February 17–19, 2022  Nashville, TN

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Five Keys Offered by Tuscaloosa School Leaders for Amplifying an Organization’s Story
Lesley Bruinton

Getting your message out is a challenge many school district leaders face, especially in a diverse media landscape, but it can be done.

Mike Daria, superintendent, and Lesley Bruinton, public relations coordinator of the Tuscaloosa City Schools in Alabama, offered five keys to amplify your district’s story at an AASA National Conference on Education session on Saturday.

Key #1: Enlisting trusted counsel.

The two agreed that a strong partnership is essential. Daria said he often consults with Bruinton on system decisions and direction well before anything is decided or a communication plan needed.

The working relationship is successful because Daria knows he can count on his colleague to bring an honest, outside perspective.

Key #2: Using the teacher's toolbox to develop strategic communication plans.

Every good teacher has a toolbox. The same is true for an effective communicator; the reality is that there is overlap in the work that both do. As method communicators, they refer to “The Four-Step Process:” research, planning, implementation and evaluation. 

Key #3: Leveraging communication skills to build trust through transparency.

Let’s face it, it isn’t always easy to hear the truth, but in order to have an effective community engagement program, you must be willing to share the truth so that solutions can be developed. In his first year as superintendent, Daria never turned down a public speaking opportunity. It’s a practice he continues today, now three years on the job.

“Communication is important in being transparent about where we are, building trust and making sure our community is highly informed,” said Daria.

Key #4: Applying differentiated communication tactics.

Chances are your school system has a healthy mix of tools to communicate with your audiences. The key is to choose wisely. When it comes to selecting the appropriate communication tool, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Key #5: Fostering a growth mindset.

Establishing (or rebooting) a communication program takes a growth mindset, but this type of planning can support a cultural shift that many districts undertake. It’s in this environment that partnerships can flourish as TCS found. After noticing TCS’s recent successes, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox helped allocate $25 million to education initiatives over the next decade.

“Success is built on relationships and communication,” he said. “That creates positive, lasting relationships.”

It’s clear to them that a strong communication program is a complement to facilitating educational change. Missed their presentation and case studies? View it online.