Effective Communications for School Psychologists

Developing clear, effective, and memorable messages is critical to effective communications. Identifying your most important message depends on your specific goals and your target audience. However, there are a few global issues that reflect contemporary practice in school psychology. This framework can generally be used for all advocacy communications – whether your audience is the general public or a legislator.

Identify your target audiences: There is no “general public.” Messages, even on the same issue, should be tailored as narrowly as possible to the specific audience because each issue has different concerns and perspectives.

Know your audience: Everyone filters information through their own experiences. Being able to present your views in terms your target audience understands will help you get the most out of your interaction. It’s important to understand their level of knowledge/awareness, their primary concerns, expectations, or perspective on the issues, any issues they might have understating and their ability, or likelihood to take action.

If you are communicating with an elected representative or their staff, it is important to research their background. Prior to your communications with the member, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What party do they belong to?
  • What committee(s) do they sit on?
  • What is their legislative record on the issues I care about?
  • What issues do they care about?

Basic information on your representative (their committees, party affiliation, etc.) can be found on the state’s legislative website on your member’s page, or through a quick Google search. You can find information on your representative’s stance on various issues via their campaign website. Identifying a member’s voting record can take a bit more digging into state legislative websites (searching for specific bills, etc.), but websites (such as Ballotpedia) outline federal votes on key pieces of legislation. Further, many interest groups also rate Members of Congress regarding their support (or lack thereof) for certain issues, which can be found on the group’s website.

Be sure to also prepare messaging to address opposing messages. Be aware of counterpoints that may come up as you advocate and be prepared to respond – especially if you know a certain group may be opposed to your goal.

Focus on your objective: What specifically do you want to accomplish? This could include raising awareness of a specific issue or your role/value, increasing your involvement/effectiveness on an issue, building support for specific policy/resource needs, expanding your leadership role, or encourage parents/teachers/students to act.

Goals of key messages are to: Get people’s attention, connect to a priority, minimize suspicion/reactive rejection, engage in a discussion, and be easy to remember. Remember: Key messages can’t convey every single point you hope to make.

Be clear and concise. Determine your main point, state it at the outset, repeat it, conclude with it, and back it up with 2-3 facts. Most people will only remember 2 or 3 points in any communication. The general rule of thumb is to keep your “ask” to less than 5 minutes – whether you are presenting at a meeting or typed 5 minutes worth of text for a staff person to read. Some tips include:

  • Provide concrete actions/suggestions
  • Use audience appropriate language/Avoid acronyms & technical language
  • Use active tense and bullets to the extent possible
  • Ask a colleague to review or proof your work
  • Briefly describe your role/relevant skills. Remember that you are especially important to your elected officials because you are a constituent and/or expert, and because you have a unique view of the effects of proposed state/federal policy or legislation.

Use effective message structure. The direct relationship between problem, action, and benefit is critical to comprehension.

  • Problem (the issue you are trying to help address)
  • Action (what you suggest can be done; your role in doing it)
  • Benefit (improved outcomes; don’t forget to identify how teachers, administrators, and families could benefit, as well as students)

Resonate:

  • Connect with your audiences’ concerns/priorities
  • Appeal to emotion as well as intellect
  • Use “social math,” not just statistics
  • Put a “face” on the issue. Tell stories, not just facts. Be a good listener.
  • Create a clear “call to action”
  • Don’t expect your target audience to guess what you need

For examples of strong key messages, be sure to check out the key messages documents at the end of this playbook for each topic area.

Policy Playbook

Helping Children - Floods

Related Resources

Effective Communications: Tips for School Psychologists
Use this PDF to further your communications strategy.

School Psychologists: We Can Help
Key messages regarding the role and expertise of school psychologists.

Who Are School Psychologists?
An excellent resource to distribute with information on who school psychologists are, where they work, and what they do to help schools thrive.

Topic Specific Resources