Pythagoras of Samos wasn’t just a brilliant mathematician, astronomer and musician, he was probably a good communicator, too.
By nature, school communicators are eager to engage their communities, regardless of the circumstances.
But are there times when communicators shouldn’t engage? Absolutely.
Most school clienteles are generally supportive of the work being done in their neighborhood schools and school districts. There are, however, clusters of naysayers, usually small but almost universally loud, that exist for one reason: to pick fights and create uncertainty. Whether it’s proven curriculum, library books, or imagined bias in teaching, these groups can drive manufactured outrage.
A response, any response, can create chaos and a media maelstrom, which is exactly the point. Tempting as it is to let your inner snark fly to the surface, the only rational way to deal with groups like this is to deny them what they desperately seek: the oxygen to exist and carry their message outside of their bubble.
Being unwilling to immediately engage with these groups, however, does not mean you should ignore them. If there was ever a time to pick your spots and choose your battles it’s with groups like this. They should be monitored, because even those on the fringes are able to bring important issues to the fore. Monitoring also helps to prevent any false narratives from entering mainstream conversations. And to do this, school communicators need to turn to their greatest strength: storytelling.
Using stories to show the positive impact of concepts like diversity, equity and inclusion and social-emotional learning on student learning and school culture disarms opposition. Telling stories from a student perspective on how using diverse literary choices helps them grow and prepare for life beyond high school does more to garner support than anything an adult could say.
In addition to storytelling, groups like these should propel districts to start or re-institute key communicators networks (KCNs). Like a number of communications strategies, KCNs were set aside during the pandemic. Now is the time to activate them again. Your KCN provides you with a network of boosters across the community that help shape opinion and provide valuable feedback to school districts. As citizens, they are a powerful counter to grievance groups.
Silence may help with fringe groups, so long as you make sure you speak to everyone else.