Crisis Communication Teams in Schools

The possibility of having new businesses move to town to provide more jobs is linked to the success of public schools. Simply put, the crisis communication team, which extends across the entire staff, happens to be an essential part of an American community.When one works for a large school system, the ways of the school become acculturated in the individual. This does not necessarily happen the first year, and a novice will probably make a few mistakes along the way.

Every unit plays an essential role

Using the chain of command as well as diplomacy when dealing with crisis situations that involve the American public schools will help everyone attain a positive outcome in the long run. This article aims to help communicators understand the many crisis situations that can occur in the public school systems located in the United States. Since they serve a wide range of people, almost anything can happen and it’s best to be prepared beforehand.Testing practices are very important and one possible crisis situation could occur when something goes wrong during the administration of a test. Extended test time, cheating, or nonstandard testing are all possible occurrences that would cause a crisis situation. Test administrators are directed to report any abnormalities immediately. Testing crises have occurred throughout the state and sometimes they have even appeared in the news when there was no foundation for the accusations. Almost anything can become a crisis in testing–such as, for example, when a child reports that he or she had a couple of extra minutes to take a test. Throughout the country, the worst accusations have been made when teachers have been accused of changing the answers on the test.

Test administrators are directed to report any abnormalities immediately

This is one possible crisis situation that is always on the back of the curriculum director’s mind.In one Georgian county in the early 2000s, a teacher taped her students’ lips together during a classroom game. Although the teacher thought it was a fun game, that situation evoked a publicity crisis and caused the Department of Social Services to have to conduct an investigation. It was very embarrassing for the county schools, and the teacher had to be moved to a new location. She was fortunate not to have been fired for such behavior, but she was well-liked by her peers and by students.

They, too, should be provided with detailed maps of schools in both paper and PDF forms

Perhaps the author of this paper would have dismissed her permanently.Other obstacles that a school system could encounter are those of terrorism, a lone gunman, an angry parent, bullying, natural disasters including tornadoes, storms, earthquakes, and other unforeseen accusations in the news. Abuse of students and staff, even death due to natural causes are some possibilities. One year, a student died during a soccer game due to an undiagnosed heart condition. This exemplified how unexpected crises can take place from one moment to the next in a large organization. The school staff needs to have a plan in place in order to discuss these crises with the public in a humane and caring manner that will not ruin the reputation of the school system.The stakeholders are the people who are most interested in the success of the schools. Stakeholders also benefit from the schools’ successes. They have an ongoing investment in our educational institutions and care about what happens. Not all stakeholders are the same because they are affected differently, but some of the most important stakeholders are the company’s customers who have the special rights of clients. Both customers and employees have an interest in the organization’s success. From one perspective, the employee’s interest can be seen as a little selfish because if things do not go well, there is always the possibility of a massive layoff of staff. This means that employees need to give good service to customers who include students, parents, and local businesses. People who have invested money in the school, those who have given gifts or tax money (the taxpayers, themselves), are also stakeholders because they want to see that their donations are wisely invested, well appropriated, and that they help young students. People who promote our schools and who dream of our schools’ successes are also stakeholders. The ones who drive the buses and the ones who teach the lessons have invested their time and, thus, are valuable stakeholders to be considered as well as respected.The governors of the various states are, without a doubt, major stakeholders. One might go even as far as to say the President of the United States and the federal government itself are stakeholders. Anyone who is involved in the politics of the states and who has power in public education cares about what becomes of the American public schools.Each year, we compare tests between various counties within the states, and we compare tests between various states in the nation to determine which states are performing well, despite the fact that we know there are many other factors–other than testing–that demonstrate that a student has had an effective education. Although there is more to education than testing (like learning to analyze the world), testing is still looming over education’s crisis management field.Parents and students themselves will always be essential stakeholders. Most parents want their children to have an effective education that will bring them much success in the future. More than anything else, parents want to know that their children are safe and protected in the schools. Parents care about the video system installed in the schools to see what goes on during the day, to ensure children’s safety, and they also care about having emergency plans in place to deter criminals from endangering children. Furthermore, the fear of guns and arms looms over the schools.Therefore, police are stationed in the schools to protect each and every campus. Of course, the police are both stakeholders and an essential part of crisis management teams.Perhaps the public schools have more risk issues and situations to deal with than any other entity. Schools deal with taking care of homeless families, even with spiritual and moral issues of the community. Therefore, the crisis management team must be as flexible as possible (and open-minded) to be able to help people from various cultures, from various ethnicities, and even from various spiritualities. In order to assess all the risks, our school crisis management teams must brainstorm to come up with a list of all possible occurrences. We need input from all members of the community, including the Islamic community, the Christians, the Hindus, as well as many others. One of the best resources that we can use to imagine what crises could befall our community is the newspaper (through research of the news in general). The news provides excellent documentation of crisis situations and how they have been handled by other school systems as well as how, in some instances, the law punished people who were responsible for man-made crises.Some of the issues that have occurred in other schools throughout the country have included: nepotism, money laundering, buying services for rewards, abuse of teachers by students, abuse of students by teachers, students carrying weapons to school, drugs and alcohol, gangs, sexting, bullying (staff-to-staff and student-to-student bullying and more), depression, heart attack, death, sport-injuries, missing persons, rape, cheating, automobile accidents, delinquency, unfair hiring practices, discrimination, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. It is evident that all schools have much to contend with from year to year, and those who are on the crisis management team have to remain calm, cool, and collect for the sake of the greater good.We cannot (nor do we want) to have complete control over the family lives and the personal lives of students who come into the schools. As a large crisis management team working in unison, school systems will do their best to protect students and to report any dangers to the Departments of Social Services immediately as needed to protect students. The safety of all involved is of utmost importance!When it comes to the reputation of our organizations, school systems must insist that all teachers and staff have high moral ethics. Everyone must take a short course in ethics, read the rules of ethics, and even sign a promise to be ethical staff members. Otherwise, he or she will have his or her certificate revoked. Ethics means different things to different people, but to a teacher it means treating others with love and respect.No matter how important the standardized test scores are in order to receive federal or state funding, there is no excuse for cheating on tests or for committing other unethical testing practices. Should one become aware of such practice, he or she must report the incident immediately to his or her administrator. Otherwise, he or she risks termination and revocation of American teacher certification. The whistle-blowers who report cheating are protected under the law and should report to the next highest member of their teams. Strict adherence to ethical and honest behavior is of the essence! There should be a map showing the chain of command, and this map should be provided to all individuals who make up part of the crisis communication teams in public schools.All media organizations are critical to our educational community. Anything that happens in the public schools, no matter where in the nation, becomes scrutinized by readers and listeners who follow the media. For instance, a kindergarten teacher in another county was recently murdered in her home by her mother-in-law who did not agree with a custody order. This became a top news story. Since the deceased woman was a kindergarten teacher, this news impacted her students in a negative manner. Therefore, it was appropriate for that county to utilize the counseling staff to see if kindergarten children needed extra psychological support. (Perhaps, the murderer did not consider the negative impact that her actions would have had on the kindergartners as well as her own grandchildren.)With such a broad community in the American public schools, from time to time they will be in the media for positive or negative reasons; therefore, it is also essential to provide the media with positive and uplifting news on an ongoing basis, especially since schools have more uplifting news and triumphs by their students then they have negative news. The school’s crisis management team mustn’t neglect promoting all of the good things that are taking place in the educational community.Students often win national competitions in music, in visual arts, and in dance. They receive scholarships to colleges for academic and sports performance. Students and teachers often donate food to help the poor, and they do other nice things for the community. Many a time, there are international art shows with art by students across the globe. There is so much more going on to demonstrate excellence in the schools, and it is the responsibility of the crisis communications team to make certain that this is evident. In fact, showing the world all the good things that are going on in our schools stimulates more goodness from the rest of the world!Our American schools promote teacher training, educational opportunities, job opportunities, and visiting speakers through excellent websites that are updated continuously by technology teams. Pages are dedicated to urgent notices such as school closings, when there is snow or bad weather. In the case of an emergency, a fire or other threat, technology teams will make the news immediately available to the community. The police, another essential facet of the crisis management team, will give directions to the public by means of the news media in addition to making announcements on websites.Crisis management teams must be well structured. Every unit plays an essential role. The role of the superintendent of schools is to interpret data and to make strategic decisions as to whether a crisis should be reported to the public. Crises may be man-made or the result of nature. Regardless, the superintendent is at the top of the chain of command where he or she must be the first to know about the issues, especially if the crises are potentially dangerous to children, staff, or any other members of the community. The second in the chain of command consists of assistant superintendents who report directly to the superintendent of schools. These assistant superintendents work as teams, and each one has to be assigned to specific schools. Assistant superintendents travel to various campuses to meet with principals and with assistant principals as needed regarding any crises that might occur. Furthermore, they try to anticipate future crises, informing both teachers and principals of potential issues throughout the year.The school principals, as the third in the chain of command, are responsible for carrying out orders by the superintendent of schools. People who are underneath them in the chain of command should report any complaints and concerns to them. Principals decide if a crisis is of a serious enough nature to be reported to the superintendent of schools. They are also responsible for drafting letters that will be sent to parents, in some cases by snail-mail and, in other cases, by email.Teachers carry out orders given to them by the principals. Any suspicions they have should be reported immediately to the principals. Issues regarding student abuse or neglect must be reported immediately, both to principals and to social workers, regardless of anyone else’s lack of response or excuses. In fact, if anyone fails to report abuse or danger, he or she risks losing teacher licensing as well as his or her job.The assistant principals are regularly responsible for an emergency-preparedness program which includes, but is not limited to, fire drills, disaster drills, and other drills. In the event of an unforeseen disaster, both the principal and the assistant principals are in charge of giving directions as to what students and teachers should do. A color coding system can be implemented so that assistant principals can convey messages to teachers without alarming students and without revealing the messages to potential invaders.Social workers are not necessarily obligated to report what they discover to the superintendent of schools, but they are required to report all incidences of abuse and neglect to the State Department of Children’s Services and in some cases to the local police for further investigation. Social service employees are also required to report any teachers, principals, and staff members who fail to report abuse and neglect.Teachers are responsible for their classrooms. By law, they are required to report any cases of child abuse and neglect directly to social service workers as well as to the principal and the assistant principal. Teachers should also report natural disasters directly to their supervisors, including principals and assistant principals who will in turn report directly to the superintendent of schools. This chain of command must be strictly followed unless there is some impediment to getting the message to one’s immediate supervisor.The media relations department is essential to members of the crisis response team. Furthermore, this department is an important stakeholder. It has to be proactive to give our schools a positive image as the school consults directly with the superintendent to prepare articles for the paper and for the television media. The media relations department reports to the police and serves as an extra support to explain the various crises to the community.The school police are officers stationed on campus who are responsible for removing any weapons that might be brought on campus by students or parents. They have the authority to arrest anyone on campus who breaks the law or who endangers the community. School police utilize special dogs to help them do inspections to find drugs.Victim service specialists assist victims of abuse. They can assist victims of spousal abuse or of family abuse, homeless people and victims of natural disasters. Counselors and school psychologists actively listen to students and respect their opinions in times of need. They work with families to find solutions. Psychologists conduct testing on campus to determine the needs of students while they also challenge any inconsistencies in what students say and do.The technology department is responsible for sending email messages that have been approved by the superintendent to the rest of the community, to the news media, and to other individuals on a case-by-case basis. Meanwhile, nurses administer medication and help determine if students need to be sent home or to the hospital. Local emergency departments play a pivotal role in times of disaster and should be provided with detailed maps of all of schools. Likewise, firemen play another essential role and will immediately respond in the event of an emergency or disaster. They, too, should be provided with detailed maps of schools in both paper and PDF forms.Parents’ and Teachers’ associations are essential stakeholders that help get additional community support. These groups are important for voting on issues that pertain to both to students and to potential crises. Having the support of stakeholders, such as the parents and teachers, simplifies the jobs of the crisis communication team as these people have the power to help prevent unnecessary emergencies.Running a large school system impacts the lives of so many precious children and is a tremendous responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. The mission and vision of the crisis communication team is that of ensuring that all children will have an enjoyable and pleasant learning experience while receiving nutritious meals in a safe and stimulating environment. These crisis communication teams should consider every possible eventuality and to try to protect precious students from any unexpected eventualities.One of the best things that the crisis communications team can do is to implement a drill before a crisis occurs. A team cannot be effective unless it practices first. This will lead to a walk-through, and all parties will regularly participate on a larger scale drill. Such preparedness, in addition to solid ethics, is a step in the right direction. Preparation is the key to success in emergencies that afflict our public schools, and he crisis communication team is ready to protect the community.

Laura Gail Sweeney is a writer, educator, and life coach.

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