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Your Year-End Comms Plan in 5 Steps

Often, heading into the last few weeks of the school year as a school PR professional can feel daunting. You know you’ll be moving at top speeds with a narrow margin for error or adjustment. Developing a practical strategic communications plan is key to making your work manageable.

But creating a great end-of-the-year school PR plan doesn’t end with an outline of your tasks and priorities. With these five school PR tips, you’ll be ready to dive into the waves of workload ahead, keep your head above water — and even enjoy your swim along the way.

  1. Lead with priorities
  2. Make your plan — and follow it
  3. Supercharge your calendar
  4. Lean into joy
  5. Take care of yourself

1. Lead with priorities 

Author Stephen Covey coined the phrase, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” The ability to focus on a small number of high priorities is essential for your strategic communications plan — and navigating the most demanding seasons of work.

The challenge in high-performing offices isn’t a shortage of hard work. It’s identifying the work that matters most and exercising the discipline to focus only on that. You could easily fill 40+ hours a week with tasks that don’t add up to much that matters. But this time of year calls for a clear focus on what matters most: engaging your primary audiences, celebrating the people in your system and supporting your strategic plan.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, by Stephen Covey

Begin by making a list of everything on your plate. (Yes, everything!) What is filling up your hours each day? Include projects and tasks, and don’t forget the routine inbox wrangling and social media monitoring. Take this list and:

Pick the most important things that must happen between now and the last day of school. Look for anything you can delegate or put on hold. And always look for strategic abandonment opportunities — projects or tasks you can stop doing forever in favor of higher-value outcomes. Identify or add a few easy wins. Make sure these low-effort, high-reward tasks are at the top of your priority list in the coming weeks.

With your streamlined priority list, connect with your superintendent and team for feedback.

What might be missing?
What have I prioritized that really isn’t important/urgent?
What 1-2 things are the most important to you on this list?

2. Make your plan. Follow your plan.

The end-of-the-year season is intense, but it’s short. Your strategic communications plan doesn’t need to be elaborate. Consider using a spreadsheet, whiteboard or well-defined bulletin board layout — whatever works best for you.

Build your plan by looking at all the moving parts, from attendance calendars to year-end recognition, retirees and graduation. Make notes of the work you’ll need to do along the way — planning, research, correspondence and meetings. And keep a running list of all the work products you’ll need, whether scripts, social media posts, web content, slide decks, or something else.

As you plan, clearly assign duties and deadlines. Whether you have a communications team or run the comms shop solo, there are always others helping you execute during those final weeks. (Remember the delegation part in Step 1?) Connect with your supervisor if you need help recruiting people to distribute year-end communication responsibilities better.

One of the best benefits of creating this plan? It’s the perfect way to evaluate capacity and value quickly when new suggestions or ideas pop up. No matter how great an opportunity, you cannot make more time or energy. Make a note to incorporate the best ideas in year-end planning for future years.

3. Supercharge your calendar 

No matter the format of your year-end plan, your calendar will be the tool that keeps you on track. Put every single date you can think of on whatever work calendar you have that syncs with your phone. Deadlines, due dates, progress checks, follow-ups, meetings, confirmations and reach-outs.

Make use of calendar invites to ensure shared duties, deadlines, and responsibilities are on the calendar for everyone involved in the task.

Time blocking can be an effective way to prioritize your time use, aligned to the things that matter most. In addition to project deadlines and due dates, block time to research, plan, write, review, prepare for meetings or do any other task related to the project. Done well, time blocking should reserve time for both recurring and unexpected tasks that come up.

Tracy Jentz, APR, NSPRA North Central Region Vice President, has found this approach helpful year-round.

“On my calendar, I use two colors — blue for meetings, and red for focused time. As a project comes up, I block red time in my calendar to address it. I leave small chunks of unassigned time, maybe 15-minute blocks, to check my emails, return calls, or take care of other things that come up. Blocking also helps me ​​say no to things that don’t fit in my calendar or schedule them at a later time.”

As your supercharged calendar comes together, look for work-ahead opportunities. For example, you could update the retiree program script or create the new digital invitation on a slower week in March. Or, if you know there will be five posts each day of Teacher Appreciation Week, block out time to write and schedule them all.

Andrea Gribble, owner of #SocialSchool4EDU, calls this approach “batching” and encourages it as a way for her clients and membership group to streamline their work. “Doing social media posts one or two at a time may seem effective, but there’s an advantage to working in batches,” she said. “When we keep our brains focused on one repeatable task, we actually save time and chaos in the long run. Setting aside even 30 minutes, one day a week, will help anyone reduce the time and stress of social content creation.”

4. Lean into the joy

For schools, springtime brings endings and goodbyes, making it also a season of joy and gratitude. As weeks are filled with recognition events and commencement, social media feeds are full of graduates, retirees and stories of people who have overcome the odds to succeed.

In your rush and pressure to deliver great work (and tell many of these stories), don’t forget to feel the emotions that your audiences are feeling. Linger on the accomplishments of the students and staff you’ve come to know. Ponder the front-row seat to their journeys that you’ve enjoyed. And keep your WHY top of mind. Write it down, make it your phone wallpaper or turn it into a password on your computer. When the hard times come, your clear why can help carry you through.

And when School Communicators Day rolls around on May 13, don’t miss the chance to celebrate YOURSELF and your school PR friends. Jentz was the one who first promoted the awareness day, which is now formally championed by the National School Public Relations Association. Not sure if your coworkers know about this special day? Let us know. We’d love to quietly nudge your boss in the right direction.

5. Take care of yourself  

As the waves of workload crest, a wellbeing strategy must be in your end-of-the-year school PR strategic communications plan. After all, your school system and team need you at your best. Finding healthy ways to manage stress will keep your performance on point. It will most likely make life more pleasant for yourself, your coworkers and your loved ones.

“School communicators are in a thinking profession,” said CEL Vice President Janet Swiecichowski, APR. “We ideate and solve problems for a living, and that requires high-functioning brains. The brain needs sleep, hydration, nourishment, mindfulness and plenty of oxygenated blood flow to perform at its peak. Sitting at a desk or computer all day provides none of those.”

In a recent presentation at the Kansas Women’s Leadership Summit, Swiecichowski challenged busy K-12 leaders to make their brain health a daily priority. She encouraged simple steps like ensuring adequate sleep, spending a few minutes outdoors, participating in joyful time in schools, creating a daily happiness habit and using short breaks in the day to reinvigorate blood flow from head-to-toe.

Psychologists also have found that brains can endure virtually any demand if there is a known end date or time of relief. Help your brain out by putting leave time on your calendar — if not an afternoon in the midst of the season, a day or two away as soon as it’s over. And as the work wraps up, don’t forget to celebrate! A festive dinner with your team or special date with a loved one will help you appreciate the rewards of your hard work.

And when you find yourself and your calendar moving at lightning speed, consider a trick from Christy McGee, APR, director of communications at Fountain-Fort Carson (CO) School District 8.

“Every Friday or Monday, I look at the week ahead, and I find one thing I can take off my calendar. Sometimes it’s extra that I don’t need to do — other times it’s postponing something that isn’t a high priority. Freeing up 30 minutes on my schedule is a small thing, but it always helps me feel less stressed and more in control.”

Published on: March 15, 2022