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How to Develop a Communications/School-Community Relations Plan

Module by: Julia Ballenger. E-mail the author

Summary: The content in this module is aligned with the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) Standard 4 and the Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) Competency 002. ELCC Standard 4.0 - Candidates who complete the program are educational leaders who have the knowledge and ability to promote the success of all students by collaborating with families and other community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources. SBEC Competency 002 – the principal knows how to communicate and collaborate with all members of the school community, respond to diverse interests and needs, and mobilize resources to promote student success.



This manuscript has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and endorsed by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a significant contribution to the scholarship and practice of education administration. In addition to publication in the Connexions Content Commons, this module, which was originally published in April 2007, has been re-published in the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, Volume 5, Number 3 (July - September, 2010). Formatted and edited in Connexions by Theodore Creighton and Brad Bizzell, Virginia Tech.


The content in this module is aligned with the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) Standard 4 and the Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) Competency 002.

ELCC Standard 4.0 - Candidates who complete the program are educational leaders who have the knowledge and ability to promote the success of all students by collaborating with families and other community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources.

SBEC Competency 002 – the principal knows how to communicate and collaborate with all members of the school community, respond to diverse interests and needs, and mobilize resources to promote student success.


Communication is all about building relationships with internal and external key stakeholders. The goal of this module is for aspiring principal candidates to learn how to develop a communications/school-community relations plan that includes a needs assessment and evaluation component.


At the conclusion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • define communication/school community relations;
  • write a communications/school-community relations policy statement;
  • identify the components of a communications/school-community relations plan;
  • identify the vision, mission, and rationale for the communications/school-community plan;
  • develop a needs assessment;
  • write goals for the communications/school-community relations plan;
  • write measurable performance objectives to accomplish the goals of the plan;
  • identify the appropriate audience for the plan, and
  • develop an instrument to evaluate the plan.


District Communications/School-Community Policy, Vision Statement, Mission Statement, and Rationale for the Communications Plan

Policy Development

The School Board of Trustees usually authorizes the superintendent to facilitate the development of policy. The superintendent or his/her designee organizes a committee that is representative of the school-community key stakeholders (i.e., students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members and representatives of the board). The committee composition should represent the diversity of the school and community. Once the policy is developed and approved by the board, it should be disseminated to the all key stakeholders (Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005).

Vision Statement

Develop a vision statement for the communications plan. The vision statement should be aligned to the district policy and depict the future state of the district related to school-community relation.

Mission Statement

Develop a mission statement for the communications plan. The mission statement should be aligned to the district policy and should include the purpose, direction, and outcomes of the communications plan.


Develop a rationale for the communications plan. The rationale should include the basic premise for developing the communications plan, guiding principles and philosophy of communication improvement.

Lecture: Communication and School Community Relations

The essential element in communication and school-community relations is relationship. The educational leader must establish a positive relationship among all key stakeholders. These key stakeholders consist of parents, students, teachers/staff, and community/business people. The school leader may be an expert in curriculum development and finances; however, the major factor in job security is his/her ability to develop a positive relationship with both internal and external stakeholders (Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005).

Communication is the lifeblood of a school organization. The school administrator can not accomplish any tasks in the organization without adequate communication. Educational leaders do not intentionally plan to fail, they fail to plan. Perhaps Albert E. Holliday (1988) sums up the best reason to develop a communications/school-community plan for schools. He notes:

Whether a school system is excellent or mediocre depends on how these people work together, how they communicate, how they relate, are involved, participate and share. A public/community relations program is aimed at focusing on the relationships of all these people, with an overall goal of improving student achievement (p. 12, as cited in Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005).

A good public/community relations program will not exist without a plan. A communication plan must be developed or little will happen. As Harris (2004) stated, “Good communication does not happen by accident…However, principals with a specific communication plan are able to provide needed support that leads to effective relationship building” (p. 19).

A communications plan that is developed collaboratively by school and community people will serve to foster student achievement (through the establishment of a positive school climate and parent and citizen involvement) and build citizen knowledge and understanding leading to financial support (Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005).

Lecture: Essential Components of the Communications/School Community Relations Plan

The communications plan is developed to bring about change in the communication area identified. The plan should be flexible and usable. The planning process should be ongoing.

Contextual Design – Include a description of the contextual setting for the district and campuses. The contextual setting should include a brief description of (1) county information, (2) city information, (3) school district demographics, (4) school district academic performance and funding allocations, (5) campus demographics, (6) campus academic performance and funding allocations, and (6) a summary of the contextual design.

Needs Assessment - Include the needs assessments administered, a description of the assessments, and the results of the assessment. A needs assessment allow districts to evaluate their current communications strategies and activities. The assessment is also designed to “measure attitudes and opinions of internal and external publics, and to determine what should be done to increase public understanding, support, and participation in the district” (p. 26, Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005).

Types of Needs Assessments – Many techniques are available for collecting information. The six commonly used techniques are: “(1) personal interview, (2) telephone interview, (3) Drop-Off/Pick-Up Questionnaire, (4) mailed questionnaire, (5) automated telephone questionnaire, and (6) internet surveying that is web and e-mail” Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005, p. 30).

The candidates were required to design a mailed questionnaire. The structure of the questionnaire includes the sections described below.

Introduction Include a brief description of the purpose of the questionnaire and the sponsor of the survey. Add specific instructions on how the questions are to be completed and returned. Write non-threatening questions.

Main Section – This section should include opinion questions that deal with the basic problems the school is attempting to learn about. Questions should be stated in a sequence to provide respondent with a logical thought process.

Conclusion – The conclusion should include open-ended questions to get unanticipated information, such as “Are there any other thoughts you have on the school district?” Demographic questions such as age, sex, parent, or non-parent, length of residency, and so forth should be included. Don’t forget to add a note of thanks (Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005).

To determine the content of the needs assessment, the candidates should answer the following questions.

  1. What is the communications problem to be studied?
  2. What method is best to obtain the desired information?
  3. How much money is required to conduct the opinion questionnaire?
  4. How much time is needed to complete the questionnaire?
  5. Who should conduct the questionnaire?
  6. How should the findings be used? (Gallagher, Bagin, and Moore 2005, pp. 35-37)

Lecture: Goals and Objectives of the Communications/School-Community Plan

Now that you have distributed, collected, and analyzed the results of the questionnaire, you are ready to develop the other components of your communications plan. The components include goals, objectives, strategies/activities, timeline, resources, persons responsible, and evaluation.

Goals – Goals are the desired outcome of the plan of action. An example of a goal is to persuade the public to accept the board’s decision on grade reconfiguration.

The following information should be considered in developing the goals of the plan.

  1. Goals are broadly stated purposes toward which ends are directed.
  2. Goals are issues oriented.
  3. Goals are specifically related to issues uncovered in the needs assessment.
  4. Goals focus actions toward clearly defined purposes.
  5. Goals should be aligned with your vision, mission, and rationale.
  6. Goals should reflect your strategic issues and priorities.
  7. Goals should focus on a single issue.
  8. Goals should provide a clear direction for action.
  9. Goals should be long-range or restricted by time.
  10. The number of goals should be kept to a minimum.

Objectives – Objectives are specific, measurable subdivisions of a goal. They are benchmarks that measures progress toward a goal. Objectives must be attained collectively for a goal to be reached. An objective tells what is to be accomplished. Fulginiti and the Public Relations Society of America contend, “Objectives must (a) address the desired outcomes, (b) designate the public or publics among whom the behavioral outcome is to recognized, (c) specify the expected level of attainment or accomplishment, and (d) identify the time frame in which those attainments or accomplishment are to occur” (p. 45, as cited in Gallagher, Bagin, & Moore, 2005).

Example: To have 75 % (level) of the parents (public) testify (behavior) by the end of the year (time frame) to the educational soundness of the board’s decision to the grade reconfiguration program.

The following information should be considered in developing measurable performance objectives.

Objectives are SMART (Drucker, 1954).

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Aggressive or Attainable
  4. Results Oriented
  5. Time-Bound
  6. Quantifiable interim steps toward achieving a long-range vision and goals
  7. Linked directly to goals
  8. Measurable, time-based statements of intent
  9. Emphasized results at the end of a specific time period

Criteria for well-written objectives: “S.M.A.R.T”

“S” - objectives identify specific accomplishments that are desired, not the ways (strategies) to accomplish them. All objectives should be able to generate specific activities. An objective should be detailed enough to be understandable and give clear directions to others.

“M” – An objective must be Measurable. It is at this level that a clear linkage is made to performance measurement. To the extent that every goal has measurable objectives, the attainability of the goal itself can be measured.

“A” – Aggressive and Attainable. If objectives are to be standards for achievement, they must be challenging but realistic and within the ability of the school to achieve! They should not demand the impossible. This is in contrast to the vision, or even the goals, which may be beyond one district or campus’s capacity to achieve alone. Objectives require aligned, cooperative efforts among multiple schools or districts.

“R” – Objectives should specify Results or outcomes, not ways to accomplish them.

“T” – Time-bound because each objective should have a specific timeframe to be attained or accomplished (Lane, Bishop, & Wilson- Jones, 2006).

Activities/Strategies - After the goals and objectives have been defined and accepted, activities/strategies should be developed for achieving the goals and objectives. The strategies and activities available are influenced by the nature of the audience, the availability of funds and facilities, and the competence of personal. Activities/strategies should include the “process involving the accomplishment of an event usually over a period of time, and stages, or with possibility of repletion, (2) include the actual work associated with the objective, and (3) involve the who, where, what, when, how many, how much, and how often until the objective is completed.”

Sample: Draft a letter inviting the parents on a tour of the school campus. Have letter typed, duplicated, and mailed. Identify agent, cost and time.

Timelines - The timeline tells the time frame to implement the strategy. The timeline may be a semester, one year, five years, or ongoing. Consider whether the timeline will be from one to five years. Will the activity begin and end in one year? Will the activity take place over the course of the entire plan?

Person Responsible - Identify the person responsible to implement the activity/strategy.

Resources - The resources may include physical and financial. Determine the funding amount and funding source.

Source: Lane, Bishop, and Wilson- Jones, 2006

Lecture: Identify the Appropriate Audience for the Plan

Define the audiences: List all of the audiences that you district might contact, attempt to influence, or serve. Included in your list may be:

  • Members,
  • Non-members
  • Consumers
  • Related organizations such as PTAs or PTOs.
  • Adversarial groups
  • Educators
  • Media
  • Business and Industries
  • Community

Evaluate the Result: Build into your plan a method for measuring results. Your evaluation might take the form of the following measures:

  • A monthly report on work in progress,
  • Formalized department reports for presentation at staff meetings,
  • Periodic briefings of the superintendent and the department heads, and
  • A year-end summary for the annual report. You should also include a timeline for conducting the evaluation and the person(s) responsible for this. The type of evaluation should be decided when the action steps are developed. When you specify an action step think “How will we know if this action is giving us the desired effect?”

Source: Lane, Bishop, and Wilson- Jones, 2006.

The purposes of evaluation are (1) to improve, add, or drop existing public relations activities; (2) to determine if the public relations plan is achieving its extended results; (3) to determine if the results are worth the time and money spent; and (4) to bring greater visibility to the accomplishments of the plan.

The evaluation instruments used in assessing the effectiveness of a communications/school-community relations plan are usually rating scales and checklists. If these instruments are designed appropriately and include the essential feature of a constructive and dynamic plan they are helpful in identify strengths and weakness and in furnishing information that is useful in the redesign or modification of the plan. The evaluation instrument may include (1) policy statements and procedure, (2) staffing, (3) budget and resources, (4) relationship of public relations professional to the governing body, administration, and staff of the school district, and (5) function of the public relations unit, internal and external communications, crisis planning, and long-range planning.

The evaluation instrument asks the rater to check yes or no after each response item. Each section is then assessed by the number of yes or no answers, which identify the strengths and weaknesses in the organization of the plan.

Source: Gallagher, Bagin, and Moore, 2005.


Insert paragraph text here.

Butler, L.M., & R.D. Howell. 1980. Community needs assessment techniques. Corvallis, OR: Western Rural Development Center.

Drucker, P. (1954). The practice of management. New York: Harpercollins Publishers.

Gallagher, D. R., Bagin, D., & Moore, E. H. (2005). The school and community relations, (pp.16 -39). Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon.

Holliday, A. E. (1988). In search of an answer: What is school public relations? Journal of Educational Public Relations. 11 (2), 12.

Johnson, D.E., et al, (1987). Needs assessment theory and methods. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press.

Lane, R. J., Bishop, H. L., & Wilson-Jones, L. (2006). Creating an effective strategic plan for the school district. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 32(3).

Harris, S. (Ed.) (2004). Bravo principal: Building relationships with actions that value others. Larchmont, N.Y.: Eye on Education.

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