In times of crisis and societal change, effective – and often, creative – communication from state leaders is paramount for stability and safety of local communities. When DeWine announced on March 12 that the state’s schools would be shut down for an initial period of three weeks, he was the first in the country to take such sweeping action to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Since then, DeWine, along with many governors across the nation, have held daily briefings to update their communities on education implications, as well as broader public health considerations, related to the outbreak. State education leaders across the country have had to rethink ways to effectively communicate with students, parents and families when they need guidance most.
Daily Email and Online Updates
In addition to governor’s offices, state boards and departments of education regularly field inquiries from students, parents and educators. In order to respond to the dramatic influx of questions related to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Illinois State Board of Education established a dedicated email address to receive comments and questions and created FAQ sheets and guidance documents on prevalent issues, in collaboration with educators and other agencies. ISBE places all updates and resources on a dedicated COVID-19 webpage. ISBE followed major guidance releases with interactive town halls and webinars to give superintendents and affected stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers in real time.
Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen I. Ayala also publishes “Messages from the Superintendent” via email — daily in the first several weeks of the crisis and then two or three times per week as needed. In addition to sharing new guidance and opportunities for professional learning, Ayala also uses this platform to highlight success stories happening at the school and district level — like this one:
ISBE sources positive stories from social media, news articles and direct email submissions. Sharing the stories elevates effective practices and shows appreciation for educators’ hard work and creativity in unprecedented circumstances.
A number of state education leaders have turned to social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to share updates and guidance as quickly as possible with their communities. In California, the department of education created a number of task forces, including the Digital Divide Task Force, to dive into various issues affecting students and families during this crisis. The department has used Facebook Live to stream these committee meetings to a wider audience and receive additional feedback from participants through comments. And through a series of virtual support circles for parents, educators and students, the department has connected stakeholders on issues around mental health, implicit bias and emotional support during distance learning.
States have also taken to utilizing existing infrastructure to spread the word. Since 2014, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has managed a program called Txt 4 Success which offers students college counseling via text message. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, WVHEPC has used this program to also share with students important information regarding deadlines and changes to programs resulting from the pandemic. The program currently serves over 27,000 high school seniors and college freshman.
Communicating and sharing information with students, parents and families is not new to state education leaders. However, with the increased use of technology and need for information in the current environment, states have gotten creative in how to share updates with their constituents — through daily communication, increased social media presence and text messaging, among others. These tools allow leaders to provide not only updated guidance and information, but also successes from schools and districts that are serving students in new ways. As policymakers look forward to rebuilding and restarting their state education systems, communication continues to be more important than ever.