Education is not easy. It is an experience where we can guarantee that regardless of the outcome, we will always hear that we got it wrong. It is important to note that guiding their decision-making as familiar principle educators will point to as a factor in their process. It says, “What we have decided is what’s best for the kids.”
Of course, this mantra is not always followed. Factors that trump this PRINCIPLE include finances, public opinion, political climate, and local culture. Each of these has some connection to the perceptions and expectations of parents and the community and their varied relationships with the local public school district. These are tricky waters to navigate. However, there are some different influential levers and spheres of influence you can focus on to guide your work and practices.
Distinct Influential Levers and Spheres of Influence:
The School Board:
School Boards have multiple constituencies for which to advocate. Depending on the format of the board (elected, appointed) and the specific member on the board, it is important to know whose voices are the loudest or most frequently heard. Being able to reference those groups who will benefit from your organization’s work provides a direct link to you as a solution.
Depending on the district’s size, the Superintendent’s bureaucracy could be a complex web of central office departments ’work running parallel with community stakeholders ’needs. The recent efforts to “return to school” offer a case study around the power dynamics of public schools. Superintendents need thinking partners and solutions. Positioning your organization as a contributor is more appealing when you know the Superintendent’s audience.
The School Principal:
Principal’s workdays always seem to be a whirlwind of activity. Some decisions are made instantaneously, while others require time to explore context and perspectives. What holds these decisions together are transparency and consistency. Of course, a principal’s decisions will never satisfy everyone. Still, the community will find trust in leadership when done with objectivity and within an equitable context.
This position would not have been on this list a few years ago. Yet, it is now an indispensable role often part of public school leadership and decision-making. Questions and issues regarding inclusivity in curriculum, student access to opportunities, empathy, and general health of communication about and knowledge of these topics, are areas that schools will wrestle with within the foreseeable future.
COVID 19 thrust teaching and learning into the digital universe. Therefore, any claims of a “return to normal” will include a technological footprint that will only increase over time. In turn, decisions about security and use and informing the public about this new way of learning are essential. Moreover, there will be significant overlap with the topic above, Equity and Cultural Responsiveness, regarding the resources and experiences teachers provide students.
As you approach the county or district:
It will be essential to know what voices are saying what. Each of the leadership offices or roles above is guides, to some extent, by voices external to their system. As you look for community pages and posts on social media, community blogs, and union and parent organizations ’updates for insights into their needs and wants, strategize how you can be a solution. Then connect with district leadership with the mindset of a partner. Your empathy will be welcomed as an ally.