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What schools can learn from the Pacific Christian School

26 June 2014

It has clearly been a difficult few days for students, staff and parents of Pacific Christian School. While I’m sure it is a great school, there are a few lessons others can learn from this.

Mainly is the need for a tailored crisis communication plan. It’s very important for a school to communicate with all of its stakeholders immediately after something like this happens. All that needs to be initially is a short statement on the school website offering condolences to those affected and what you are doing to help. Everyone, including media, can be referred there.

The problem is that the last thing school management wants to do or has time for after an incident like this is write such a statement. That’s why a generic statement needs to be ready to go before anything happens. Then all is required is to fill in the gaps. Then the community know you are onto it, you care, and this will also appear in all media coverage.

This should also be shared through social media. But if this is not sent within the first hour, the school will not be represented in the first news stories. Journalists will merely say, “The school was unwilling to comment.” You may also be criticised on social media for not informing the community.

Once this statement is up, the school needs to update the community with new information. If this is all left to the Police, the school can come across as uncaring and not in control of the situation. Police also have a totally different agenda. In the Pacific Christian School example, media stories appear to show that parents are still not totally aware of what’s happening.

Also, by a school spokesperson not being available for media interviews, people begin to speculate. Currently, the big question is whether any staff have had first-aid training. If they have, this would easily be dealt with by a school spokesperson. If they haven’t, the spokesperson can explain why and say management will be having a full review after this incident is dealt with. The only other messages the school needs to focus on are empathy and what they are doing to help.

From experience, schools often don’t see the need for crisis communication plans or media training skills until something like this happens. Having said all this, I still believe Pacific Christian School does a great job for its students.

For more on my media training or crisis communication training workshops, contact pete@mediatrainingnz.co.nz

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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