Today, on School Communicators Day, I am announcing that I am taking a leap…

In 2006, I took a giant leap out of the classroom and into a role as an instructional technology specialist. I remember on my first day, I called my mom in tears, “I cannot do this! I have NO IDEA what I am doing!” Her advice: go to Target, get all new office supplies and organize the heck out of everything in your new space. (I mean, she gets me!) I did just that, and after putting my hands on each item in my new computer lab, I felt ready to hit the ground running.

In 2016, I took another giant leap out of the technology world and into the brand new office of communications for Brenham ISD. I had no experience. I had no network. I had NO CLUE! But I went to a Spoken Word training in New Braunfels ISD where I learned about TSPRA and met the first few members of my CASPRA family. I felt at home and I was ready to dive in.

Today, on School Communicators Day, I am announcing that I am taking yet another leap. I am leaving the school PR world to take on the role of Marketing Manager for Education Advanced, Inc., an educational software company. 

While I am SO EXCITED about this new opportunity and the professional growth it will offer, I am heartbroken to leave my school PR family. So many of you have been my mentors, my rocks, my advisers and my friends. You opened your arms to me and welcomed me wholeheartedly into the school PR family. My TSPRA, CASPRA and ETSPRA family – you guys always have my back. My NSPRA and #k12prchat family – you invited me in and made me feel like “one of you.” I feel like I have “grown up” under your care and I am forever grateful.

As we celebrate school PR pros across the nation today, I can say with certainty that there is no network like the school PR network. I’ve never worked with professionals who are more willing to accept and share. I want to thank each of you who has ever answered my SOS call, responded to my panicked text, shared with me your documents and/or ideas, or done any number of things that school PR pros do to build each other up. YOU are the good!

I am not sure what’s going to happen to School PR365 from here on out. (Anyone want to take it over?! Hit me up!) Thank you for reading and supporting this passion project. It has truly been my pleasure and I hope our paths cross again!

I would love to network with you outside of School PR365. Follow me on Twitter here. Connect with me on LinkedIn here.

If you know of any school PR pros who would like to move to the beautiful and historic Brenham, Texas to join the first public school district in the state, please share the job posting here.

It has been my pleasure and my honor to work and serve with you!

Branding, Communication, Culture, innovation, Leadership

Unboxing of What’s Worth Doing: Cards for Your Next Step

Several years ago I happened upon a Kickstarter campaign for a company seeking support for what they called a “Brand Deck.” I supported the campaign, received my Brand Deck, and have used it several times – most recently with my team at the beginning of the year to help define our departmental identity and set goals.

A few months ago I came across another Kickstarter campaign for a company seeking support for their newest project, “What’s Worth Doing: Cards for Your Next Step.” It looked intriguing and sort of resonated with me, like the Brand Deck did, so I decided to pledge my support of the project and secure an advanced order.

My “What’s Worth Doing” cards came in last week and I was SO EXCITED to dive in. I took pictures as I opened the package and tried the sorting activity so I could share the experience, in some way, with you! They also have a nice video explanation on their Kickstarter page here. I think I could do this exercise a dozen times, and at different points in my life/career, and come up with new and different ideas to shake things up.

Many of us have had to pivot in these last few weeks to learn new ways to do our jobs, find creative solutions to problems, and innovate with others in a space we never dreamed we’d be in. I am excited to keep exploring how “What’s Worth Doing” might help me break out of my traditional boxes to find new and exciting ways to adapt to these changing, and challenging, times!


Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 choice board for my own children (or are the my pupils now?)

If you’re a parent and you’re in school PR, you may be like me … wondering how to keep your own children engaged in ANYTHING remotely instructional while you work from home to handle communications for your district.

Now, this choice board is nothing fancy. It’s not research-based, standards specific or even approved by my boys’ teachers. (Don’t tell!) BUT, it’s ready to go, easy to follow, easy to modify weekly, and easy to replicate, since it’s in a Google Docs format. (Go to File > Make a Copy to create your own.)

If you need something to fill in the gaps between what your district has provided and the countless other hours you have to fill … or if you just need something to get your kiddos started at all, I hope this might help!

GOOD LUCK to all of you! I continue to be eternally grateful for our school PR community and the leaders in districts across our state and nation who are working around the clock to serve our students. I see all that you are doing and I appreciate YOU!

Communication, Culture, Leadership

Set up a “good news stand” on your campuses to capture the best stories and reconnect with your staff and students

One of the hardest parts of my school PR role is balancing administrative tasks with my role as chief people person and lead storyteller. It’s easy to get sucked into the “at my computer” and “in meetings” duties more than the “get out and see real, live kids and staff” responsibilities. Here’s the saddest part of that scenario, the longer you go without visiting campuses regularly, the more you feel like an imposter when you do visit. 

Now, I have worked on almost every campus in Brenham ISD over the last 18 years, so admittedly, I still feel very much at home when I visit most schools. BUT, staffing changes and the growing distance between me as “one of them” and me as “one of THEM” have created some challenges. The start of 2020 (+ our AMAZING #k12prbooks title Stories that Stick by Kindra Hall) renewed my desire to get out there, connect with my people and tell our district’s stories. To help facilitate that and take a more intentional approach, I decided to set up “good news stands” across our district. Here’s what I did…

Good News Stand Plan

{email to admins with idea}

Subject: I can’t wait to share your good news!

Good morning! I am so excited to office from your campus soon to spend an ENTIRE DAY spreading the good news about your students and staff! You don’t have to do anything special on this day, but I do need help selecting a date that will work for you and your campus. I also ask that you please allow me to use a space on your campus (empty classroom, conference room, library, closet, hallway, corner) that can be easily accessed by your staff on that day.

Please click here to select a date. {link to Google Form here}

On your preferred date, I will be asking your staff to stop by and “tell me something good” and/or invite me into their classrooms to see your students in action. All of my media posts that day will be about YOUR staff and students! 

THANK YOU for being our district’s best storytellers and for allowing me access to your campuses! Great things are happening all over Brenham ISD and I am so proud to be able to share your good news!

TECH TIP: Create a Google Form with your available dates in a dropdown question format. (Be sure to give admins plenty of choices!) Then, use “Choice Eliminator” in your form to remove options from the list when they have already been selected.

{email to campus conference}

Subject: Raise your hand if you want a jeans pass!

The start of a new year has renewed my focus on finding the good news on our campuses and sharing it with the world! Tomorrow I will be on your campus all day long and I’d love to hear some good news. Find me and tell me something good, any good news at all, and I will give you a jeans pass. EASY! 

OR, click here to book an appointment slot {link to your preferred appointment tool} and invite me into your classroom for a few minutes to see your good news in action. In return, I’ll give you a jeans pass AND enter your class into a drawing for a class pizza party. Mmmmm!

You see the good news on your campus and in your classroom each and every day. I need your help to make sure our community also sees the great things happening in Brenham public schools. THANK YOU for being your campus’ storytellers and for allowing me access to your classrooms! Great things are happening all over Brenham ISD and I am so proud to share your good news!

TECH TIP: Use Google Calendar appointment slots to add the classroom visit invitations to your calendar and the requestor’s.

My first good news stand was last week at one of our elementary campuses. I’ll be honest, I was nervous. I had NO idea how it would go (perhaps they’d think this was the dumbest idea ever?!). Nope – it.was.awesome. I hadn’t even been on the campus for 10 minutes and someone had already shared good news with me! (Jeans passes are VERY powerful!) I literally set up my laptop on a metal rolling cart in the hallway of the front office – it was the most perfect, visible place to be! At the end of the day, 17 staff members had shared a piece of good news and I had been invited into 5 classrooms! There were several times when I thought I might burst into tears – it was that good.

I have to give a shout-out to my pal Corey Ryan who is the chief communications officer in Leander ISD and the Central Area TSPRA VP. He did a great activity at a CASPRA meeting called a “school story takeover.” Check out his NSPRA Tip Sheet below for even more ideas!

I would love to know how you are engaging with your students and staff, being intentional about campus visits, and telling your best stories. Share your ideas in the comments below or email me to collaborate!

Communication, Community Relations, Culture, Google, Productivity, Time Management

Work smarter, not harder with Autocrat (to automatically generate printable recognition certificates!)

Earlier this week I presented a session at TASA Midwinter in Austin about how our district is engaging our community, parents, students and staff. After the session, I got a common question about how I’m using the Google Sheets Add-On, Autocrat, to automatically generate printable certificates for our district employee recognition program. Check out the short video below for the steps you can take to set up your own work smarter, not harder system using Google Forms, Google Docs and Google Sheets. Then, check out the presentation for 21 other ways we are engaging our district and community stakeholders. Let me know if you have some ideas to share! I’d love to collaborate with you!

Communication, innovation, Leadership

Are you thinking of earning a school PR master’s degree? See my 5 reasons for choosing this one!

Over the last couple of weeks, several of my school PR friends have reached out to get more information or ask questions about the master’s degree I recently earned from Texas Tech University. In December, I earned a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Innovation from TTU and I cannot say enough good things about this program. I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat and here are 5 reasons why:

  1. Although the work was challenging, the workload was realistic for a working professional. I have a full-time school PR job and two boys under the age of 10 and managing it all was totally doable. Admittedly, there were some late nights and more than a few weekends, but that should be expected in any post-graduate program.
  2. Each professor provided relevant and thoughtful content, timely feedback, and meaningful projects. I am MOST impressed with the faculty at TTU. They truly took the time to get to know me and I felt a connection with each one of them. There were several video chat opportunities that I took advantage of and I really think that contributed to my personalized learning experience.
  3. Each discussion board was rich with diversity, as I was one of the only school PR pros in the cohort. In the beginning, I was intimidated that I did not have a communications background; however, I soon realized that we can learn A LOT from our industry friends, and vice versa! I loved digesting the varied approaches to communication situations that were presented.
  4. Each course offered me new insight into how to approach strategic communications. Without a doubt, 100% of the content presented throughout this program could be applied to my work in school PR! One of these days I am going to post “42 lessons this 42 year old graduate student learned about communications and school PR” to share it all with you! 🙂
  5. This is a fully online, non-thesis program. The TTU program is 100% online and does not require a thesis. Instead, you will complete an applied project, which is SO MUCH MORE fulfilling. I chose to do my project on brain science and bond election visuals. It was FASCINATING and incredibly applicable to my field.

If you have any other questions or would like to know more about my experience, please feel free to reach out. I am happy to share! I am also attaching my degree plan and the program handbook that might give you some more information about the content and pacing. As we say in Red Raider country, “Wreck ‘Em!”

Branding, Communication, Community Relations, Culture

Ignite systematic change and engage a diverse community! C4 Yourself: Cultivate Community, Communication & Culture

Happy New Year, all! I hope you enjoyed a restful break with loved ones and have returned with a renewed energy and passion for serving in your district or organization. As we say here in Brenham ISD, today is a GREAT DAY to be a Cub! 🙂

While I was walking the stage in Lubbock last month, the Brenham ISD Community Services team was presenting at the 2019 Statewide Parental Involvement Conference in San Marcos, Texas. This team consists of Karem Chandler, F.A.M.E. Parent Liaison; Georgiane Gessner, Community Services Associate; Shawn Mays, Social Emotional Coordinator; and Rebecca Wachsler, Social Emotional Coordinator.

These ladies did an OUTSTANDING job of sharing how our fairly rural district is igniting systematic change and engaging a diverse community. They shared simple strategies that break down barriers, change public perception, and build a community of public school supporters. No budget? No worries! Most of the strategies they shared can be achieved with even the smallest departments and budgets (I know … from experience!). We invite you to check out the presentation below to get ideas you can implement immediately to maximize your resources and get a big return on your investment.

We’d love to hear from you if you have questions, ideas or feedback!

Communication, innovation, Leadership

20 years (- 4 days) later, I walked the Texas Tech University stage again!

On Friday, twenty years minus four days after graduating from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, I walked that stage again to earn a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Innovation. It was a joyous night with my whole family in attendance and I am sure my parents are glad they didn’t foot the bill this time! A special thanks to my sister who helped with my school bond election research and to my husband for allowing me to cut into our family time (and funds!) to do this thing … again.

The Rambo Family, Texas Tech University, 1999

The most special family members in attendance were my children. They were really too young to understand the gravity of what I was doing when I earned my first master’s degree, but they were fully engaged in the process this time. They saw me work hard, they supported me when I had to do homework (sometimes bringing me drinks and snacks and hugs), and they were patient and understanding when I was largely unavailable during the evenings and on weekends. I walked the stage for them, so they could experience the celebration of completing a postgraduate degree and reaching a goal. I hope I get to see them do the same one day.

The Johnston Family, Texas Tech University, 2019

I cannot say enough good things about this program. Each course offered me new insight into how to approach strategic communications. Each discussion board was rich with diversity, as I was one of the only school PR pros in the cohort (we can learn A LOT from our industry friends, and vice versa!). Each professor provided relevant and thoughtful content, timely feedback, and meaningful projects. The work was challenging and sometimes frustrating, but oh so rewarding!

I must admit, I am a big ol’ NERD and I love to learn. There was a time when I thought I’d pursue a doctorate and the hooding of the doctoral graduates Friday night made my heart pitter-patter; however, I solemnly swear I will not go back to school ever again. 🙂 My next goal is to earn my APR. Until then, I am excited to be continuing my work TTU professor of public relations Dr. Paul Bolls. Dr. Bolls taught the first course I took for this program, Neuromarketing for Professionals, and was also my final project advisor. He completely hooked me with his course on neuromarketing and brain science and then coached me through an exciting content analysis of school bond election materials. Dr. Bolls directs Media Mind Insights, an academic Neuromarketing research group at TTU, and we feel like there is more work to be done in the area of brain science and school bond elections. 

Dr. Bolls and Me

If you’re considering a graduate program in communications, I HIGHLY recommend the online master’s program in strategic communication & innovation from Texas Tech University. I did a lot of research when I was thinking about earning a degree in communications and the coursework for this program was just fascinating. I can tell you with absolute certainty that I got my money’s worth! Feel free to reach out if you want additional thoughts or have questions. Happy to share!

Wishing you all a safe, restful and UNEVENTFUL school PR holiday season! Wreck ‘em!

Communication, innovation, Social Media

5 tips for a successful student takeover – give your students a voice and your social media channels a new flavor!

Late last year I learned of the concept of a social media “student takeover” and immediately wanted to try it with Brenham ISD! I passed the idea by my BHS student communications intern who was all in to give it a go. We decided to use Instagram Stories, an area I was not fully utilizing, in hopes of branching out and growing our Instagram following. I shared a Google Doc with my intern and we planned some ideas for posts throughout the day. He did a WONDERFUL job and I loved showcasing a student voice on our Instagram channel to add a new flavor to our posts!

Entering into the new school year, I was eager to jump in and try another student takeover. A local welding contest presented a perfect opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at our students at work. I reached out to our FFA president to see if she’d like to give a sneak peek of our CTE students at the competition and she was excited to participate. This time I used some specific guidelines to help guide the posts throughout the day and it was a HUGE success! 

A week later, I contacted our district’s head athletic trainer to see if she had a student athletic trainer that might be interested in participating in a student takeover day. I was thrilled when the offer was accepted and we were able to highlight the work of our SATs from the sidelines of a Friday night game. One of my favorite parts of that takeover was a time-lapse of a pre-game taping session with our student-athletes. It was so unique and an idea I never would have thought of!

If you’re considering a student takeover, I SAY JUST DO IT! It has been such a rewarding experience for me and for our students. It’s also a great opportunity to give historically underrepresented student groups a voice, or showcase learning that goes on outside of the regular school day!

Here are a few tips to help ensure a successful student takeover:

  • CHOOSE WISELY! With this wonderful opportunity comes great responsibility for your students. Do your homework and choose students who will represent your brand well and who understand the power of their posts.
  • Set clear expectations. Check out the Brenham ISD Guidelines for Instagram Stories Student Takeover for ideas. Don’t make your students guess what it is you want from them.
  • Let your students post in their own voice. As school PR pros, we do a great job of posting information that adults are interested in. Let your students add their own unique flavor to engage your younger student audience!
  • Use all the bells and whistles. Encourage your students to use all of the Instagram Stories features like Boomerang, Superzoom, gifs, stickers, etc. Even if you’re not comfortable with those features, your students likely are!
  • As Elsa says, LET IT GOOOO! You’ll enjoy your student takeover more if you let go of technical expectations and hopes for perfection. It’s ok if you notice a slight error (or a less formal tone) in a student post!
Communication, podcasting, Social Media, Tools

Our Cub Nation Station podcast is up and running and it couldn’t have been easier!

(After I composed this post, I realized it became fairly lengthy. EEK! I tried to include lots of HOPEFULLY helpful planning details, but be looking for some follow-up posts with specific info about Anchor, SoundCloud, and Headliner!)

Each week my district hosts two radio shows featuring staff and students talking about the great things happening in Brenham ISD. Last year, I started hosting one of these shows, which provided a perfect opportunity for me to expand our content to a podcast this year. The station manager graciously allows me to bring in my own recorder to grab those weekly interviews for our new Cub Nation station podcast. It has been SO EASY to take the content we are already producing and put it into a podcast format to reach a greater audience. Below are the steps I take and the tools I use to produce the weekly episodes. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast, I say DO IT! There’s nothing to fear!

Step 1: Schedule the interview

  • I send a Google Sheet to all of our campus and district administrators at the beginning of each year so they can easily sign up for an interview date/time slot.
  • I encourage them to choose a date that is MEANINGFUL (ex: coincides with a special event, celebration or time of year).
  • They write 5 questions (with short answers … I’ll tell you why later!) and share them with me in a Google Doc.
  • Once all admins have had a chance to sign up, I reach out to student group sponsors and special programs staff to get a variety of voices on the show.

Step 2: Record the interview

  • This year I bought a Zoom H1n Handy Recorder for recording the podcast episodes. It’s super easy to use and has great sound quality.
  • I just set it up on the table in between my guest and me and press the little red record button to start and stop.
  • It came with a micro-SD card and an adapter so I can easily transfer the audio file to my computer.

Step 3: Publish the podcast episode

  • I am using Anchor to publish our district podcast and I highly recommend this for starters! It’s FREE and it’s EASY! Plus, it automatically pushes my podcast to 6 different platforms each time I publish a new episode.
  • The high-level steps in Anchor look like this … 
    • Import my podcast intro from my library (previously recorded)
    • Insert the “slide” transition clip from the Anchor library (personal preference)
    • Upload the episode from my Zoom micro-SD card
    • Split the audio to trim the ends of the episode (gets rid of our chatting before and after)
    • Insert the “slide” transition clip from the Anchor library again at the end
    • Save episode
    • I then use the questions and answers from the Google Doc the guest shared with me for the episode notes and also for a “5 questions with” newsletter on our district website. (work smarter, not harder!)

Step 4: Advertise the new episode

  • My podcasting pals Justin Dearing and Erin McCann shared this AMAZING tool with me called Headliner. It does A LOT of stuff, but I use it to record teasers for my latest episodes. (This tool will likely require a more detailed future blog post!)
  • The high-level steps for Headliner look like this …
    • I use Canva to create a square image with the title and topic of my episode and a picture of the guest. 
    • Then, I drop the file from my Zoom recorder into Soundtrap to trim it into a 15-30 second teaser.
    • Headliner then helps me turn the audio teaser into a cool animated waveform on top of the Canva image that I can share on social media with a link back to the full episode.
  • You can see an example of the headliner teaser here.

I fully accept that there is probably an easier (and more sophisticated) way to do all of this, but it’s working for me now and it’s all FREE! 🙂

“Not-so-pro” tips: 

  • There are NO ambushes on my shows. The guests know exactly what I am going to ask because they wrote the questions! This is why they keep coming back – I don’t scare them away with questions they’re not ready to answer!
  • I use a canned response in Gmail to send guests a reminder the week of their shows. You can turn on canned responses or “templates” in your Gmail settings.
  • I use the RSS feed from Anchor to push episodes to a page on our district website so all of my social media posts lead back to our district site. 🙂

Do you have a podcast? What are your favorite tools, tips, and tricks? I’d love to learn from you!