Crane: Unfold Your Story

From the CRANE Blog

Calming crisis: Meeting unpredictable moments with unchanging principles

Shelly W. Peters, principal
September 9, 2021

A good crisis response is a complex amalgam—part gut instinct and part careful strategy, a balance of discretion and transparency. It’s a process rooted in your community’s ethical bedrock and adapted to the needs of a rapidly shifting situation.

Crises are, by their very nature, difficult to predict or prepare for. The communications strategies they require are therefore highly circumstantial, evolving quickly in direct response to a specific challenge or an urgent need. In other words, the plan isn’t a fire extinguisher that you create (or buy) fully formed, keep in a safe place, and then pull out and apply to any conflagration that erupts. However, by cultivating messaging clarity and consensus around your community’s shared values, schools can lay some key ground rules about how they will communicate—in good times and bad.

Organizations whose values are already widely and clearly articulated are better positioned to respond to a crisis quickly, dexterously, and authentically.

The crucial word here is articulated: All organizations have values, but those which actively, intentionally practice communicating them are better prepared to frame evolving crisis communications—and, in fact, to guide and implement the crisis response itself. Schools with a well-wrought, authentic brand already hold a set of communications and operational principles honed by day-to-day use, ready to form the backbone of a crisis plan should the need arise.

In short, knowing what to do in a moment of crisis starts with knowing who you are every hour of every day.

For many of our client schools, careful work on articulating institutional identity has paid unexpected dividends in moments of upheaval or uncertainty. One—a delightful K-6 independent school with a strong commitment to its tight-knit community (and the physical space it occupies)—held true to these overarching values even during a school year overtaken by COVID. Because they had already distilled the school’s unique conception of community, the school’s educators knew to prioritize it in their teaching and learning responses, and their communications director understood that crisis communications needed to build on and honor that distinctive atmosphere of trust, honesty, safety, and warmth.

Our campus is more than just one place. It is anywhere—a classroom or a studio, a field trip site or the living room sofa—that our students can truly delight in discovery and build their critical and creative capacities. And at our school, community goes deeper than simply being in the same place at the same time. Our relationships are real and resilient, and we share a love of learning together that stands all tests of time and distance.

In the absence of a clearly articulated institutional identity, or brand, you can start with a process of crafting belief statements. This activity affords schools and organizations a safe space in which to codify and build consensus on their guiding principles, upon which they can draw strength and direction in more fraught times.

For example…

We believe that every child has inherent dignity and deserves respect.

…can translate into a communications principle, aligning seamlessly with the shared values of the community.

We believe that each of our students, parents, and family members have inherent dignity and deserves respectful and honest communications.

* * *

While no organization can prepare itself fully for every communications contingency, all schools can best face the unknown by first knowing themselves—and by allowing the values they live to determine, order, and frame the next steps.

More importantly, a community in crisis recovers its equilibrium most readily when it knows it is standing on an unshakeable foundation of shared values—in good times, in moments of disruption, and through the process (however challenging) of restoration and recovery.



Atlanta, Georgia

Breakout session:
What (and Who) Now?:
Identity, Mission, & Values

Shelly W. Peters, principal
CRANE I Atlanta

Date & Time:
October 18, 2021
2:30 – 3:30 p.m.