Guest post by Karen McPhee
A New Year’s resolution: wipe away sticky negative residue
So if you’ve been following this blog, by now you’ve culled a list of community leaders, have personally invited them to tour your schools, and are ready to conduct your first tour. Remember: the goal of the tour is to tackle the sticky negative residue left behind from the endless media barrage of “failing schools” stories. Your mission (should you decide to accept it) is to scrub away that negative residue with a powerful antidote: positive stories and personal relationships.
You probably won’t want to conduct more than one tour per week and, depending on the size of your community, that means you might be hosting a new community leader every week for several years. That’s OK…Rome wasn’t built in a day and great school-community relations aren’t either.
You’ll also want to make sure that your schools are ready for the tour. Building principals and teachers should know the purpose of the tours: to engage community leaders, give them a first-hand look at education, ask them for ideas, and leave them with positive sticky residue. While you certainly don’t want to suggest that teachers “up their game” for the tour, you do want the building and staff to be “company ready.”
Don’t forget these savvy steps
Since you probably won’t be able to schedule more than an hour or two with any community leader, you’ll want to be savvy about the time. Here are a few strongly suggested suggestions for the tour:
Meet at your office. From there you can walk or ride to your first stop, providing valuable conversation time.
When you arrive at your first school, meet up with the principal, who should conduct the tour. As the principal enters classrooms and walks down the hall, he or she will be greeting all those adorable munchkins by name. (OK, if you’re in a middle or high school, they’re less munchkiny!) This is important! The relationship our principals and teachers have with our students is a story. When visitors witness this personal interaction, they are usually impressed. Suddenly “school” feels warm and homey.
As you enter a classroom, if it is not disruptive to the instruction, introduce your guest to the students. Younger students might want to ask a question or two. Older students will ignore you. Both responses are expected. Again, if not a disruption, introduce your guest to the teacher and this is beyond important, this is mission critical: have the teacher explain what’s happening in the classroom. Teachers just drip positive emotional residue…they’re downright gooey. The public has forgotten that. Your community leaders need to see it; experience it.
After you visit a few classrooms you can travel to another building or call it a day. On the way back to your office, make sure to ask three questions:
- Did you see anything that surprised you?
- What ideas do you have for us to consider?
- Can I add you to my list of community leaders who receive regular email updates from me?
Leave a trail of sticky, positive residue
Let the “experience” of seeing all those happy, smiling, learning faces be the residue you leave behind. Statistics and test scores can’t compare with witnessing teachers perform the daily miracles we take for granted: teaching a 5-year-old how to read, guiding 30 high school students through the dissection of a fetal pig, leading a middle school chorus in perfect harmony.
Follow with a written thank you note. Include another business card and an invitation to visit the school or call you anytime. Add the name to your new School Information Network email list (Yes, I know the acronym is SIN!) Use the email network to send positive sticky story after positive sticky story and as a “first alert” to share important news about your district.
Before you know it, your community leaders will become powerful allies in the war against negative sticky residue!