Just when I needed a great new example for a client about how powerful words can be. Along comes the valiant effort by a handful of parents in our school district to get the school calendar under control. 

Our children started school this year on Aug. 12. The reason for the early start is the addition of many single days off here and there throughout the school year. Some are for assessment, some are for teacher development, some actually listed as “teacher vacation.” We also have nearly one day every month when students don’t show up until 10:45 a.m. so teachers can attend a meeting.

This morning I reviewed the web site created by this band of parents pushing to revise the school calendar back to a start toward the end of August or early in September. I’m all for that, but I’ve discovered that the words this group is using don’t really give the issue full justice nor will they move people to action.

For example, they refer to the extra days off as “holidays” or “student holidays.” Not a true reflection of how the days are used or who asked for them. I’m offended at the reference holiday when I’ve got to figure out day care for my kids or struggle through the day with them home while I try to work. That is no holiday for me.

Likewise, I was a bit offended by the reference to “Christmas break.” I can deal with Winter Break. Not everyone is celebrating Christmas during this time off of school.

I was also nonplussed by the lack of focus on how these individual days of no school affect business productivity. Parents either can’t work at all or wind up working at lower productivity levels. Surely, the backing of the business community would be useful in such an effort. Instead, they use language such as “giving children their summer back.” Why should the business community care about kids having more play time?

It demonstrates to me an utter lack of stakeholder analysis and message planning. And an absence of understanding of or appreciation for the need to drive specific behavior. We face this everyday in employee communication. We have particular stakeholders who require carefully crafted messages to move them to take certain actions. It takes planning and calculated writing. Use the right words and you’ll get your desired outcome. Don’t, and you may as well not even bother.