Top Ten Tips for Rural Leaders Around Effective Communications

This blog is the third in a series on strategies and resources to help rural educators implement critical improvement initiatives. This blog series will share and build on lessons and best practices that are working in rural districts. An introductory blog post outlining the series is available here.

Effective communication plans aren’t implemented one-and-done; effective communications plans are refined over time, which requires rural leaders to be nimble and responsive to community needs and feedback.

A good example of this is the Eastern Shore Collaborative in Maryland, which has made their communications and engagements more flexible for its members by leveraging technology and call-in options. The Eastern Shore Collaborative members have also emphasized the importance of relationship building that comes from in-person connections, which has led to the collaborative leveraging more existing in-person meeting opportunities to connect with each other.

Communication plans should be revisited (and if needed, revised) at each stage of implementation. After initial communication planning, rural leaders and staff can use this Top Ten Tips list to consider how and where to extend, refine, or improve communication and engagement efforts with parents, community members, and other partners and stakeholders.

Top Ten Tips

  1. Write your goals with tangible outcomes, keeping real people in mind. For example, rural schools focused on increasing enrollment in advanced courses may share goals for the number of students enrolled as well as the number of students earning college credit or identifying real-world applications for their work that position them for well-paying jobs after high school. Give your goals personal meaning to drive local impact and resonance.
  2. Focus on initiating both informal conversations and formal communications with your stakeholders. Share your contact information along with your goals at stores, community centers, and places where people gather on a regular basis. Don’t be shy about announcing the opportunity to engage at meetings and informal gatherings (e.g., picnics, fundraisers, arts fairs, festivals).
  3. Convey culturally and regionally relevant information that best responds to stakeholder interests, concerns, and questions. Prepare materials that will provide each group with the most relevant information.
  4. Engage trusted community members to serve as information resources to lend credibility to the story from a local perspective. More than technology or communications tools, they are your best sources to spread the word.
  5. Work with nearby districts to explore the possibility of identifying shared ambassadors who can communicate information to residents of multiple districts in a region.
  6. Once decisions are final, share with stakeholders how their input was used. People who have taken the time to contribute appreciate recognition and understanding that their time and feedback was valued. Don’t mistake a humble approach for not wanting to see oneself in the work.
  7. Balance local focus with the broader perspective. Rural community members may work remotely, be engaged in broader regional or state politics, or be invested in “staying ahead of the curve” with regard to economic or technical advancements. Make the content locally relevant without ignoring broader trends or context that may strengthen the message.
  8. Provide timely and direct information by combining in-person and social media interaction. Consider exploring various social media and technology platforms to distribute information broadly.
  9. Remember that word spreads fast. If conversations about the work have unfolded in some forums but not others, be sensitive that the word is out and acknowledge it as necessary. If you elect to share information with a select audience, know it will go beyond your initial audience faster than you think.
  10. Deepen your relationships with broader regional partners from trusted civil rights organizations, tribal organizations, unions, education associations, and other agencies and advocacy groups to continue engagement and expand reach to all potential stakeholders. Use technology to bridge the divide of geographic distance.

Interested in learning more?

The Reform Support Network’s “Communication and Engagement Assessment Rubric” and State Facilitator’s Guide can help state education agency leaders conduct a structured self-assessment with staff and key stakeholders on current communications and engagement methods related to a particular initiative or topic and encourage discussion about new approaches and strategies that could be used to enhance the effectiveness of existing efforts.

Click here to read the next State Support Network blog series on rural schools: “Using Collaboratives to Promote Success in Rural Schools.”