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School-Community Relations is Great PR And Then Some

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According to George Pawlas, school-community relations is all about great PR and then some. On the occasion of the release of the second edition of his book, The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations, Pawlas sat down to chat with Education World. Included: Every principal should carry a list of "six statements you can say with pride about your school."

The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations is a treasury of practical tips and strategies for principals. Author George E. Pawlas has gathered hundreds of principal-tested ideas and helpful illustrations to help principals create successful school newsletters and other communication tools, use the media to their school's advantage, enhance parent and family involvement, work with the community and local businesses, deal with crisis situations, and much more.

People often ask George Pawlas how he became such an advocate for establishing school-community relations plans at the schools he led. "I became interested in the topic when I was a graduate student working to become a school administrator," Pawlas explained to Education World. "As a course requirement I had to develop a project to use at the school where I was a teacher. My project was to write a newsletter that the principal could send out to the parents."

The success of that project led to other projects. Then, when Pawlas became a principal, he continued to expand his efforts to other activities aimed at gaining support for his school. "I have always believed that you will never know if a strategy works unless you try it, and try I did," said Pawlas.

A decade ago, Pawlas published the first edition of The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations. This year, his publisher, Eye on Education, released the second edition of The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations. On the occasion of that release, Pawlas sat down to answer a few questions posed by Education World.

Education World:
In the opening chapter of The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations, you make distinctions between public relations and school-community relations. What are the differences?

George Pawlas:
Public relations is a process used by schools and other organizations to influence public opinion in an attempt to gain support for the organization. This is usually a one-way process involving news releases, reports, newsletters, and other methods of sharing favorable information with the public. Professor James Gruning of the University of Maryland researched the development of public relations to its current two-way symmetric structure, which became known as school-community relations. The goal of school-community relations expands on the definition of public relations; the goal of school-community relations it to help develop and maintain relationships.

George Pawlas

George E. Pawlas has been an educator for nearly 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. Pawlas has authored dozens of articles, coauthored three editions of a book on educational supervision, and authored the second edition of The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations. He is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter at local and national education conferences.

EW:
You see all staff -- including the cafeteria manger and the custodian -- as partners in the education effort

Pawlas:
I believe all the people who work in a school are important to the overall success of the school. I think of each staff member as a member of the school's family. As a principal, I always invited our cafeteria workers, custodians, and support staff to the first family meeting -- most schools call them faculty meetings -- of the school year. After the new teachers are introduced to the family, then the cafeteria manager, head custodian, and secretary introduced their colleagues old and new. This helped give new teachers an idea of who these folks were, and it helped all staff members feel important and part of the family -- because they are. I planned that first meeting's agenda so those activities happened at the start of the meeting. Then I shared informational items that I felt everyone needed to know. After those details were taken care of, I scheduled a break that allowed the support staff to move to their work areas.

That was not the last we saw of those people though. I kept them involved, and they truly appreciated the fact that they were invited to be involved. For example, the cafeteria manager was always present on Open House night; she enjoyed meeting parents and discussing with them the school menu and other related topics. Our custodial staff was involved daily in identifying classrooms that were in the cleanest condition. The custodians made notes of those exceptional rooms and recommended classrooms for the Golden Trash Can Award -- a new trashcan that was spray-painted gold and awarded to the classrooms that did the best job of cleaning up after themselves. A special announcement and presentation was made to the award-winning classrooms. Giving that award drove home the point that many hands working together can make the task of cleaning classrooms an easier one.

EW:
Communication with the parents of students is very important, but you make a point about the importance of communicating with members of the community who don't have school-age children. What benefits do you see from communicating with those "outsiders" to your school?

Pawlas:
Communicating with parents of students is a necessity if a school principal expects them to support the school. But there are other community members who might benefit from receiving accurate information from a school and who should be given opportunities to communicate with a school. Among those people are senior citizens, childless couples, empty-nesters, newly married couples All of those community members might be interested in knowing how a school's test results and student work compare to other schools. They might want to know what is being taught, how it is being taught, and how effectively the students are learning.

To help keep all those people informed, I encourage parents to share the school's newsletters with neighbors who don't have children in school. (I would send the school newsletter home with all students, not just the youngest student in a family, and encourage families to pass on the extra copies.) Teachers and other members of the school's family should be encouraged to share newsletters with their pastors and with leaders of civic groups to which they belong. As a matter of course, newsletters and other school communications should be shared with members of the media and state legislators. And I would send a copy to real estate offices near the school.

"It pays to dare to be different, and to do the things that others talk about doing but never do."

I would also try to get word out in person. When I was a principal, a senior citizen group coordinator allowed me to share information about our school at one of their weekly meetings. I shared copies of recent newsletters with them, explained what we did at our school, and also let them know the needs that we had. A few days later some of them stopped by the school with Campbell's Soup labels, cereal box tops, and magazines. Some inquired about becoming volunteers at the school.

Since my career path took me to several schools, I learned to establish relationships with members of the media. I made phone calls to the reporters whose bylines I saw in local papers and on television. I asked them about their work processes and shared news of some of the activities at my school. Then I invited them to visit the school and enjoy lunch with some students and me in the cafeteria.

Principals must be proactive if they want to get out word about their schools' success stories. It pays to dare to be different, and to do the things that others talk about doing but never do.

EW:
Many schools have a marquee on the building or lawn, but few schools get as much mileage out of it as you think they can

Pawlas:
The school's marquee is a natural place to share information about a school. If used properly, it is the best way to give passersby a firsthand idea of what the school is all about. The messages have to be current and presented in such a way that passersby will easily grasp them. When I was a principal, I was always on the lookout for relevant messages that needed to be shared. I would print out the messages that were to be displayed, and the custodian was assigned the task of putting them up. On the day that a new message went up I always checked it before I left the school to make certain the words were spelled correctly. First impressions are lasting impressions!

Recently, a school near my home had this message displayed: "Need tennis balls." I couldn't quite figure out why they needed tennis balls since there was no tennis court at the school, so I stopped in the office to inquire about the sign. The school was collecting tennis balls to help them cut down on noise. A small X was cut into each ball so it could be slipped over the bottom of a chair leg; with tennis balls on each of its legs, a chair would glide quietly as it was moved around That message certainly got my attention. I wonder how many other people stopped by to inquire about the tennis balls.

"Having a list of six things you can say with pride about your school can serve a principal in many ways."

EW:
You suggest that every principal create a list of "six things I can say with pride about my school." What's the purpose of that list?

Pawlas:
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. You might also display the six statements on large posters in high-traffic areas of your school such as the office area, the media center, the cafeteria, and gym. Include one or two of the statements -- or all six of them if you have space -- in each issue of your school newsletter. Those six statements will change from year to year as you achieve success in new areas. You might even seek input from members of your school family as to what those statements should be.

To learn more about school-community relations, or to purchase a copy of The Administrator's Guide to School-Community Relations, go to the Eye On Education Web site.

This e-interview with George Pawlas is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

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