Over the last year, one in three superintendents nationwide has addressed a divisive flashpoint that brought everyday work in their district to a screeching halt. Given the political climate in public education, these types of controversies are becoming constant and frequent issues district leaders must face. With polarizing headlines that vary from one week to the next, leaders are left unsure and burnt out.
What is a flashpoint?
A flashpoint is a controversy that causes a disturbance in the district due to public activism, criticism, or reputational damage.
Flashpoints can spiral out of control if you do not quickly deploy a response and communicate the district’s position to the greater community. Below we’ve shared three must-know strategies for efficient and effective flashpoint communication. For more on managing divisive conversations and preventing flashpoints in your district, click here.
1. Create Ready-to-Use Statements Using Checklists
District leaders often feel pressure to publicly respond to flashpoints at a moment's notice. Unfortunately, speedy responses can result in small-but-costly mistakes, causing flashpoints to spiral further. Create ready-to-use response templates before flashpoints occur to help you quickly respond and avoid errors. We also created an eight-point checklist with short, self-reflection questions to help you rapidly respond. The checklist encourages districts to consult legal counsel, only note factual information, and reference any tangible actions.
2. Utilize Message Maps to Ensure Consistent and Clear Messaging
Inconsistent, unclear messaging creates miscommunication with both internal and external audiences (e.g., district staff and parents) that can reignite a flashpoint. In particular, school board meetings are ripe with opportunities for miscommunication as nationally debated issues are becoming of interest to local communities. Provide message maps to district personnel to help avoid unclear communication in school board meetings and other interactions with parents and the community. Message maps provide an organized repository of information, supporting district messaging to staff, parents, and the public following a flashpoint incident. Message maps also help decrease media misinformation by providing a direct, clear message to the average community member who lacks a robust understanding of district operations.
3. Successfully Navigate Media Interviews with Proven PR Techniques
It is difficult to overcome major pitfalls during media interviews without a deep background in public relations. Avoid common mistakes, such as misunderstanding the reporter’s audience and getting flustered by tough questions, by learning the core elements of effective media communication. Ensure all media requests are vetted by your communications team and interviewees are clear on the district’s intended message. Additionally, use bridging phrases, like “The real issue here is…” to work through any tough questions.
Ready to find out more?
Learn more strategies for navigating divisive conversations by watching our on-demand webinar.