While many schools enjoy community support and strong partnerships, other schools are in the midst of escaping outdated and misinformed perceptions. As all school stakeholders know, public perception is not always reflective of the actual quality of a school or the experiences of students and families within it. If your school has been the subject of negative media coverage, such as stories about violence, bullying, or poor academic performance, you have work to do. In addition, if your school has a falsely-perceived history of being led by an unengaged or unresponsive administration, your school has to climb out of the "reputation jail" of being poorly managed and not responsive to the needs of students and the community.
In an ideal world, potential parents and non school-affiliated community members would do their own research and gather information from multiple sources before forming an opinion about a school. Unfortunately, often the public will hold on to old policies, incidents, news reports and even staff challenges that have shaped the perception of your school.
Visiting classrooms and talking to teachers and students to gather feedback and ideas for improving the school is essential to do during the school week. Collaborating with staff to promote school spirit, teamwork and a positive school culture is also ideal. However, as the leader of an enterprise that defines the future of countless young souls who enter your school building daily, it is your responsibility to leverage your time, effort and resources to eliminate negative perceptions about your school, and that means always "being on", even on the weekends.
While school principals can impact public perception during school operating hours, moving the public perception needle often happens when principals are not required to be "working on the work." In fact, school principals can take a variety of actions over the weekend to improve perception about their school.
Some potential strategies include:
Communicating with parents and community members through email, newsletters, or social media to keep them informed about school events, happenings and community events.
Planning and hosting events such as weekend tutorial open houses, parent-leader conferences, or community service projects that can help build a positive image for the school.
Volunteering at local events or organizations to show support for the community and establish a positive relationship with local leaders.
Building relationships with local small community businesses and organizations to establish partnerships that can benefit the school and community.
Reviewing and addressing any negative feedback from students, parents, or community members in a timely manner, even on the weekend.
Overall, it is important for the school principal to be visible and active in the community, and to keep an open line of communication with all stakeholders in the school. When your stakeholders view you as a leader with self-imposed responsibilities that extend beyond the school house and work week, they will become cheerleaders for you and your school and help change a lot of the negative, outdated perceptions that may be plaguing your school.