Bad PR is Ruining Public Schools

By Lee Shiney, Teachnet Editor

I’ve had it. Yesterday I read yet another article in another trade journal (in this case, for information technology) whining about the monopoly public education has and why it should be dismantled with the voucher system.

What public education needs is better public relations. I live three blocks from a middle school, yet never hear what is happening at that school. Does that school’s principal have a responsibility to keep me informed? No, but if he or she wants to tell about something great happening there, I’ll sit up and take notice. Now, I’ll be the first to admit schools shouldn’t necessarily be in the public relations business, but these are difficult times, and the public’s opinion of public school looks to be at an all-time low. If your school district won’t cast itself, and you as an individual teacher, in the best possible light (and most get an “F” in this department) it’s time for individual schools and teachers to pick up the ball and run with it.

I know of schools where district policy prohibits teachers to speak to the media at all. This underscores the need for a definite plan at the school level to make sure that teachers and administration are working together to let local residents and businesses in on their success stories. With a plan in place, you’ll be on the road to sending positive public school information to the spreaders of information.

Here is our first round of suggestions to make your school more visible and give public education a boost.

Keep your community informed…

  • Go door to door with fliers communicating school events. Everyone in the surrounding area should know about events at school – not just the parents who send their kids there.
  • Develop partnerships with local businesses:
    • Ask them to display flyers and cards in their stores announcing school events & projects.
    • Involve them in career days and invite them to share information about their profession with your students. (Think of the fun lessons you could develop with someone who does, say, carpet cleaning! How different substances leave different kinds of stains and the chemical processes used to remove those stains…)
    • Have businesses donate supplies or services when they can, and return the favor by including their name in programs and newsletters. Add them to your community flyers too, listing them as a sponsor of your school. Some businesses may even donate money to various school funds.
  • Organize neighborhood improvement & upkeep events:
    • Clean up a neighborhood park, painting tables, equipment and restrooms. Plant flowers and pull weeds, too.
    • Have a neighborhood cleanup day: clean the school yard, then help out the neighbors with their yards, streets & alleys.
  • Get to know your local neighborhood associations. Send representatives to attend regular neighborhood association meetings, to hear from residents and to give updates about your school.
  • Utilize your local media:
    • Call radio and television stations as well as newspapers and get the phone number for faxing press releases. Send a press release for every event that goes on in your school and remind them that there’s more to your school than the high school football scores. For more on press releases, see the sidebar at right.
    • Invite media personnel to volunteer in your school. Have them tutor, help teach a lesson, read to classes, or speak about their career.

    And keep your parents informed.

    A newsletter for your room will give you a direct link to the segment of the population which matters most. See our feature on creating your own newsletter, but remember, any informative flyer you can send home on a regular basis (at least once per month) sends the message you care what others think. Use it to announce events, list student awards, and remind of timely information, such as when permission slips are due for a field trip. Remember that students can get involved at whatever level you desire, from typing information to doing the complete layout.

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