The Seminar Scoop

2021 NSPRA National Seminar — Tuesday, July 13

New NSPRA logo unveiled at Monday's General Session!

Big picture
For the first time since the early 1980s, NSPRA has a new look. The new NSPRA logo was revealed at Monday's General Session by NSPRA Executive Director Barbara M. Hunter, APR, to more than 1,000 in-person and virtual attendees.

Based on comprehensive brand research led by CESO Communications, which involved the feedback of more than 300 members and potential members, the new graphic identity clearly differentiates NSPRA and reflects the association's new direction. The effort was also guided with the input of an 11-member Branding Team composed of NSPRA members.

Hunter explained that the new logo conveys NSPRA's brand personality, which is responsive, vibrant and nurturing. The lower case lettering conveys friendliness, responsiveness and the organization's welcoming stance. The arrow represents forward motion, celebration, energy, leadership and elevation of NSPRA members' work. The blue color is a nod to NSPRA's roots and previous identity (although not exactly the same blue as the previous NSPRA logo, it is a complementary one), while the teal color represents vibrancy.

The tagline, "the leader in school communication," remains the same as it aligns with NSPRA's new strategic plan. Want to take the new logo home? Stop by the NSPRA Member Center to pick up a pen or cup!

APR pin sparks joy

Big picture
Ashley-Michelle Thublin, executive director of communications for Asheville (NC) City Schools, was one of 12 NSPRA members recognized for earning their APR. Congratulations to all!

Have you been feeling engaged, connected and unusually happy during the Seminar? It's called collective effervescence

Big picture

After so many months of work-from-home and other forms of pandemic isolation, does the NSPRA Seminar feel like a slice of heaven? Are you feeling a sense of energy, harmony and joie de vivre? If so, you may be experiencing what psychologists call "collective effervescence."

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant explained the phenomenon in a recent New York Times article called There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing.

Collective effervescence is the "sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose," according to Grant. It can be particularly poignant when you click with people you don't know or barely know, like strangers falling into sync on a dance floor.

Grant credited the term to Émile Durkheim, a social psychologist who sought to explain what people experienced after the end of the first World War. Durkheim noticed the powerful emotions people can experience when gathering for a common purpose.

"During this pandemic, it’s been largely absent from our lives," Grant noted.

Move over, Hurricane. It's time for a new drink: the Collective Effervescence.

Today, learn how to use internal communications to boost staff morale

Big picture
If this (photoshopped) image catches your eye, check out "Internal Communications for Educational Service Agencies" from 8 to 9 a.m. on the Third Floor-Napoleon A123.

More sessions you won't want to miss today

Schedule changes: Two in-person sessions changed to virtual

The 1 p.m. skill session “Expanding the Communications Staff by Partnering With All Staff” with presenter Brett Clark, APR, will take place virtually. You can find his video presentation in the virtual platform.

The 2:30 p.m. skill session "More Than Translating: Ensuring Authentic Multicultural Communications” with Lesley Rogers, APR, Senior Vice President of Education, Strategies 360, Seattle, Wash.; and Ylenia Aguilar, Vice President, S360 Cultura, and School Board President, Osborn School District will take place virtually. You can find their video presentation on the virtual platform.

Famed photographer Frank Relle shares photo insights, expertise

By Andrew Robinson

Much depends on the effectiveness of school photographers in capturing images of public education, especially in the age of social media. In a session on Monday called "Exploring Resiliency Through Photography," one of New Orleans most celebrated photographers, Frank Relle, shared his philosophy of seeking honesty through the lens of a camera.

His tips:

  • Think of a photograph as a visual invitation. Always aim to capture an image that will draw in your audience.
  • Zoom in by moving your feet, especially when using your phone to take photos. The zoom feature on most photos is subpar.
  • Once you determine your subject, get close to it. Favor eye level to create an even perspective.
  • If you are celebrating someone, try to shoot up at your subject to create a better visual perspective. This perspective is much better than shooting down on your subject, which may give the impression that you are literally looking down on someone.
  • Before you snap the shutter, ask yourself “is what I like or what I feel filling the frame?” If not, seek a better composition.
  • View bad photos as your teachers. Ask yourself what worked and what did not work so that you can take a better shot next time.

Relle was recently featured on CBS This Morning. Check out this video to see some of his amazing work.

Virtual-only pick of the day: 5 Video Tips to Grow Your Social Media

Communications specialists from the San Juan Unified School District will share their approach to attracting large, intended audiences, 8 - 9 a.m. in this online-only session.
Big picture
Yolanda Stephen, APR, serves as NSPRA’s Vice President for Diversity Engagement. She hosted a panel discussion on "Creating a Culturally Adaptive Environment for Your District."

Diversity Engagement panel: "Critical race theory isn’t taught here, but critical thinking is"

By Julie Thannum, APR

Creating a safe place to lean in and learn was the focus of Monday’s special session, "What Lies Ahead: Creating a Culturally Adaptive Environment for Your District."

The 90-minute panel was moderated by Yolanda Stephen, APR, Director of Public Relations for Troup County School System in LaGrange, Ga. She also serves as NSPRA’s Vice President for Diversity Engagement.

“The conversation about culturally adaptive work places is loud and clear,” Stephen told the audience. “It’s not a fad ... it’s here to stay.”

Panelists agreed that when elected leaders are not on the same page, school communication professionals have the responsibility to coach school board members much like members of our leadership team. One suggestion included scheduling a workshop to talk about mission, vision, goals, current culture and how those align for the future. The key is to create common language and alignment about what is said and done in the community.

Panelists for the extended learning session included members of NSPRA’s Communication Equity and Diversity Task Force Anthony Johnson, Chief Communications Officer for Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Clarksville, Tenn.; Samantha Fitzgerald, Communications Specialist at Park Hill School District in Kansas City, Mo.; and Tiffanie Blackmon-Jones, Director of Communications for DeSoto Independent School District in DeSoto, Tex.

The panelists acknowledged that some stakeholders have questions or concerns about what teachers will be sharing in the classroom about equity and history, but Johnson says to remind them that your teachers don’t tell students what to think, they teach them how to think for themselves. “Critical race theory isn’t taught here, but critical thinking is,” he said.

Fitzgerald encouraged the audience to educate themselves and to consider starting a book study for school leaders. She described a project in her district that highlighted and celebrated diversity called “People of Park Hill.”

Panelists emphasized the importance of asking questions from a pure heart. "Come to the table with your hearts first,” Blackmon-Jones said, adding it's important to ensure that everyone is seen, heard and affirmed.

Other ideas shared by panelists included translation and accessibility efforts on district websites, diversity in staff recruitment, conducting town hall meetings to encourage authentic dialogue between students, alumni and key stakeholders and reaching out to Spanish-dominant news agencies to help ensure families have access to information in their home language.

Blackmon-Jones works in a district where the strategic plan outlines key messaging to support all students. In Desoto, there is dedication to the belief that every student can achieve success and their students’ best interests drive their decisions, actions and behaviors. In addition, the district champions relentless equity and unconditional belonging for all students. Blackmon-Jones said it is important to create spaces where children can see themselves and experience their own culture in their daily education.

The recent pandemic has shown us that there are gaps when it comes to achievement, equity and access to technology. Another barrier to a culturally adaptive environment involves fear. You have to be willing to be okay with having uncomfortable conversations and learn to start talking about where you are different “like me” rather than different “from me.”

NSPRA’s Diversity Engagement Task Force strives to build and provide resources on diversity communication and culturally adaptive schools. For more information about the work of the Task Force and the resources available to the public and NSPRA members, visit

Big picture
The role of PR in engaging and informing staff makes HR a natural ally, according to Cathy Kedjidjian, APR.

Building a culture of wellness in your district

Who's your BFF in your school district? For NSPRA President-Elect Cathy Kedjidjian, APR, it's been the director of human resources in two different school districts, because she always finds herself working with HR on internal communications projects.

"HR and PR have the same mission: take care of staff," she said in her Monday session called, "Oh Well! Plan Programs and Build a Culture of Staff Wellness."

In Glenview School District 34 (IL), where Kedjidjian is director of communications and strategic planning, a wellness initiative involve a bingo card listing actions to develop healthy habits, such as "meatless dinner," "meditate for five minutes at a team meeting," "dance to four songs" and "tweet a shout-out to an awesome co-worker."

An internal newsletter raised awareness of the various benefits under the district's employee assistance program, and a district hashtag helped create buzz online. (Kedjidjian is co-moderator of the #K12PRchat and also created the #K12PRfit hashtag.)

A devotee of kale in many forms, Kedjidjian said one must walk the walk of healthy living to have credibility when leading a district wellness program. "You can't build a culture of wellness unless you buy into that culture, as well," she said.

Want more wellness content? Check out today's Action Lab session, "Your Personal Fool-Proof Wellness Accountability Story," presented by Mark Mohammadpour, APR, at 1 p.m. in Napoleon B123, third floor.

Big picture
Big picture
Monday's keynote speaker Kevin Brown challenged attendees to do extraordinary work every day.

Seminar attendees explain how keynote speaker Kevin Brown prompted them to think differently about career goals

By Andrew Robinson

What separates world-class organizations from the rest? It's often a matter of people in those organizations choosing not to settle for the ordinary, and ending up being heroes, according to Kevin Brown, the keynote speaker at Monday’s general session. He calls this the "Hero Effect."

Attendees shared their thoughts on their takeaways from the keynote:

  • ”The way Brown unmasked the concept of normalcy — or really, complacency — in one’s professional and personal lives really hit me," said Molly McGowan Gorsuch, the public information officer at Henderson County Public Schools in North Carolina. She said she liked his suggestion of abandoning the career goal of "arriving" or "making it."' Better to "create exceptional experiences for those in your 'now,'" she said.
  • Sandra Williams, the chief communications officer at Spartanburg County School District One in South Carolina, said that one quote really stood out to her: “People will live up to or down to the vision that you cast for them.” She added, “I love how he focused on the importance of relationships, and how authentic relationships ultimately drive success and buy-in to what you are trying to accomplish.”
  • "Heroes are extraordinary people who choose not to be ordinary,” summarized Dulce Carrillo, the supervisor of public engagement at Arlington Public Schools in Virginia. She added that “you can never go wrong by doing the right thing.”

To learn more about Kevin and his work, or to purchase his book, visit

Also at the general session, a superintendent from Texas was awarded the Communication Technology Award. Dr. Brad Hunt, superintendent at Coppell (Texas) Independent School District worked with his district communication team to create popular video series called Catch Up with Hunt. The team embraced the latest technology to provide flash briefings through Alexa-enabled Echo devices and also posted the videos on YouTube.

The 2021 NSPRA Presidents Award was presented to Bob Noyed, APR, who is the vice president of CESO Communications based in Minneapolis, Minn. This award is the highest honor presented by the association and is given to a member who shows exemplary professionalism and integrity throughout their career as a school public relations professional.

The general session was sponsored by Intrado SchoolMessenger.

Big picture