“Remember, the act of schooling is an inherently political act.” –Dr. Bill Boyd
Let’s be honest; politics makes us uncomfortable at times. After all, we just want to make decisions for the kids’ best interest and move on to the next thing. The rub occurs when there are competing visions of what is in the best interest of kids from the different stakeholders in the community. Navigating the intersection of these competing interests is quickly becoming the most critical job of a learner-centered leader.
When I was a superintendent, someone once told me that there are people in the world that “…will not let the facts get in the way of a good story.” This saying defines the current societal reality for learner-centered leaders. The diffusion of misinformation on social media and mainstream media outlets is alarming, scary, and disheartening all at the same time. When competing interest groups think about their vision of what is in the best interest of kids, their knowledge base is often predicated on falsehoods and lies.
Here is what I find interesting, though. More often than not, competing visions of what is in the best interest of kids do not get in the way, but the language used to express the vision causes difficulty… language matters. Learner-centered leaders use strategies that mitigate the confusion caused by careless (or thoughtless) language.
So, as a learner-centered leader, how can you navigate “language” when you discuss the changes you are making in your school?
4 strategies learner-centered leaders can use to help navigate the political nature of schooling and education.
- Control the message with the most interested parties…and each decision you make will have different interested parties. School leaders cannot control the narrative that occurs on social media. In social media, there is one mantra, “Get people angry and upset so they will share the story.” More often than not, people believe the story they hear first. Hence, you need to be purposeful about creating the context for the education discussion and get your message out before the crazies on social media can butcher your message. The importance of key stakeholders hearing the message first cannot be overstated. For example, if you are a superintendent, your first interested party on ANY decision is the school board.
- Work with the power structures within your community. Whomever they are, find the people who represent the power structure and paint a picture of the resulting benefit for kids, the school, and the community that reults from the change you propose. In most cases, if the people in the community with power know about and agree with your change or decision, the nonsense that occurs on social media will not have a large impact.
- Seek out and allow and include the “voice” of important stakeholders in the changes you are proposing. Seeking out the voice of stakeholders is more than old-fashioned “getting feedback.” Important stakeholders have intimate knowledge of the local context. This knowledge is valuable information as you craft your message to the broader community. It does not mean you sacrifice the value of your program or decision to the whims of local opinions. It does mean the narrative you create includes the voice of your community. You do not want to become a bandleader who turns around and finds no band behind them!
- Don’t view contrary opinions as “the enemy.” During your conversations with important stakeholders, they will tell you things you did not consider or challenge your thinking. It is always better to incorporate these new views into what you want to do whenever possible. The hard work of crafting a good message must include the points of view of people within the community even when (especially when) they challenge your thinking.
Unfortunately, we live in a time and place where everything in the public sphere is viewed through the zero-sum game of politics. To counterbalance this sad state of affairs, learner-centered leaders can utilize these communication strategies to get the critical work of educating kids done!