Focused Communications Essential In TIF Implementation
In 2010, the Ohio Department of Education and 23 Ohio school districts joined forces to carry out the goals of a five-year, $52.7 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. These districts are recognizing educators for their impact on student achievement, enhancing educator effectiveness, and focusing on all students graduating from high school college- and career-ready. This work includes designing and implementing bonus systems for teachers and principals. Each model contains support structures for professional learning, incentives, and processes of communication and collaboration ensure stakeholder engagement and involvement.
From the beginning, Ohio TIF districts knew that frequent and open communication with stakeholders was essential for program success.
Circleville City School District in Circleville, Ohio used communications to establish credibility and build support for TIF with all staff in the district. "Communications need to be comprehensive, simple, and accessible," explained Jonathan Kuehnle, the district's TIF Coordinator. "To encourage buy-in and build capacity, communications must be straightforward and not overwhelm the recipients. Articulate a vision and the goals for the year, outline the rationale and supporting programs, then implement with consistency."
Tom Musgrave, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment and TIF coordinator for Maysville Local School District in Zanesville, Ohio, noted that the district has "developed a rich esprit de corps at Maysville, but were very concerned that the infusion of award dollars might negatively impact the camaraderie that we have come to appreciate." To ensure success, Maysville developed a communication plan with the main goal of promoting transparency and trust. The district hosted open forums to receive feedback on the project, welcomed all district staff to participate in planning, and even went out into the community to share their work.
"Maysville Local Schools is in the midst of a profound and exciting transformation, and we want our community to see it, feel it, embrace it, and come along for the ride. Our plan is to seize every opportunity and use it to talk about TIF as just one of the many outstanding changes that are sweeping over our district. We want our community to see TIF as a piece in a much bigger puzzle," Musgrave added.
How have Ohio TIF districts used communications to support successful implementation of their educational-improvement goals?
• Plan: Communications work should be intentional, planned, and organized. Ohio TIF districts all created comprehensive communications plans when beginning the project.
• Utilize Targeted Messaging: Ohio TIF districts were intentional in selecting language to show the connection between current districts' educational-improvement strategies, student outcomes, and TIF goals.
• Bring in Stakeholders: Districts knew that the public would want information about the changes being made through Ohio TIF. Therefore, they worked to ensure that all stakeholders had a clear understanding of project goals, grant requirements, and measures of success.
• Build Feedback Loops: Engaging in regular, open, and transparent communications was critical to successful implementation of Ohio TIF. Districts also worked to build a process for staff to provide feedback.
• Designate a Key Contact: Ohio TIF districts knew that the work could raise questions and concerns from staff, parents, and others in the community. Thus, all districts established a key contact, whose information was available to the public, to answer questions and collect other feedback.
• Communicate Often: Ohio TIF districts knew that the message to be communicated was important but it had to be transmitted to staff. Districts utilized existing communication channels and vehicles that had proven successful in the past and communicated often.
Ohio TIF districts have been extremely intentional with communications around the who, what, when, and why of the program. With any change in schools, communication is necessary to ensure buy-in, collaboration, and success. Hopefully these lessons from Ohio will help talent managers across the country in planning and executing reforms in their district.