Monday, December 3, 2007

The Shameless Art of Self Promotion For Schools

We need to do a much better job of self promotion or we will be run over by our own failures and lack of progress. Let’s face it. Common sense would tell anyone that no school is perfect. In fact, by nature of the school improvement process, we honed our knives of self improvement by becoming very, very good at self criticism, and ultimately it is also deemed cathartic to announce our own weak points out loud and with robust vigor and valor. Such announcements like,
“Our school has progressed just 10 percentage points on the nationally normed test in the past three years, missing our target by 2 percentage points. We are disappointed in missing our target despite the tremendous progress we have made.”
The newspapers and online networks out there are all over this stuff, and the fuel for the school critics’ fire is among the worst in journalism falling just short of the criticisms and interrogations meted out on Meet the Press and Jerry Springer combined! Sigh… why do schools insist on focusing on the negatives? Must we be so self critical? Is it a deeply held community expectation that we be negative about ourselves? Would be appear to be a cover up if we instead said,
“The progress that our school has made in the past three years equates to 10 percentage points, and has moved our school to within 2 percentage points of our target. The school will reevaluate their academic targets and continue with our aggressive school improvement progress to ensure our students continued success
Much nicer if you ask me. Alas… things do go bad in schools sometimes and black and white honesty is the best policy for sure. We seemed to have our share of them lately, and sadly some are really out of our control, although that is NOT the message a school administrator wants to send. To take responsibility and not being able to truly implement mitigating steps is certainly frustrating. I won’t make the laundry list of things that go awry, as I suspect you have two or three on your mind right now. Instead let’s turn this coin over and I propose some positive communications that will rebuild the interest and confidence in the school. George Pawlas college professor and author of The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations states that administrators should have 6 things that they can brag about their school at any given moment. He states in a 2005 Education World interview that,
Having a list of six things you can say with pride about your school can serve a principal in many ways. As new parents come to visit your school to see if it meets their expectations, those six pride statements can be great conversation starters. I had committed my six statements to memory but, if it's helpful, I recommend carrying an index card with the six statements on it. When you are at meetings of civic and community groups, that card will come in handy when community members ask about your school. The more you use those statements, the easier it is to recall them when the time is right.

Taking the old motto “Ten to glow on, one to grow on”, I figure that we must provide 10 or more quality examples of positive results in our schools to counter balance the single quality result. Guiding factors for these include:
  • Always tell the truth. (This should be easy)
  • Do not exaggerate. (This is harder than you think)
  • Make the message understandable. (This is the hardest thing to do!)
  • Recognize your experts. Show them off to your community. Quote them frequently.
  • Any school event or school personnel recognized by an independent source (i.e. newspaper, professional organization) should be published and republished. Theses events and people should be your poster children.
  • Focus on direct implementation steps taken by the school, and not just mere happenstance occurrences.
  • Student learning data must be targeted and not over generalized
  • Over reliance regarding co-curricular (sports, after school, clubs, etc) for positives should be avoided.
  • Concrete, real life celebrations of school events connected to learning are most efficient.
  • Be visible with your positives and the positives will make your visibility less negative even when bad things happen.
I just finished with an article about online learning community at our school. The article will hopefully be placed in our weekly parent communications bulletin this week, and will highlight some of the good stuff we are doing. I am focusing not on the delivery our programs but on the results of our strong and effective work. This article will be a first in a series and I am planning on going out and reviewing blogs, wikis and websites around our organization. I think we need a few more positives, and I think that if I start taking a look at this work and publicizing it, we will see results being our focus in stead of our lack thereof.

I would appreciate you comments and suggestions.


Dennis said...

I am a superintendent who celebrates our positives/achievements whenever I can. I even structured a commitment to celebrate into the beginning of every report I give to the school committee. A reminder goes out the week before each meeting for things administrators and teachers want me to celebrate. I summarize them for the committee, the press, and the public.

But, why do it? Competition? Economic gain? Politics? You have to watch a video that Dewitt Jones produced to understand why. I showed it to every faculty and parent organization and many community group when I began in my current school district. It was fundamental to my theories about leadership and learning. The video is Celebrate What's Right with the World. It is expensive, but the vision in the video is transformational. I've watched it close to thirty times, and the message never grows old and never loses meaning for me. You can read about it and see it at Don't miss it.

Darren Draper said...

Great post, Andrew. It is often so easy to focus on the negative and it certainly shows in the (1) the media and consequently (2) the public's perception.

I think that if we were doing a better job at celebrating the positive, newspaper articles like the one I recently responded to would have a different slant.

I think that celebrating the positive is often one of the easiest ways to eliminate the negative.

Carolyn Foote said...

You have some excellent recommendations, and I plan to share this post within my district!

Personally, I think schools are doing so many excellent things for students, but too often that's not what is reported. We need to hear the success stories.

Administrators do need to know what is special about their own schools--and also it helps supports the innovators and creative types on their campuses to know they are getting recognized!

Your suggestions are eminently practical as well. Glad Jeff Utecht pointed your post out!