Efficient and effective communication strategies for schools and districts to connect with families during COVID-19

Expert Insight

Efficient and effective communication strategies for schools and districts to connect with families during COVID-19

In these times of uncertainty, school and district leaders are working hard to keep their school communities well-informed about the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting policies, and current guidelines. To quickly and effectively do so, school and district leadership must execute crisis communication basics with fidelity. EAB researchers outline four strategies below to help leadership execute those basics and equip families with the right information at the right time.

1. Create a centralized communications team to own external communications

Effective crisis communication demands nimble collaboration between leaders with relevant expertise and clearly defined ownership of the process for crafting and distributing messages. A centralized and dedicated external communications team will help your school or district maintain consistent messaging and ensure your school or district can swiftly send out communications in response to this rapidly developing situation. Those appointed to the team must possess: 

  • A clear understanding of school/district operations
  • Expertise in crafting external communications
  • Relevant domain expertise. Healthcare subject matter expertise is required at this time, so be sure to partner with a local health officials if your school/district does not have a healthcare expert in-house.

2. Send updates to families through multiple channels every 1-3 days 

Many of our partners want to know how best to structure their external communications: how often to publish updates, how to ensure the broadest possible reach, and what to include in each message. EAB researchers audited communications from dozens of schools and districts and found that the most effective communications teams distribute updates that summarize relevant COVID-19 information and their school/district’s response through multiple channels every 1-3 days. It is essential to provide consistent information across your website, through email, and across multiple social media platforms. Further, consider additional blasts through robocalls, texting, or local media to point community members to updates and resources on your website and social media.

Updates should provide information on the following:

  • School closures (i.e., whether the school will close, duration of school closure, rationale behind closure)
  • Continued instruction/enrichment or a rationale for the lack thereof. Be sure to consider special education needs with regards to distance learning. Define current expectations for both students and teachers.
  • Continued meal service
  • Medication retrieval
  • Local outbreak (e.g., how many local cases, statements from local authorities)
  • Athletics, events, and extracurriculars
  • Partnership with local health authorities
  • Disinfection procedures
  • Guidance on how to combat discrimination, racism, and bias related to the outbreak

Further, consider retweeting tweets from local authorities or experts to further help your school community stay informed. For example, Montgomery County Public Schools retweets local health experts and the Maryland governor’s COVID-19 announcements. 

For examples of strong COVID-19 communications, see Klein Independent School District’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all of which hosts each of the district’s updates.

Further, consider retweeting tweets from local authorities or experts to further help your school community stay informed. For example, Montgomery County Public Schools retweets local health experts and the Maryland governor’s COVID-19 announcements. 

For examples of strong COVID-19 communications, see Klein Independent School District’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all of which hosts each of the district’s updates.  

3. Centralize updates, information, and resources on your school’s website so families can quickly access relevant guidance 

It is crucial that all COVID-19 updates and relevant resources are easy for families to find on your website. Consider hosting updates directly on your homepage or providing a highly visible banner with a link to a dedicated COVID-19 page (for example, see EAB.com). Administrators should consider including the following information:

  • School- and district-specific updates. Provide access to old, archived updates as well.
  • Steps your school has taken to prevent or combat COVID-19 (e.g., increased cleaning, social distancing)
  • Responses to common FAQs, such as “what do I do if my child becomes sick?” and “what will happen if schools close?” 
  • Common preventative measures for families (e.g., wash hands, stay home when sick)
  • Links to external information sources from the CDC and the WHO
  • Local emergency contacts

For robust website examples, see the following:

Further, your website should facilitate two-way communication—families should be able to submit questions, comments, and concerns. This helps administrators remain connected to their constituents and respond promptly to families’ concerns. Again, the website for Klein Independent School District provides a great example. Staff monitor the submitted questions and provide responses between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm each weekday. In addition, some districts have begun to move beyond website submission forms to proactive engagement asks through social media—administrators at Fulton County Schools prompt teachers and parents to post examples of how they’re working to support students.

4. Proactively seek feedback through parent surveys and check-ins

Though website question boards can identify the needs of already engaged parents, districts need to develop strategies to identify and meet the needs of parents who do not visit the district website. Some districts may turn to email or phone surveys to reach these parents. If you’re interested in building a survey to identify the needs of your constituents during remote instruction or school closure, consult EAB’s report Get the Most Out of Facilities Customer Satisfaction Surveys.

In addition to mass communication and feedback solicitation strategies, consider adding a personal touch to your family communications through one-on-one check-ins. At DSST Public Schools, teachers plan to reach out to each of their students once per week to identify and address student needs under remote instruction.

We know that many of you are already well-versed in developing school or district communications, but in times of crisis it is essential to execute the basics at a high level with consistent fidelity. If you want to ensure that you are checking all of the boxes at this time, please lean on our Safety and Incidence Communications Toolkit.