Home' Teacher : August 2010 Contents Pick up today's newspaper -- or if you're
like most school kids, check online to get
your fill of breaking news. There's probably
a yarn about a drunken footballer muck-
ing up. A group of young people have been
caught drag racing. There might be tales of
increasingly violent street crime and youth
gangs. The use of knives is on the rise; a
rave party got out of control; a bullied child
has taken his own life; and a young woman
was killed after connecting with someone
she met on Facebook.
These are the everyday social horrors
that -- like it or not -- have become part of
life, and consequently part of the media.
Welcome to life as we know it. Now,
it's fair to say schools and the people in
them are a microcosm of what's happen-
ing in society with all its attendant issues,
trends and possible tragedies. Throw in the
fact that you're dealing with children and
teenagers -- didn't they invent the concept
of high-risk behaviour? -- and you have a
powder keg. A loaded gun. A time bomb.
A disaster waiting to happen. Name your
The added danger in the mix -- the flame
to the tinder pile -- is that the world has
also changed inexorably in two other ways.
Firstly, Australia has become litigious and
schools, as the custodians of our precious
children, are a new hotbed of potential
legal challenges. Secondly, the media has
changed almost beyond recognition. The
sorts of things that have become news
have changed markedly since the death of
Princess Diana. People's private lives are
now much more public.
The advent of new media like Twitter,
Facebook, blogs, YouTube and so on has
meant that information, often misinforma-
tion, can travel around the world to an audi-
ence of billions in the space of minutes.
It's also brought with it 'citizen jour-
nalism' -- where everyone is potentially
the messenger of news. Traditional filters,
which meant a story needed to be accurate,
appropriate and in the public interest, no
There's an obvious relationship between
the media, a crisis or issue, and schools.
The three together are the perfect recipe for
a story -- at its worst, for a raging media
bushfire. That's brought with new potential
avenues to damage a school's reputation,
says Sam Elam, the managing director of
Media Manoeuvres, which specialises in
crisis and reputation management. Elam
should know: Media Manoeuvres has repre-
sented many private and government schools
when dealing with everything from reputa-
tion management to a full-blown crisis.
'Teachers and principals are today sud-
denly faced with a range of threats and pos-
sibilities which carry potentially devastating
consequences,' says Elam.
'It's so hard for teachers, principals and
administrators these days,' she says. 'Most
joined the profession because they have a
passion to educate and make a difference in
young people's lives.
'Now, they also have to be so astute in
so many, often unfamiliar, areas of com-
munication, law and process.'
It should come as no surprise to edu-
cators that the key to handling a crisis is
homework. Every Australian school should
have a crisis plan which integrates with the
business continuity plans under risk man-
agement. 'This is a basic strategic impera-
tive and is the responsibility of the school
council and executive management,' says
'A school can live or die on the strength
of its response to a crisis. Our experience
in dealing with crisis events indicates two
things. Firstly, the best defence is always
preparedness. Plan ning is key.
'Secondly, the way people respond, espe -
cially in the first hour, is absolutely crucial.'
Preparation for a crisis involves everyone
in the organisation, from the top down.
'All schools need a crisis com munications
plan. It's as simple as that. Once a crisis
strikes, it's too late.'
How to be crisis-prepared
Firstly, do your homework. What are the
potential, emerging, current and legacy
issues facing your school?
Secondly, identify your stakeholders.
Determine your friends, foes and champi-
ons, as well as fence-sitters, and their posi-
tion on the issues you've identified. What
are their current perceptions of your school?
Third, prepare key messages. What are
your school's core values? Do you have key
messages for you r different stakeholders?
Are your messages media friendly?
Fourth, prepare your spokesperson. Who
is going to deliver your messages? Are they
Fifth, determine your strategy. Do you
have communications protocols in place?
56 TEACHER AUGUST 2010
A SCHOOL CAN LIVE OR DIE ON THE STRENGTH OF ITS RESPONSE TO A CRISIS,
SO IT PAYS TO BE PREPARED, AS K ATRINA BYERS EXPLAINS.
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