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Pawlas on PR for Principals...

50 Million Students
Can't Be Wrong


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.

  • [content block] I moved my desk from central prominence to a position of less prominence. (That was difficult to do in two offices because of electrical, telephone, and computer outlets.)
  • I added various-sized classroom chairs for students to use when they were invited to read with me during our daily sustained silent reading (SSR) times.
  • Bulletin boards were relocated so that I could use them to display student work.
  • I displayed an array of student books on a student-sized table with chairs. (I did that because my office was sometimes used by children who needed a little "time out" or "time away" from others.)


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.

  • Involve students in presenting the daily school announcements.
  • Give each student a birthday card on his or her special day, and mention their names during the morning announcements.
  • Give handwritten notes to students to recognize achievements or to thank them for something special they did to make your school a better place.
  • Display student work in your office, on bulletin boards, and in showcases.
  • Take pictures of students and include them in your newsletters, or post them alongside student work.
  • Ask local business and professional offices if they would be willing to display student art work. At one school where I worked, we celebrated Arts Month in May. A pediatric dentist visited that evening's musical presentation and toured the art displays. He contacted the parents of several students about purchasing their child's artwork. He had the items professionally framed before he displayed them in his office for a year. After the year, he gave the items to the students to display in their homes. Some of the students whose work he displayed were his patients, and others were not.
  • Remember: The daily impression we send home through 50 million influential reporters will reflect the world as they see it.

    --- George Pawlas

    Solicit local businesses to donate coupons, gift certificates, free meals, and other incentives as rewards for student accomplishments.
  • Invite the local education reporter to attend school events where students will share their talents.
  • Make your MBWA (management by walking around) sweeps of the school and take your cell phone with you. Allow students to call their parents about something good that you have noticed them do.
  • Make it a daily priority to look for opportunities to do something special for your students.

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
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Article last updated 07/26/2006