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The Art of Self Promotion in a School Community!

Author's note: I wrote this post about a year ago and updated a little here for Leadertalk. I stumbled upon it the other day while cleaning out my hard drive. It hit home with me as we all are facing some tough community issues right now and I decided we really need to get our PR machine running at 110% capacity. Thanks for reading. This post is also is cross posted on Sentimentsoncommonsense. Thanks for reading this post! Andy

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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.

In act one, scene two of Julius Caesar, Caesar asks a soothsayer what the future holds.

Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak. Caesar is turn'd to hear.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

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. Alas, this time of year people get cranky and irritable. The ides of March saying often comes to my mind.

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 we appear to be trying 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.

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.

My other suggestion is to think ahead of the curve. One area that I need to do a better job of addressing. Perhaps a weekly "devils advocate" session with some trusted colleagues will squeeze out those negative thoughts to address, change and squash in the public setting. My favorite recently has focused on a proposed program change in our school. The critics have come out in vocal fashion, spreading rumor by email and by voice to anyone on a mailing list.

What are we to do? My suggestion is the truth should be spread. Accurate, factual, research-based information and "on-the-ground" examples that share the positives. The mere thought that your veracity and honesty are being questioned hit hard with emotional impact. One must step forward professionally and let those attacks roll off your shoulders to the floor where they belong. The fact is, we may not always win the battles that we fight on these issues, but if we stay true to our beliefs about putting children first and focusing on what is best for our schools, we will most likely always triumph in the long run.

Andy Torris

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