June is a time of year when educators naturally tend to reflect on their practice and plan for their future. As school leaders, we take a deep breath as we contemplate the successes and challenges of the previous year, and then we begin formulating goals and plans for next year’s work. I would like to challenge you to add one more layer to your reflection and planning: How did you tell the story of your school’s successes last year, and how can you play an active role in reclaiming the narrative around public education?
Public education as an entity tends to reinforce the often negative narrative about America’s schools—that they are broken and they need to be fixed. As school leaders, we know this is far from the truth. We are doing the hard work of preparing our students for an innovative, fast-paced, and constantly evolving world—and we are doing it well. However, the leading story on the news tends to be about inadequate funding, inadequate training, and inadequate achievement. These negative stories often precede a plea for support or funding.
As school leaders, we are a crucial part in shifting this perception. We are the voices of our school and school district, and it is important for us to take the time to reflect on how we can positively impact the messaging around the successes of public education. Make your contribution to the narrative a key part of your planning for next year.
What Story Are You Telling?
Take a moment to reflect on the way that you help tell your school’s story. Here are some ideas to consider as you reflect:
- What avenue do you use to celebrate your school? Is that reaching only parents associated with the school or does it include other community members?
- Conduct a quick Google search of your school. What do you find? Is it content created by members of the school or by a third party?
- Do you have communication structures set up to identify things to celebrate? Do teachers have a way to share the things going on in their classes? How often do they share that with you?
- How do you share your school’s successes with school district leaders?
- Access your school’s website. Does your website include details about the great things going on in your building? Is your website updated regularly? Does it highlight both student and teacher successes?
The key to shifting the narrative around public education is that we reach a wide audience. While our parent newsletters or emails are a great place to celebrate students, we must think about how we leverage social media to reach other community members. Most schools utilize a Facebook or Twitter account to post information and to highlight things happening in the school. This is an excellent way to engage with community members and tell your school’s story. Social media apps also tend to be visual, user friendly, and serve as a quick way to post snippets of content which tend to be more manageable. Some things to consider when engaging in social media:
- Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! Nothing showcases your school better than photos or video of learning and engagement.
- Master the #hashtag. Hashtags are a great way to collect social media posts that users can follow, and it is also a way to have some fun! Brainstorm some hashtags that describe your school or school district. Not sure about using hashtags? Peruse Twitter to find some great examples.
- Tag other social media accounts. With tagging, you can broaden the audience for your posts. For example, if a student received a scholarship from a local organization, you can tag that organization in your post to better promote your content.
Approximately 90 percent of school-aged children in America are enrolled in public schools. We are doing amazing work, and we should be proud to celebrate the innovative and student-centered learning environments we have created for our students. As you begin to plan for next year, include this work in your goals.
Take time to consider your role as a school leader in telling your school’s story and engage in reclaiming the narrative of public education.
Andrea Smith is Principal of Lyons Middle Senior High School in St. Vrain Valley Schools in Lyons, CO. She is the 2018 Colorado Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @SmithSVVSD.