NSPRA 2022: Innovations and Insight in the Windy City

What does the crossroad of innovation and transformation look like for school superintendents as communicators? The Nichols Strategies team joined newbies and vets alike in the Windy City to find out and to offer our own take from the National School Public Relations Association’s annual seminar.

NSPRA provided an abundance of tips and tricks to aid communicators and further their communication knowledge in the realm of schools. Concepts surrounding creative planning, commanding interviews, as well as deep diving into the issues facing our education system were at the forefront of the learning experience.

The Nichols Strategies team covered pivotal matters facing district leaders everywhere, from developing strategic interview tactics with the media to addressing the substitute teacher shortage crisis impacting the nation.



Jacqueline Ratto, who spent nearly a decade leading communications at the San Joaquin County Office of Education, kicked off the conference Saturday with a “Don’t take Notes, Take Action” session as part of Bb Day for educational technology solution provider, Blackboard. Jacqueline Ratto helped participants develop a roadmap for creating plans, touching on creative processes like sketchnoting. By sketchnoting, the use of words in conjunction with visuals when note-taking, the part of your brain that typically lies dormant activates. Jacqueline honed in on ways to overcome obstacles like procrastination that can hinder you on your path to success.

Jacqueline advises to avoid procrastination in your planning phase, work backwards from your deadline to know how long you need, and when to get started so you’re not late.

When it comes to owning media interviews, past NSPRA president and three-time Gold Medallion Winner Lesley Bruinton broke down the objectives of commanding the camera as a school official. The session was the closing module of the new Leadership in School Communication series offered by NSPRA in partnership with AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

Saturday’s session “Lights, Camera, Action: Take Control of Media Interviews” amplified the value of curating strong command statements, implementing the four pillars of hope, stability, compassion, and trust in your communication.

When faced with a question you aren’t sure how to answer, use a bridging statement to circle back to amplifying your command statement. Sample bridging statements like “It’s imperative that we remember…” or “What we’re focused on is..” help direct the interview back to channeling the command statements effectively.

A former broadcast journalist, Lesley touched on how news organizations and journalists operate, and ways to manage getting your message across with or without media. Alongside fellow communications leaders Jimmy Minichello, AASA Director of Communications and PR and Christine Paik, Poway District Chief Communication Officer, the panel amplified the value of creating a plan and process with the four P’s (Poise, Professionalism, Place, and Process) in mind. In interactive sessions, attendees put their plans into action, conducting simulated on-camera interviews.

Addressing the shortage of substitute teachers across the country, Nichols teammates Erik Harrell and Jacob Ando prompted participants to brainstorm solutions for the issue. In the spirit of collaboration, ideas to increase engagement, diversify the audience, and to drive recruitment flowed amongst the crowd. The duo touched on the practice of Nonviolent Communication, a framework for resolution during the civil rights era, centered around empathetic listening to gain compassion with audiences.

In tapping into the Nonviolent Communication tactics, using emotion and empathy as resources strengthens communication and connection with your district on a higher level.

A heavy crowd of NSPRA goers piled into veteran communicator and former NSPRA president Tom DeLapp’s session entitled “The Uncivil Debate: Communication in an Era of Outrage”, to catch a glimpse of his wisdom spanning over 50 years. In an era grappling with numerous controversies facing the school system, seasoned views and insights from Tom serve as the guidance needed when a crisis hits. Tom DeLapp kicked off the session in an unorthodox yet practical manner, inviting the audience to ask questions at the beginning rather than the end, ensuring that the crises on everyone’s mind were answered.

Remaining calm and confident reassuring security to the community is central to crafting communication to tackle a crisis of any scale.

Whether you attended the conference or were unable to attend, the expert knowledge presented by the Nichols Strategies team is only a call away!

Reach us at info@nicholsstrastg.wpengine.com or 916.476.3471 to get connected with a team who knows just how to handle any crisis that may face your district.