Lessons from the Pandemic: Gearing up for the 2021-2022 School Year

Written by Thom Fladung, Hennes Communications

Congratulations, School Leaders. You survived 2020-21 – a school year unlike any other, featuring the continuation of a public health pandemic, the most hyper-charged political atmosphere in memory and social justice issues that roiled the nation.

Your reward: Start getting ready for 2021-22.

But unlike, say, January 2020, when we began hearing mysterious reports of a serious illness in China, lessons learned from the past year and a half can be carried into the coming school year and many school years to come.

Those lessons include how to apply the best practices of crisis communications along with the specialized practice of outrage management and make it work in a culture dominated by social media, where every slight or disagreement seemingly turns into a battle royale.

This has all placed a greater premium on communicating with your key school stakeholders – your teachers, your staff, your students, your parents – than has ever been the case.

The Damage Control Playbook

Let’s start with the fundamentals of effective crisis communications. At Hennes Communications, we depend on our Damage Control Playbook and its five simple concepts:

  1. Tell the truth – if you don’t, you risk your credibility. If you don’t tell the truth, when the truth comes out – and it will – that will become the story. How often does damage from the cover-up far exceed the original act?
  2. Tell it first – if you don’t, someone else will. And then you’ve lost control of your message. The best way to control the narrative of your story is to tell your story first.
  3. Tell it all – if you don’t, someone else will. We realize this one comes with an asterisk. Sometimes, for very legitimate reasons, you can’t tell it “all.” Student privacy must be paramount. There may be personnel issues. HIPAA may come into play. But there is almost always something you can say. And then explain why you can’t talk more about it. As we experienced in communicating about a pandemic, you also can’t know it “all.” Change will continue. Prepare everyone with that information as well.
  4. Tell it fast. Or at least be prepared to tell it as fast as you can, an essential step to succeeding in a world of instant communication.
  5. Tell it to the people who matter most. Your key stakeholders – teachers, staff, students, parents – are eager to hear from you. Even as they’re also unsure and stressed out. Which often leads to…

Steps to Managing Outrage

Headlines from news stories across the nation have had a familiar ring:

“Parents outraged that school district will begin the year with virtual classes”

“Parents outraged over decision for blended learning in schools”

“Parents outraged after school board meeting on reopening plans”

There’s a lot of outrage to go around out there.

A specialized subset of crisis communications has emerged that now is commonly referred to as outrage communications or outrage management. Peter Sandman, a colleague and friend to Hennes, has been one of the leading proponents of this discipline. Here are some steps he’s outlined and that we’ve refined for outrage management.

  1. Validate concerns. If you’re dealing with someone who is hostile or upset, ignoring or attempting to rebut concerns or objections will backfire. You can’t debate someone out of being outraged. Instead, look for ways to validate a person’s valid concerns and respond in a measured way.
  2. Acknowledge past mistakes. The responsible party is always ready to move on – including responsible parties who want to do the right thing. Be careful. The prerogative of deciding when you can put your mistakes behind you belongs to your stakeholders, not to you. The more often and apologetically you acknowledge the sins of the past, the more quickly others will decide it is time to move on. To build credibility, acknowledge the problems you’re facing – before you solve them and before you know if you will be able to solve them. That won’t make people panic. People panic when they think leadership doesn’t know what’s going on or is lying about what’s going on.
  3. Give credit. If you’ve decided to change or improve something because it was pointed out, and especially if pressure was applied – by employees, activists, critics, whoever – put the change in that context. Have the grace and honesty to say you responded. As Sandman has said, “Attributing your good behavior to your own natural goodness triggers skepticism.” Acknowledge that you changed because people raised a valid concern, and those people are much more likely to believe you actually did it.
  4. Share some control. The higher the outrage, the less willing people are to leave the control in your hands. You screwed it up. Why should we believe that you’re now going to fix it? As painful as it may be, look for ways to put the control elsewhere. Let others certify and validate that you’ve worked to fix the problem.

Communicating Your Way Through A Pandemic

We’ve also gotten new lessons – or been reminded of old ones – while communicating through this pandemic.

  1. Overcommunicate. In fact, you can’t overcommunicate during a pandemic. And you won’t be able to overcommunicate about the continuing changes you’ll make.
  2. Communicate regularly. Regular, scheduled updates – including when you don’t have news to report – calm people and give them a little better sense of control. If I know my school is going to send out an update on the state of conditions every Thursday at 1 p.m., that’s one little slice of certainly amid all the uncertainty.
  3. Avoid “we got this” syndrome. Communicate forthrightly about uncertainty, provide reassurance – but avoid the pitfalls of over-reassuring, one of the common crisis communication mistakes. Temper good news with a dose of reality, such as “We are continuing to do the best possible job to make plans and share these plans with you. But please understand that conditions continue to change virtually by the day. And we may need to change our plans. We promise to keep you updated on developments to the greatest degree possible.” Leaders are trained to exhibit an air of confidence – and you should. That’s different than arrogantly telling everyone “we’ve got this” – when we know you don’t.

What to do on summer vacation

Now is the time to take those learnings from communicating during a pandemic and turn them into a communications action plan for the fall. Take advantage of this time.

Here are some of the strategies and tactics to consider as your school’s communicators begin that work.

  1. Ask us anything. How have you been fielding parent and community questions and concerns? Is it working?
  2. Review your website. How are you using your website? Is it always up to date? You may have had a section of your website dedicated to COVID-19 matters. Consider transitioning that to the post-COVID world.
  3. Review your social media. Judge its effectiveness. While social media often is considered the enemy – the place critics go to post inflammatory speculation about your school – it’s also one of the powerful tools you have for distributing information. Just as with popular media, you no longer can put the information where you want it and expect your audience to go get it. You have to give them information where and when they want it.

What else to do on summer vacation

  1. Refine your communications plan. How detailed is your communications plan? Does it identify the precise dates when you will complete specific tasks so you’re strategically using the summer months to talk to parents, students, teachers and staff?
  2. Be relentlessly consistent. Are teachers, assistants, front office staff and school board members all saying the same thing? Inconsistent messaging will cause a host of problems. And in an uncertain time, sowing more uncertainty will be damaging.
  3. Remember your Board. Do board members understand your communication plans around reopening for 2021-22? Do they have high-level talking points about reopening? They’re critical ambassadors for carrying the message that your school has its reopening act together.
  4. Publish everywhere. Post details of your reopening plans on your website, in your e-newsletters, on your social media channels. And remember traditional avenues such as the local newspaper. Offer to write an op-ed piece on how you’re reopening your school. Bet they take it.
  5. Go first. Be the first source for information about your school. The public often uses the speed of information flow as a marker for your preparedness. In today’s age of social media, you must be prepared to do the right thing and tell people while it’s happening that you’re doing the right thing.

Show me, don’t tell me

This is one of journalism’s oldest, truest clichés. To make people believe what you’re saying, don’t just recite policies and practices. Show them what you mean.

Consider using Facebook Live or videos or some other method to show and not just tell your stakeholders what you’re doing. Before school starts, show me what your classroom in 2021-22 is going to look like. Recruit student volunteers or ask your teachers to play the part. Show me the hallways between class changes. Show me the lockers. Show me how you’re continuing to clean high-touch areas. Take me inside what you’re planning to do – before you do it.

Plan and adjust

Remember that communications plans are not evergreen documents. Review and update regularly to address emerging issue and concerns. This golden rule will be even more relevant during the 2021-2022 school year. Adjust your communication methods and perhaps add some new ones.  Study what other districts are doing and adopt some of their good ideas.

Most important, you will want to hear from parents, teachers, staff and students and adjust your plan to address their needs.

They looked to you for leadership during a challenging time. They’re still looking.


Thom Fladung is managing partner for Hennes Communications. Contact him at fladung@crisiscommunications.com or 216-213-5196 to learn more about presentations on crisis and issues communications for educators and more.

Technology…What Does the Future Hold for our Field?

Written by Christine Worthington, Virtualpsi Coordinator and Field Supervisor

Technology…let’s ponder that word for a minute…technology. To some, this word is exciting and stirs feelings of future growth and promise. To others, this concept can be frightening and intimidating.

Currently, in our field, technology is often considered synonymous with teletherapy. However, I have come to notice that technology is not just related to teletherapy, but is integral to both in-person and online services. So, what are the future trends of technology and telehealth, and how will technology impact our field going forward?

It’s no secret that teletherapy has experienced significant growth and support since March 2020, and this upward trend is expected to continue. This growth will bring increasingly more technology into our homes, therapy rooms, research and work settings every day. Interestingly, many SLPs are recognizing that the technology being used during virtual instruction can also be used during in-person sessions with excellent outcomes. Teletherapy resources can be brought to the in-person therapy rooms and used efficiently and effectively. For example, the current use of iPads and tablets during in-person sessions has afforded the overburdened SLP with easy to use, portable material. A variety of apps can be utilized to address many therapeutic needs and treatments from early intervention to adults. Additionally, digital downloads of games and interactive instructional resources are just a click away.

The growth of technology does not stop with online platforms, iPads, tablets, or interactive therapeutic resources. The advancement of technology in our field can also be witnessed through 3D printing, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. 3D printing can be utilized to create lifelike images such as hearing aids and artificial larynxes, and help students visualize articulatory movements with 3D animations. New products, such as TikTalk, use artificial Intelligence (AI) to promote accuracy and provide SLPs with new tools to promote home practice and consistency.
The applications are endless and the clinician just needs to imagine how this technology can positively impact their work. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence are not quite impacting our field yet, but discussions are occurring to imagine how these technologies can be used and implemented in research and education. Technology does not need to intimidate or create a sense of uncertainty. Embrace the concept and allow the mind to imagine the future of our field with all these amazing new trends at our fingertips.

psi on The Summit FM -ft. Mike Tornow & Brooke Khamis

Click above to hear Mike Tornow and Brooke Khamis discuss psi services, LifeAct, Raising the Bar of Education and more on The Summit FM!

Screen Time in Pediatrics

Written by Dr. Carly Wilbur, UH Pediatrician and psi Medical Director.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, many schools and workplaces shifted to an online platform. This necessarily increased the amount of time we all spent using electronic devices to communicate, learn, and connect. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended fewer than two hours per day of total screen time prior to the move to remote learning, these guidelines have been updated to reflect the realistic demands of our current digital age.

Not all screen time is bad. The effect it has on the mind and body varies with age, content, timing, and other important factors.

AGE— Screen time for children under two years old is still not encouraged, however during the COVID lockdown, experts modified this recommendation to allow for real-time video chatting so that loved ones could stay in touch. For toddlers, it is advised that only high-quality educational programming be selected, and that parents or caregivers watch alongside younger children so that the experience can be shared and reflected upon together. Solo use of a phone or tablet for viewing in toddlers is not endorsed. For school-aged children, parents must establish clear rules and boundaries, including reviewing internet safety and avoidance of dangerous engagement in social media. For pre-teens and adolescents, this point bears repeating: it is easy for kids at this developmental stage to get swept away in a fad or a scam. They must be told in clear terms that their privacy (ranging from social security number, to home address, to intimate photos) must be prioritized and they are never to engage in behavior that is harmful to themselves (i.e. trending challenges) or others (bullying, trolling).

CONTENT— It is too easy, given the “frictionless interface”, purposely designed to effortlessly slide the user’s attention from one screen to the next, to fall into what’s called an internet rabbit hole. This reference, from Alice in Wonderland, is a metaphor for a method of transporting someone into a surreal and disturbing situation. Clicking on a link located on an age-appropriate site can lead down a road to something unsuitable and traumatizing for younger children. Teenagers and adults can also get caught up in the “gamification” of apps and social media sites, where designers intentionally set up competitive elements to encourage in-app purchases and promote online marketing. This is all to say where you start isn’t always where you land online.

BRAIN CHEMISTRY— Research continues to delve into the effect that screens have on children at a young age. Even in moderation, there are biologic consequences for exposure to the blue light wavelength that screened devices emit. It is surmised that extended exposure can cause long-term damage to the eyes, including macular degeneration, early development of cataracts, retinal toxicity, eye strain, and dry eyes. While an iPad can serve as a great babysitter for a busy parent trying to get dinner ready, inert observation does nothing to further a child’s imagination, encourage creative problem-solving, or develop self-comfort mechanisms. It can serve as a welcome distraction for a hyperactive child, but doesn’t teach them to channel their energy into a productive outcome. Videos of unboxing toys or watching others play video games does not stimulate the imagination. For older children, they should consider whether their screen contact makes them feel better or worse afterward, if it was overall a positive or negative experience. Learning to play guitar or draw calligraphy online and coming away with a new self-taught skill is an entirely different endeavor than passively watching Ninja play Fortnite on Twitch. At nighttime, the effect of the blue light wavelength is magnified. Scientists have discovered that exposure to screens, regardless of the filter applied, suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the body’s naturally-occurring hormone that makes us sleepy. That means that having a TV or phone in the bedroom impedes the circadian nature of the sleep-wake cycle.

SOCIAL INTERACTION— Some screen use encourages social communication, connection, or useful contact, and other screen use does not. Real-time video calls with friends and family, or even judicious use of online gaming with other known players is beneficial. Video chatting throughout the COVID pandemic may have been the only way some grandparents could “visit” with family. It has value when it is used to promote family togetherness, and to prevent social isolation. On the flip side, when screens are prohibited during family dinnertime and bedtime, it encourages in-person intimacy and communication, and protects certain shared encounters that foster emotional closeness and healthy attachment.

Not all screen time is created equal. Using a device to attend classes, learn a new skill, connect with friends and family, or distract an antsy child for a moment is a testament to the ways we put technology to work to improve our lives. But too much screen time can cost us in terms of eye strain, social media addiction, exposure to inappropriate content, disruption of innate sleep chemistry, and exposure to the kind of stressors that contribute to trial-and-error skills-building. Screen time has its role, but it should not replace the need for eating, sleeping, studying, playing, exercising, or interacting with real people. As teachers, parents, and caregivers, we must remain vigilant to these hazards, and set a good example at the dinner table, during bedtime, and any other opportunity when we can to demonstrate good impulse control, put down our screens, and look at each other.

The Complexities of Diabetes Management

Written by Dr. Carly Wilbur, UH Pediatrician and psi Medical Director.

Diabetes in school-aged children is not an uncommon finding. It is estimated that over 200,000 Americans under the age of 20 carry this diagnosis. In healthy individuals, the pancreas automatically produces insulin in response to the ingestion of carbohydrates (also known as sugars) in the diet. In diabetics, the pancreas fails to meet this demand, so these patients must not only limit their sugar intake but also use injectable insulin to help the body metabolize dietary carbohydrates.

Ideally, carbohydrates in food provide an energy source for cell function. However, if the sugars in the diet don’t get properly metabolized, these molecules build up in the blood causing hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. Clinical symptoms of hyperglycemia include headaches, blurry vision, frequent urination, excessive thirst, or even coma. Chronically high blood glucose levels can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system, eyes, heart, and kidneys.

In order to dose the correct amount of insulin, diabetic patients must first prick a finger and extract some blood, and test that blood on a glucose monitor. Most diabetes patients have a baseline amount of long-acting insulin that they use every morning and night, and they adjust the daytime short-acting doses on a sliding scale in direct response to blood glucose readings. Insulin is then delivered using a syringe and injecting into the fatty layer just under the skin.

Diabetes requires vigilant tracking of diet, blood glucose levels, and insulin delivery. It also demands awareness of subtle cues that signal the onset of an episode of poor glucose control. These expectations may be unrealistic in younger children, and so the burden of responsibility falls on the staff and administrators at school to help keep diabetic children safe throughout the school day. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a diabetic’s care, and individualized disease management can be confusing. In addition, while technological advancements have created more enhanced supervision possible, the constantly-changing landscape of available devices, and the platforms on which they function, have added extra layers of complexity to the management of school-aged children with diabetes.

To avoid multiple finger pricks and needle sticks throughout the day, devices like a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) and an Insulin Pump can be helpful. Instead of spot-checking blood glucose levels before and after meals, a CGM uses a sensor that is attached to the body to monitor and track blood glucose levels every few minutes, around the clock, allowing for more comprehensive overview of the patient’s glycemic control. Using a wireless hand-held device, the patient can enter the glucose reading obtained from the CGM into the bolus calculator of an Insulin Pump and the device automatically computes and dispenses the necessary insulin dose. Used together, a Continuous Glucose Monitor and Insulin Infusion Pump take a lot of the guesswork out of diabetes management. Some pump devices can even receive wireless transmission directly from a CGM, saving the user the step of entering the blood glucose level. However, nothing is error-free, and the patient and those adults in the school building tasked with their safety must be prepared to recognize the symptoms of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia and manage these swiftly and effectively.

Because carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source, symptoms of low blood sugar (or hypoglycemia) include shakiness, dizziness, poor concentration, sweating, irritability, rapid heart rate, and irritated mood. With younger patients, or new-onset diabetics, their familiarity with these symptoms may be less than optimal, and indicators may be ignored or go unrecognized. Someone inexperienced with caring for diabetics may too easily dismiss a diabetic teenager’s low energy or bad mood as age-appropriate, and dangerously abnormal blood glucose levels could go unchecked, causing immediate and lasting damage.

Diabetes care plans can be very confusing. By nature, they must be detailed and inclusive, planning for every possibility, from hypoglycemia to hyperglycemia, in addition to all the incremental responses to normal glucose levels. Diabetics have to watch their diet and avoid excessive carbohydrate intake. This is difficult in 3rd grade when every child’s birthday comes with cupcakes for the class. This is still difficult in 7th grade when kids swap lunch items. This is even difficult in 12th grade when the vending machine is a constant temptation.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication that can land a diabetic in the hospital, and likely in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Typically patients in DKA will have a blood sugar >300 and will show signs of metabolic distress (high levels of ketones in the urine). While there are predictive factors, like smoking, stress, young age, drug use, and infectious illness, sometimes we don’t know what triggers a patient’s DKA episode. Complications of DKA include kidney or brain damage, shock, and even death. What might be a mild stomach flu in an otherwise-healthy student can be very dangerous in a diabetic one. Stressing one’s system with recreational drugs or even sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for diabetic students. It’s vital that all personnel involved with overseeing diabetic patients feel comfortable with that role.

Diabetes care in the pediatric population can be a challenge. Even when all the instructions are followed, a young patient’s hypoglycemic unawareness or an older patient’s all-nighter for a school project can alter the way their body’s metabolism functions. Experience helps practitioners gain some comfort level with treating diabetes in children and adolescents, and along with newer technology that offers hands-free digital communication, perhaps the future holds some hope for a safer environment for diabetic kids.

psi S.A.F.E. Schools

psi’s S.A.F.E. Schools is an evidence-informed series of resilience-building programs aimed at grades K-5 (S.A.F.E Buddies), 6-8 (S.A.F.E. Skills), and 9-12 (S.A.F.E. Success). Recognizing that student social, emotional, behavioral, and academic success requires a strong support system, S.A.F.E. Schools also includes the S.A.F.E. Educators (focused on school staff) and S.A.F.E. Communities (focused on parents/caregivers) programs to promote stress management, self-care, and resiliency in adults. The K-12 S.A.F.E. programs address the Ohio Department of Education social-emotional learning standards. Importantly, psi’s S.A.F.E. Schools also includes a series of focused sessions on topics such as bullying and violence prevention, safe technology use, social skills training, emotional intelligence, and teen dating violence.

More information to come!

Cleaning and Disinfecting: An important part of reopening and keeping schools open

COVID-19 procedures include strict adherence to cleaning and disinfecting our schools, classrooms and staff areas. psi would like to make you aware of an environmentally friendly and cost-effective option for your disinfecting and sanitizing needs.

It features a three-pronged approach called The Power of Three. It is a trademarked, disinfecting concept created by the DriveMind Group that integrates the following three solutions: Tersano Technology to create Stabilized Aqueous Ozone (SAO), MyShield Hospital Grade Disinfectant WITH an Antimicrobial Surface Sealant, and an Electrostatic Sprayer to apply both solutions.

The products are environmentally friendly, with no chemicals. DriveMind offers sales of the products direct to your school, or you can opt for their disinfecting and sanitizing services.

Click here for more information.

New! Pain Management Course Now Available

A new Pain Management course is now available for high school and middle school students. psi would like to extend a special thank you to University Hospitals’ Connor Integrated Medicine, Kent State University, IMG Academies and Banyan Treatment Centers for their partnership in the creation of this course. Specific thanks to Dr. Jeanne Lackamp, Dr. David Miller, Robert Ettinger, Dr. Anne Stormorken, Luke Wollet, James Tunney, Tom Sitko and Mitch Peterson.

This new interactive course is broken down into five modules presented in four or six weeks, and covers types of pain, causes and treatment of pain, addiction and coping skills. It is endorsed by University Hospitals and psi and storied by Luke Wollet. We are looking for new schools to pilot this program for the remainder of the school year.

If interested, please contact Mike Tornow, psi Director of Marketing and Development at (330) 425-8474, ext 200.

Click here to email.


The Ohio School Safety Center

psi On August 21, 2019, Governor Mike DeWine signed Executive Order 2019-21D creating the Ohio School Safety Center within Ohio Homeland Security. The center is responsible for assisting local schools and law enforcement with preventing, preparing for, and responding to threats and acts of violence, including self-harm, through a holistic, solutions-based approach to improving school safety. The mission of the center is to provide guidance to Ohio schools in order to enhance their strategies for safety, security, and emergency plan development in accordance with the School Climate Guidelines, School Safety/Emergency Operations Plan Template and Ohio Law.

Click here to visit the OSSC website.

New K-12 School Safety Requirements from HB-123

House Bill 123 passed the 133rd Ohio General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine on December 21, 2020. If your school is in need of meeting the new school safety requirements in these areas, psi can help get your school in compliance. A few of the bill’s impacts are highlighted below:

  • Requires all schools and districts to provide annual training covering suicide awareness and prevention, safety training and violence prevention, and social inclusion for grades 6-12.
  • Requires every 6-12 grade school building to create a threat assessment team within two years of the effective date.
  • Transfers school emergency management responsibilities from the Ohio Department of Education to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
  • Requires schools and districts to adopt an anonymous reporting program of their choosing beginning with the first full school year following the date the bill passes (2021-2022 school year). Schools can enroll in the Ohio School Safety Center’s free Safer Ohio School Tip Line or sign up with a third party service that shares data with the state.

Click here for additional requirements and full analysis of HB 123.