Communicating During a Crisis

By Kenneth S. Trump

The caption under a picture of a lone wolf trying to blend in the middle of a pack of hounds reads: “When you are in deep trouble, say nothing and try to look inconspicuous.”

This advice may work well for the wolf, but it is not a good practice for school boards and administrators to follow in communicating school safety and crisis issues to parents, the media, and the broader school community.

Parents will forgive you if test scores go down one year. But they are much less forgiving if something happens that could have been prevented. As school leaders, your reputation and credibility are at stake.

Actual incidents and rumors of violence disrupt school communities. Overnight, attendance can decrease dramatically. Threats, rumored or real, can result in school clo- sures. Student text messages and cell phone calls help to fuel rumors and misinformation, often creating more anxiety and panic than actual threats themselves.

A number of superintendents and boards have been plagued by security and crisis-related incidents that triggered local news stories that did not go away quickly. How you communicate with internal and external constituents can contribute significantly to your success in responding to, and recovering from, a school safety incident. 

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