Managing a crisis at your school

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Life is unpredictable. There are no two days that are the same and we can never be certain what is around the corner. We need to prepare for the worst while we hope for the best!

In terms of crisis management, this means having a plan. Something you can rely on when the unpredictable occurs.

With this in mind, let’s look at the definition of crisis:

A crisis is any internal or external event that causes an interruption of normal operations and simultaneously threatens your school’s reputation.

“(A crisis) is a critical event or point of decision which, if not handled in an appropriate and timely manner (or if not handled at all), may turn into a disaster or catastrophe.” – as stated by businessdictionary.com.

At a school, this may be a school bus crash, a serious incident during a school sporting event, a student/teacher incident or the discovery of a staff member committing fraudulent behaviour.

When identifying if the situation is (or could be) a crisis, we suggest you ask these four key questions:

1. If left unattended, could this situation escalate?

2. Might this situation foster unwanted attention?

3. Is it likely that this situation could interfere with the normal operations of your school?

4. Could it make your school ‘look bad’ or cause the community to lose confidence?

A crisis can strike at any moment and your school must be ready to keep the situation under control. If you do not have a Crisis Management Plan, create one today.

Here are our top tips on managing a crisis at your school:

1. Get the facts straight – what is known and what is hearsay.
Ensure you obtain all the facts by speaking with everyone involved. Do not leave any stone unturned.

2. Create a detailed narrative and have this approved by the leadership team.
With the information you have obtained, create a narrative about the crisis – who, what, when, where, how. You will also need to include information about what the school has done since the event and what the future looks like.

3. Use this narrative as a source for all communication.
Share this narrative with your Leadership and Crisis Management Teams. Ensure everyone has the same information.

4. Write a Crisis Management Plan that is specific to your crisis.
This can be done by using your existing plan (if you have one) and updating the relevant information. This should include information about who will speak on behalf of the school.

5. Have one dedicated spokesperson to speak for your school.
This may be your Director of Communications or a member of your Leadership Team. Ensure they are trained, they know the narrative and they’re prepared for the situation.

6. Rehearse any likely stakeholder questions and answers.
Your spokesperson should rehearse their responses with another team member. Reading them and saying them in your head is not enough. Rehearse until the message is clear and concise.

7. Choose your words carefully and be aware of your delivery.
Be aware of the situation at large and the feelings of those involved. These are human beings you are talking about – ensure you have empathy for those involved.

8. Communicate with your stakeholders before things get heated.
Notify your staff, students and parents before the situation gets out of hand. If you provide them with the facts, you will minimise any unwanted and unnecessary dialogue.

9. Monitor all media and social media.

10. Keep your school staff informed.
Ensure you keep your staff up-to-date with information. They are members of your team and deserve to know the facts. By keeping them up-to-date, they can assist in sharing the correct narrative.

With a Crisis Management Plan, you can alleviate the pain and simply work through the crisis, one step at a time.

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