For years, research studies and public relations consultants have reported that people base their opinions about schools on what their children tell them about their own school. People who do not have children in school base their opinions on what friends who have children in school tell them. If those findings are indeed true, then it follows that one of the best ways to improve the image of schools and the leaders of those schools -- the principals -- is to consider the perceptions that students in your school have about you.
After all, 50 million* students can't be wrong!
As a principal, one of the best ways you have to improve the image of your school is to view it through a child's eyes. My own career path took me to the principalship of schools in three states. Before I moved any personal belongings into a new school, I would always walk out of my new office and look back as if I had never seen it. Some of the offices I inherited were dominated by large oak or black desks, file cabinets, large chairs, and bulletin boards on which to pin schedules and memos. When that was the case, I could see immediately a few changes that I wanted to make.
Getting to know students is one of the best ways to improve their perceptions of a school. The most individual, personal possession every child has is his or her name. That's why I always made it a priority to learn and to use their names and to recognize a special quality or two of each student.
The late Laurel Pennock -- a friend, colleague, and an outstanding elementary principal -- told me that he always made a special point to quickly memorize the names of the kindergarten students because the majority of them would remain at the school for several more years. I followed his example. I made a point of studying the individual and group photos of the kindergarten students as well as our school's new students. After doing that for a few days, I would visit the cafeteria when the students were eating and engage them in conversation, making an effort to use all the names I could remember. If I didn't get the name correct the first time, I would ask the students what their names were.
Just think about what parents' reactions will be when children report that you called them by their first name. Or, even better, think of the reaction when you call a child by name in front of that child's parent!
Learning students' names is an effective strategy that should be part of your school-community relations plan.
Gaining the support of students, and, by extension, their parents, is not all that difficult a task. I can think of many ways in which you can accomplish that and thereby improve the whole community's perception of your school.
Those are just a couple handfuls of random ideas for ways you can improve the image of your school, your image, and public support for education. Add some of your own by asking yourself What will be said about my school and all of us in it who work with children each day? By taking time to be there for the students and expressing kindness, understanding, and support, you can become a special person in their eyes. You will establish a lifelong place in their memories.
* According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), approximately 50 million students attend our public schools.
NEXT TIME: Support Personnel Are P.R. People Too
Article by George Pawlas
Copyright © 2006 Education World
Article last updated 07/26/2006