Guest post by Karen McPhee

“Making a list” Is not just for Santa

In last month’s blog, I recommended you start a list…the names and addresses of all the community leaders in your district. Got it? Now let’s put that list to work for your school district.

Guest Author Karen McPhee

Too often, we attack the “public perception” problem as if it’s one giant animal we can silence with a healthy dose of news releases or (worse yet) gobs of data. But “public perception” is made up of millions of tiny interactions that individuals have had directly or indirectly with our schools. Most of these interactions leave emotional, not intellectual residue. And what resides emotionally in us is very resistant to change. Right now, the prevailing public perception…the public’s sticky emotional residue…is that our schools are failing.

Scrub away that negative emotional residue

Our challenge, as school leaders, is to scrub that negative emotional residue with a powerful antidote…personal relationships and powerful stories. But it absolutely MUST begin with personal relationships. Here’s where that community leader list comes in.

I want you to write a letter…you remember letters…pithy prose printed on a page, primed with postage and delivered by a postal carrier? Before you succumb to the notion that “email will do,” do me a favor and estimate the number of emails you deleted this week, or this morning, without opening them. Well guess what? Email is the new ignorable mode of communication for really busy people. Despite our love affairs with our smart phones, many of us still delete more email each day than we read. So, yes, I’m asking you to write a letter.

Yes, it’s time for that sneak attack

As I said in my last post, sneak attacks are important because they cause emotion…and emotion is the residue that creates public perception. A personal letter is a sneak attack because it is unexpected and it says you care enough to personalize the communication. This first letter has one purpose and one purpose only…to initiate a personal relationship between this community leader and your school district.

Sneak attack device

Now you might be saying: Hey Karen…I’ve known these people for years, they already love us. This is key: even if you have a close professional relationship with a community leader, it does not mean that relationship extends to your school district. Remember, they have been bombarded with the same generalized negative emotional messages and are just as likely to be battling negative emotional residue build-up. You can’t assume they are in your corner just because they sit next to you at Rotary.

Back to the letter. In this first letter, you will thank them, acknowledge their position of leadership, and invite them in for a tour. Here’s a framework:

Dear (Community Leader’s name)

First, let me thank you for your commitment to making our community a great place to live. We are fortunate to have your leadership at a time when we all face challenges in meeting the needs of our constituents, clients, customers, and stakeholders.

As a leader in our community, I believe you have the right to know what’s happening in our schools and how we are working to make our contribution to this community’s success as well. I am interested in hearing your perceptions, your ideas, and your concerns.

I would like you to join me on a personal tour of our schools, visiting a few classrooms, seeing our teachers and students in action. Afterward, I’d like to pick your brain on how we can improve.

I will be calling your office within a week to arrange your personal tour. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you have about education in our community.


You will create positive sticky residue just by sending the letters. The tours are your opportunity to dramatically change your community’s leaders’ perceptions.

In my next post, we’ll talk about the agenda for the tours.

Now, go buy some stamps!

photo by Mark Iverson

Want to read more articles geared to school communicators? Click HERE.