Being a spokesperson for education

Anyone connected with education may be, at one time or another, in a position to be a spokesperson.

When this task falls on your shoulders, here are tips to help you assure people in your community that your schools are delivering what is expected.

  • Know what your community wants from its schools and be prepared to explain how your organization is meeting those expectations. Surveys of most communities across this country show the number one result people want from their schools is increased student achievement. Can you describe how your board and your schools or programs are focusing their efforts on higher student achievement?
  • Make sure your schools, offices and colleges are friendly and welcoming.
  • Know your facts. Gather the statistics that show your district is accountable. Know how your students are doing, how they are progressing in reaching achievement standards. Know how many students are reaching the standards and how many are almost at that level. Know what is being done to help students who are struggling.
  • Once you know the facts, be sure that they are available to other staff, parents and people in your community so that they have the information they need to speak up for schools, too.
  • Put emphasis on the "basics." People in most communities are concerned that the schools are teaching the basics.
  • Know the statistics about school safety, student discipline and diversity issues. Have information available to illustrate how your district compares to neighboring districts and to other districts from throughout the state and nation.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Participate actively when someone is talking to you. Maintain eye contact with him or her.
  • Concentrate on the message and interpret the hidden messages and questions.
  • Ask questions to clarify what the speaker is saying.
  • Restate what you think you heard in order to check meanings and interpretations.
  • Summarize what you have heard and ask the speaker if he or she agrees.
  • Avoid:
  • Hearing only a portion of the message and responding to only that portion
  • Changing the subject in the middle of a discussion.
  • Criticizing another person’s point of view rather than respecting it.
  • Failing to look at the person who is speaking – for example, looking at your watch or out the window.
  • Thinking about what you want to say rather than responding to what the other person is saying.
  • Create a climate in which people feel safe to speak candidly by paying attention to feelings, attitudes and emotions and by respecting other people no matter what their backgrounds or perspectives are.
  • Recognize that people hear others through the words they say, the tone and inflection of their voices and their body language. Sixty percent of the message received comes from the speaker’s body language; 20 percent comes from tone of voice and 20 percent comes from the words used.
  • Understand the hierarchy of effective communication. The list is arranged with the most effective listed first:
  • One to one, face to face;
  • Small group discussion;
  • Speaking before a large group;
  • Phone conversation;
  • Handwritten, personal note;
  • Typewritten letter, not computer generated;
  • Computer generated personal letter;
  • Mass produced, not personal, letter;
  • Brochure or pamphlet in mail;
  • News carried in popular press;
  • Advertising in newspapers, radio, TV, posters, magazines; and
  • Other forms – billboards, skywriting, etc.
  • Arrange for people to learn through experience. People remember 20 percent of what they are told; 30 percent of what they see; 50 percent of what they see and hear; 70 percent of what they say; and 90 percent of what they do.
  • Keep your eyes open for good news to share.

Adapted from OSBA’s PR In Action, a communication subscription service for Oregon schools.

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