One of the greatest challenges of leadership is moving people forward when they would rather stand still. As a former coach (some would say old coach) I can remember many times telling players to “get in the game.” It was a phrase used to motivate, inspire, and push for better performance. It was generally used when situations were tough and the scoreboard was not in our favor.
At this time of the year politics don’t appear to be going our way. As a leader, how are we going to respond? (I know, I know you're thinking, I'm in education not politics.) Yes, we are educational leaders and some of us don’t like politics. Well, like it or not, we are in politics. Not the kind that means you are seeking office, but rather the type of politics in which we are responsible to educate and to influence. The politics that we must engage in focuses on changing people’s opinions, or as some would say "winning hearts and minds.”
How can we influence others and help generate support for public education? We must do it several ways. First, we need to open the schoolhouse doors and invite in the public. Once parents and community members are in our buildings they will see all of the positive learning activities teachers are using to impact students. They will gain a better understanding of the importance of our mission. Visitors will see students using technology, involved in cooperative, project learning, and a higher level of engagement in the learning process. Understanding that students don’t sit in rooms full of desks looking at the chalkboard will be an enlightening experience for many people.
Second, we must lead our site councils and community leaders in conversations about WHY we do what we do. We must share the VALUE of public education. In current arguments or debates we have allowed the focus to be on expenditures instead of investments. We have allowed others to determine that efficiency is more important than effectiveness. As leaders we must frame the discussions in terms that focus on the value of public education, not the costs. Benjamin Franklin did more than fly a kite, he stated, "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest." As leaders we need to make sure we are always sharing the great things that happen everyday in our district and buildings.
The third and final thought: SPEAK UP! We must be ready with the facts, and share them. I recently read the State of Kansas ranks 4th in the nation in percent of contribution to public education. This is a true statement, but it is incomplete and misleading. The complete statement would include that in the early 1990’s Kansas Legislators decided that property tax relief was needed as well as increasing funds for public education. Property taxes were lowered and the state's contribution was raised by design to equalize educational opportunities, and disperse tax burdens across the state.
Without the entire story it is easy to misinterpret the message. The good news for public education is that we don’t have to mislead or tell part of the story. The Kansas education model works. We are not where we need to be related to educating all students, but it is worth noting that more students are achieving at higher levels in Kansas now versus any other point in time. In these difficult financial times for Kansas, public educational achievement has continued to trend upward. Indicators of the educational impact in Kansas include higher graduation rates, higher post secondary success, and progress on closing the “gap” between socioeconomic groups, race/ethnicity, and gender.
If you are looking for more facts to better tell the story, refer to: http://tallmankasb.blogspot.com/ . Mark Tallman does a great job of discussing both sides of educational issues. You will gain insights that allow you to better share your public education story as you educate your stakeholders.
This blog started today by talking about coaching and ended by challenging leaders to educate the public. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to speak up. It is our responsibility to tell our story because it is a story that must be told. It is “time to get in the game.”