Pawlas on PR for Principals...
With the Media
An important part of every principal's job is telling the school's story to the community. Working constructively with the media is a vitally important way to do that. So it follows that developing solid relationships with the media should be a strategy that is part of every school principal's overall communication plan.
Members of the news media are professionals who, like hard-working principals, understand that life is one deadline
after another. You are both interested in getting out fair and unbiased information about what's going on in schools
in your community. Recognizing that common ground is a first giant step toward developing a strong relationship with
Many principals, this one included, work hard to get to know on a first-name basis the reporters who cover our schools.
That's not always easy. I recall, for example, one reporter who had just been assigned the education beat on a local
newspaper. He had not even been in a school since he graduated from high school quite a few years before. So I invited
him to visit my school, to take a morning tour of the campus, to enjoy lunch with third-grade students, and to chat
with teachers, support staff, and parent volunteers. In each of the experiences he had that day, that reporter saw
story ideas. For instance, he wrote about
our Math Hall of Fame activity, which focused on all students completing math-fact tests within timed limits. Those
who achieved perfect scores received wallet-sized Math hall of Fame membership cards and had their names added to
charts displayed near the main office.
our school's focus on writing. The reporter had witnessed some of the weekly essays all students wrote to develop
their writing skills.
the purpose and benefits of the Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) time we scheduled at the end of each and every school
why parents and senior citizens volunteered at the school.
how seven pairs of twins in our school had fun confusing their teachers and the principal.
Each of those news articles was well received by the school's parents and support community. As the principal,
I made certain that I followed up with a thank-you telephone call and a thank-you card. I thanked the reporter for
sharing news about the school programs that are important to us and for presenting the stories in fair and interesting
The reason for telling that story is quite simple: Invite your local reporters into your schools. It gives you
a tremendous opportunity to show off the things you think are important. Often, you don't need to do more than that.
Just leave it to the reporter, who is an experienced professional -- whose job is to "look for the stories" that
are worth telling.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with reporters is essential. All good school-reporter relationships can be
traced to "the proper care and feeding of news to reporters." Following are just a few guidelines I often share
to help principals establish solid relationships with members of the media:
Return calls from reporters. Principals who want to get the good news about their schools into the local
press make it a point to return phone messages left by members of the media.
Help the reporter meet deadlines. A reporter is rushed because news is perishable; it must be written to
meet specific deadlines, so your job is to help the reporter meet the deadline.
Understand the job of the reporter. Don't blame reporters for things they don't control. The length of a
story, or whether it is used at all, is determined by others on staff.
Provide feedback. If you like what the reporter did, let her or him know it. If you have a follow-up comment
or a complaint, go directly to the reporter. Just as you want parents to contact you with concerns before they go
to the superintendent or the board of ed, always call the reporter first with any concerns.
Avoid giving out information that is difficult to interpret or understand. Be sure you present information
and data in terms a non-educator can understand. Avoid jargon. Be honest and focus on the facts.
Pawlas on PR
George E. Pawlas has written the book on PR for school principals -- literally! In
The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations, Pawlas presents a treasury of practical tips and strategies for principals -- hundreds of principal-tested ideas and illustrations that will help
--- create successful school newsletters and other communication tools,
--- use the media to your school's advantage,
--- enhance parent and family involvement,
--- work with the community and local businesses,
--- deal with crisis situations, and
--- much more.
Pawlas has been an educator for four decades. He has served as an elementary school teacher and principal, a district administrator, and a state education department consultant. Currently he is a professor of educational leadership at the University of Central Florida. In addition, Pawlas has authored dozens of articles and coauthored four editions of a book on educational supervision. He is a frequent presenter at local and national conferences.
In all of my personal experiences with the news media, which have been reinforced by other principal colleagues,
I found that being proactive -- sharing potential news stories that cast my school in a positive light -- almost
always led to good coverage. I've also found, and others have confirmed, that we get great coverage when we are
polite, cooperative, and factual in our dealings with reporters. That goes for electronic media as well as print.
Following are a few more suggestions that might help you as you work to establish and maintain relations with
Be honest and sincere in giving reporters the facts. Never say, "No comment."
Give the same courtesies to reporters that you extend to any other visitors.
Piggyback stories whenever you can. For example, remember how the reporter referred to earlier in this column used
a single school visit to develop several articles that focused on activities for improving students' skills in the
academic areas of math, writing, and reading?
Don't wait until the last minute to invite the media. Give them advance notice of a noteworthy event. That will
help them work it into their busy schedules.
Never ask a reporter to show you the story before it is published or to return photographs.
Share a copy of your school's "pride statements" (see August's Pawlas on PR column, Share
the Pride: Six Statements of Pride Get Year Off to a Great Start). They could be great sources for possible news
If you do two things as a principal -- if you work hard to provide quality learning opportunities for all of your
students and if you are proactive, open, honest, and accessible to reporters -- you will get in return the
positive media coverage your school deserves.
NEXT TIME: The Benefits of Being an MBWA (Management By Walking
Article by George Pawlas
Copyright Education World 2005