AI and The Future of School Communications

The data is in: No matter how you feel about it, artificial intelligence is changing school communications.

By Brittany Edwardes Keil Last Updated: April 21, 2024

School communications is changing, and artificial intelligence (AI) is only part of it. Chances are, you’ve heard of ChatGPT and other AI-derived tools, maybe you’ve even started to explore how they can impact your work. National interest in and application of AI has been sufficiently documented in the media, but its implications for school communications are only starting to solidify.  

In our recent survey of school communicators, we asked a few questions about AI use and interest. We wanted to understand how interested school comms pros are in using AI to aid their work—and how often it’s already being used. 

Let’s start with interest. We asked our participants, “Are you interested in using ChatGPT or other AI-derived tools for work?” (Figure 1). Given its potential to fundamentally change the day-to-day of school communications, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of school communicators are interested in using AI. 

Nearly one-third of our participants selected “extremely interested,” and 25% chose “very interested.” Overall, over 90% of participants indicated some level of interest in ChatGPT and other AI-derived tools. Fewer than 7% of participants said they were “not at all interested”—an astoundingly small minority considering how new AI use is. 

So school communicators are interested—but are they actually using ChatGPT and similar tools? Rather than give our respondents a simple yes-or-no choice, we asked how often participants were already using ChatGPT or other AI-derived tools (Figure 2). The results showed a widespread, albeit somewhat infrequent, use of AI. Nearly a third of participants use the tools weekly, while about 15% use them daily. The bulk of respondents—about 36%—use AI-derived tools rarely—either “once a month” or “less than once a month.” 

This group is particularly interesting. Are respondents not using these tools frequently because they don’t find them useful? Or because they aren’t quite sure how to use them effectively? We can’t know from the data, but our open responses suggest mixed feelings about how these tools will impact school PR as a profession. The responses we received ranged from hesitation and worry to confident hope:

"I am scared to death about what AI means for school PR. Younger school communicators seem to be excited about it; I am not."

"I think we need to watch AI. I think leaders will lean on AI and maybe try not to use a comms professional—and that is detrimental to the district."

"I'm feeling optimistic about industry changes. If AI can expedite the creation of social media posts and crisis comms responses, we will be able to focus more on delivery and strategy than copywriting and beefing up webpages."

To contextualize these responses, we turned to a seasoned school communicator. Jake Potter, APR, is the director of public relations at Leavenworth Unified School District in Kansas, and his exploration of AI has changed how he approaches his role. In recent years, Potter has worked closely with his superintendent to be both thoughtful and progressive when it comes to how his district uses AI, from integrating it into student learning programs to using it to track sentiments from staff surveys. In fact, Leavenworth has the distinction of being the first district in Kansas to join Magic School’s AI Innovators Program. This program gives teachers free access to AI tools, allowing them to explore ways to save time and build efficiency in their work.

For Potter, AI use has been nothing short of transformative. “I’ve been consumed with AI in a healthy way,” he says. In his research and implementation of AI, he’s discovered two main ways (so far) that it can broaden his capacity. 

The first way is using AI to generate small, tedious writing samples. “So many of us are consumed by small tasks—writing alerts, press releases, and other things that take a lot of time but not a lot of personalization,” Potter explains. “It’s great to use AI to build that first draft so that you can spend all your time on tweaking the parts that matter.” The second is using AI to help the district track audience sentiment. Potter and his superintendent use ChatGPT to synthesize feedback from both in-person listening tours and staff surveys. “What would have taken me weeks and so many flip charts before now takes me half an hour,” he says. “We get to spend so much more time on actually figuring out how to implement a change instead of trying to identify what it is.” 

And this is only the beginning. Potter spends time each week watching demos and listening to AI-centered podcasts to keep track of what’s emerging so that he can push his work even further. Potter is excited about AI and its game-changing potential for school comms. “I believe that considerations about integrating AI in schools offer school PR professionals an opportunity to be actively involved in—and possibly even champion and lead—district initiatives,” he says. “Whether the goal is staff retention or classroom usage to enhance student outcomes, the necessary research, planning, implementation, and evaluation steps are great opportunities for the communications team to make meaningful contributions.”

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