Eight Tips for School Leaders in New Public Agenda Report

A new report by Public Agenda urges education leaders to engage with the community and talk to parents and students early and often.

new report from Public Agenda urges education leaders to engage communities as a way to help transform persistently failing schools. The report is compiled out of the best outreach practices from various education, communications and engagement experts, with differing views on school reform.

40 percent of U.S. students are taught in districts that come under the Department of Education’s remit for needing improvement.

‘What’s Trust Got to Do With It? A Communications and Engagement Guide for School Leaders Tackling the Problem of Persistently Failing Schools’ is a new report by Public Agenda, and offers eight steps to help leaders communicate with and engage communities facing school reform.

These steps are set out to help build community support for school reform, composed in light of interviews and consultations with education practitioners, policy experts, community leaders and communications and engagement professionals across the country.

The steps are:

  1. Lay the groundwork: Talk with parents, students, teachers and community leaders early and often.
  2. Have a vision: Help the community envision exactly what it will look like when better school conditions are in place, and why those conditions are necessary.
  3. Invite the community to help shape the vision: Share with parents and the general public, ensuring that the school turnaround will take root and become sustainable.
  4. Provide information—not too little and not too much: Give audiences enough information to be able to understand but not too much to overwhelm them.
  5. Remember to tell stories: Recall anecdotes of other schools, parents, teachers and students who have successfully undergone similar transitions, helping people understand and envision possible courses and what to expect.
  6. Avoid the “public hearing” format—or at least don’t rely on it as your sole communication vehicle: Smaller, informal discussions with parents, teachers and students in the school on a regular basis are much more effective at building respect and trust.
  7. Communicate through trusted sources: Recognize that parents and teachers often want to hear from additional voices.
  8. Don’t surprise people—and don’t mangle the communications basics: Ensure the basics are clear, prominent and establish that they are fully understood in the discussions.

“Leaders facing a decision on what to do with a persistently failing school often see only two choices: back away from reform to mollify the community, or push through reform, leaving alienation and distrust in the communities. Both of these options are undesirable,” said Jean Johnson, Executive Vice President of Public Agenda and Director of its Education Insights.

“There is a third option for leaders: effective public and parent communication and engagement before decisions are made. Leaders should avoid approaching the community with a preordained decision. Rather they should invite the community to help shape a vision for the future.”

What’s Trust Got to Do With It? A Communications and Engagement Guide for School Leaders Tackling the Problem of Persistently Failing Schools was funded by the BroadJoyce and Skillman Foundations.

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