A Network Connecting School Leaders From Around The Globe
The Occasional Musings of an Educator
by Michael Keany
The brain is capable of performing 10 quadrillion (that’s 10 to the 16th) “calculations,” or synaptic events, per second using only about 15 watts of power. At this rate, a computer as powerful as the human brain would require 1 gigawatt of power. Maybe a dim bulb isn't really as dim as it seems.
The photo at the left is the Livermore Centennial bulb, the world's longest burning electric bulb.
February 25, 2011
Any business would know that the public face it presents to the world at large is extremely important. Millions are spent on branding. More millions are spent on protecting that brand. Sub-industries spout up to train employees who are on the front line how to deal with customers and potential customers. Public relations, not to mention advertising, consumes a big fraction of budgets.
How about schools? Not so much!
For some reason, money spent on the public face of a school district is viewed as wasteful. The quarterly newsletter for the community is farmed out to a part-timer or a regional service. The issue usually contains photos of many kids, all happy achievers, usually standing with their principal who is presenting an award. Graphs and charts are presented at budget time to educate the taxpayer. Some of the better publications contain a letter from the Superintendent which asks the community resident to consider an issue facing the district or education at large. Web sites vary greatly in quality and usefulness. A few are quite professional and designed with ease of use and access to information as prime considerations. Many are not.
First line employees, such as secretaries, custodians, aides, and other support staff receive little or no formal training in how to deal with the public. Most are friendly; some perceive a contact with the public as a nuisance and an annoyance. The quality of the resulting contact is more a factor of the employee's personality than any planned and coordinated approach.
I think it is very important for school leaders to check out the public face of their school periodically. Try this. Invent a problem. Pretend, for example, to be a new parent in the community who has a special needs child. Go to the district's website. Is it easy to find out who to contact? Does the web site seem friendly and inviting or cool and uninviting? Make a phone call. Is the first greeting warm? First impressions are so very important. Can that first person help you or are you shuffled from office to office? Does the person on the other end of the line make you feel as though your problem is her/his problem?
The next time you go into your building take note of the official greeter. Although it may be a security person, is the visitor greeted with respect or suspect? I travel to many schools in my work. One of the more challenging schools I visit has a security presence in the main hallway but the first person I meet is a kindly grandmotherly type who remembers my name although I only come to the school about once a month. We chat, I sign in, she asks if I need directions, and she tells me to have a good day. In another less challenging school I visit, a rather beefy security guard greets me with two words, "Your license!"
Pretend you are a perturbed citizen and make a similar call. Perhaps the invented problem is that students are leaving trash on your lawn as they go to or from school. Does the secretary in your office help to diffuse the problem with calming supportive language? Or, heaven forbid, make matters worse by seeming officious and unsympathetic? Remember, first impressions are very important in our society.
It is worth the time to see how your public face really looks. Do you just need a dab of make-up or are we looking at plastic surgery?
Michael Keany is a retired principal, now working as an educational consultant. He is the former Director of the Long Island School Leadership Center, moderator of its LISTSERV and co-founder (with William Brennan) of School Leadership 2.0. Write Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org .