall all schools will have additional active shooter training in conjunction with local law enforcement. Times have certainly changed. When I went to school, students worried about passing a math test or not being the most popular person in the class. It is heartbreak- ing that our students today, on top of ev- erything else, have to worry about school violence either by an intruder or by their very own classmate. Although this type of violence it is still very rare, taking careful steps to improve campus safety and being prepared for an effective and well-commu- nicated response can make the whole com- munity feel safer and will prepare you in the unlikely event of an emergency. Marco Villegas is the Regional Director of Learning and Teaching in the Ontario- Montclair School District.