By Yolanda Stephen, originally published in the October/November, 2021 issue of Equity and Access
The spotlight is on us.
When attending a musical held in your local school fine arts hall or Broadway there is something the set designer uses to communicate – light. They alter the color to magnify a mood. For example, when the character is happy, all the lights shine brightly. When something brooding is about to transpire, the lights grow dimmer and dimmer. And when they want to highlight a particular character, they remove all light particles except one that is forced focus on the main character of interest. That’s the spotlight.
The spotlight seems forever cast on school communicators. As school doors across the country consecutively open and close, depending on the pandemic rates, the spotlight is on communications. Meetings are littered with rhetoric of:
• We need to communicate that…
• How are we going to get the message out…
• How quickly can we get the message out…
• We need a video to explain that…
• Make this pretty so we can send it out…
With the continued pandemic, equity and inclusion conversations, and critical race theory drifting on and off the stage, the importance of equity in school communications is in the spotlight.
Equity travels beyond what we see before our eyes, it’s not just black, brown, and white. Similar to our communications, it must reach beyond the routine tenants of employees, students and parents. It must resonate with those who have vision impairments, those who do not have internet access at home, and those who may not even have kids in our school system. All of these individuals have a stake in the game and can be major stand-ins on our communications theatre.
Too often, school district personnel work in unintentional silos which stymie conversations that communicators depend on to provide effective outreach to the community. That’s not a good thing, because by default, the school system is a power player in communities across the country. People look to us for leadership in the community. That is why everything we do communicates and how we do it can make or break our stage presence.
Following are some tips on how to show the importance of equity in school communications:
1. Lead by listening: Stepping into a parent advisory meeting or hosting a strategic planning session can provide some insight into community expectations as it relates to communication. It can also create an avenue to share information across the table face-to-face or Zoom-to-Zoom. Make sure to invite a varied audience to the table so you can be aware of differing perspectives.
2. Acknowledge inequities exist: Not necessarily in the classroom, but in your communication efforts. Before making a swath of changes, complete an inventory of your communication messages and mediums. Like a SWOT analysis. If you recognize gaps, adjust your communication plan to close those gaps.
3. Eliminate language barriers: I know, you may be thinking if a family or student speaks a language other than the dominate language then it needs to be translated. Yes, that is important. You also need to eliminate the education-ease communicators easily slip into. Think along the lines of synchronous/ asynchronous vs. in person and on demand. Remove the jargon so the receiver of the message can feel confident in what you want them to do next.
4. Visuals are key: The average reader takes less than five seconds to decide if they are going to read more information into a communication piece. That’s brochures, websites and social media pages. A good play must have good lighting so the audience can feel the characters emotions. If they don’t like it, they leave at intermission. We want the readers to stay past intermission, so add some visual elements that draw them in. Use a variety of faces and designs.
Performing musicals through our work takes practice. We use visual elements on paper and through photography, like designing a set. We generate content and share social media posts, like writing a script. Every day the curtain goes up as we create equitable, timely and honest communications. The spotlight indefinitely on us. Now it’s time to sing!