"Public sentiment is everything.
With it nothing can fail;
against it, nothing can succeed."
I've been thinking. Scary, I know. Recently, I've encountered two very similar messages that have deserved thought and action. So here I am.
To start off each school year, our district organizes convocation to inspire its employees before the new year begins. When asked to describe convocation to one of our new teachers, I explained it as a cross between a pep rally and a devotional. Yep, that's about right. Our speaker for this year's ceremony was Jamie Vollmer. Vollmer was quick to confess that he was once a businessman and vocal critic of public schools. Before we started booing and throwing things, he got to the but of his story...but through experiences and research, he now sees the vital role that public schools play in our society.
Fast forward a few weeks (hello alliteration)... After a conversation with a friend, I asked to borrow a book that she had just finished reading- Hello! My Name is Public School and I Have an Image Problem by Leslie Milder and Jane Braddock. Both of these authors are public school teachers and advocates for Texas public schools.
From both sources the message was the same: Public schools are one of our most valuable resources, but their reputation is being tarnished from the inside. Ouch!
This is far from a hopeless situation. Jamie Vollmer left us with 5 S's that can help us spiff up the image of our public school systems:
1. Stop- Stop badmouthing in public. Keep negativity about teachers, students, parents, and administrators out of our restaurants, shopping malls, and football stands. People hear what is said, and as a result, think less of you and our schools. The authors of Hello! My Name is... write, " So much energy is focused on what's wrong with our public schools and how to fix them that we, Americans, lose sight of the extraordinary work occurring in our schools every day, thanks to millions of caring, dedicated professional educators who will stop at nothing to ensure every student reaches their potential" (pg. xix). The sad truth is that negativity sells. The headlines and six o'clock news are filled with what's gone wrong in our world. No one is going to come looking for what's right, so we must keep ourselves busy spreading the message about what our school have gotten right.
2. Shift- Shift your attention from negative to positive. Our authors' support this idea: "We have to learn how to effectively communicate what is going RIGHT in our schools and how to restore the public's confidence and hope in a public school system that is achieving great things for ALL students, for every child in America, every day" (pg. 10). Be vocal about all the good that our schools are accomplishing. Besides, what we put our attention on grows stronger. You're not in this along. We are working together as a team to achieve student success. "Loyalty to our profession is essential if we want to recapture the respect that an educator once commanded" (pg. 21).
3. Share- Share successes with the community. "Americans have a right to know their children are in good hands, and their tax dollars are being invested efficiently. We also need to remind Americans about the significance our free public school system plays in our democracy" (pg. 6). Not only that, but there are many roles our public schools are filling that might be overlooked. Vollmer relayed a conversation he had with a school nurse where she cited the surprising number of insulin shots she administers over the course of a school day. For some students, school is their access to healthcare. "We've all had students for whom public schools is a safe place to come everyday, where they do not go hungry thanks to our free and reduced lunch programs, where they are not beaten down but built up, loved, nurtured, and respected" (pg. 28). These overlooked feats need desperately to be reported: How many safe miles have our buses covered? How many meals are served in the course of a week? How many coats are handed out each winter?
4. Sustain- Sustain the effort! We must not stop. We can not stop sharing this positive message. Post an answer to one of the questions listed above as your Facebook status. Tweet about the great thing that happened at your school today. Email this post to your friends and neighbors. Inventory the number of positive messages you've sent about our schools this week. Maybe you can come up with three. Excellent! Next week push to make it four.
5. Start now! Our children are our most precious commodity. Some students are months away from joining our universities and work force. We must invest in them, providing the knowledge and skills that are needed for success. Vollmer reminds us that we now face a moral/practical dilemma. Our moral obligation is to teach every child to his or her highest potential. Given the current economy, advances in technology, and business skills needed, we need every student to be ready. All students must graduate prepared to succeed in and benefit our society.
One of the easiest ways to start supporting schools is to get out and vote for lawmakers who have a history of acting in the best interest of public education. Let's face it, teachers don't have good voter turnout. Rather than complain about decisions that are made, let's support our legislators and keep an open line of communication. You get a chance to voice your vote on Tuesday, November 5th.
I'm thankful for Jamie Vollmer, Leslie Milder and Jane Braddock and the timely message they bring. I'm thankful that their message caused me to think and spurred me to action.
I'm proud to be a part of our public school system.
There is no better place to be.
Won't you stand with me?
To find out more about what you can do, visit Friends of Texas Public Schools.