Ask any school leader to name the key factors in ensuring a K-12 student’s success, and you’ll likely see a positive school climate at the top of that list.
Recent research also confirms this strong connection between a student’s school environment and their success.
In a Review of Education Research meta-study, experts reviewed over 15 years worth of school research and concluded that school climate has a significant impact on student performance, as a recent K12 Insight white paper highlights. Of the 78 studies researchers examined, 84 percent found that positive school climates led to higher achievement.
While improving school climate and culture is a huge concern for district leadership, in the end, it’s the front-line leaders—principals, school staff, and teachers—who are best positioned to transform their school environment.
In a recent webinar, Megan Overman, director of communications at Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD shared the district’s approach for empowering front-line leaders to engage students, parents, and community members and improve their school’s culture and climate.
“First Impression Specialists”
First impression specialists. That’s what Overman calls the teachers and principals in Eagle-Mountain Saginaw.
“The first point of contact for students and parents is almost never our front district office,” explains Overman in the webinar. “Our frontline leaders are at our schools, they’re at the places where parents and students go almost every day.”
Encompassing parts of four cities, the district spans 73 square miles with 20,035 students spread across 26 campuses. They have some families that have attended district schools for generations and others who have just moved to the area.
“This creates a very dynamic community—with lots of history—paired with new growth and opportunities,” says Overman. “That also can be somewhat of a challenge as you’re trying to build and maintain engagement.”
The right impression
Understanding the important roles teachers and principals play in providing quality customer service is one thing. Actually empowering them to effectively engage with community members is a whole other challenge.
For Overman and her team at Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, opening new lines of two-way communication between teachers and principals and community members was a top priority. This open communication not only allows school-level leaders to gain new insights about the challenges facing their schools, but also allows them to be proactive in solving problems that arise.
“If you’ve got a problem, if you’ve got a concern, they’re going to want to make it right,” Overman explains. ”And when they feel empowered there’s a lot they can do to improve your school culture and your climate, but they need to be able to have those two-way conversations first.”
To encourage those vital two-way conversations, the district turned to Let’s Talk!, K12 Insight’s cloud-based customer experience solution. Accessible via a button on the district’s homepage as well as the homepages for each school, Let’s Talk! provides an online space where every member of the community can share questions, comments, suggestions, concerns, and compliments.
“It’s always on. It’s a 24/7, 365-a-year solution that lets parents reach us when their comment or concern comes to them,” says Overman.
Along with individual Let’s Talk! buttons, each school has a custom Let’s Talk! landing page that includes specific interest areas for that school, including a dedicated area for community members to ask questions of their school principal.
“The goal here was to let our folks know that our principals are accessible, and they do want to have an open dialogue with them,” says Overman.
As with any new K-12 initiative, introducing a new tool like Let’s Talk! to school-level leaders was met with a healthy dose of criticism.
To help build enthusiasm, Overman and her team developed a pilot program in three schools.
As the principals in those schools began to see the value of Let’s Talk! in encouraging and improving important community conversations, they quickly became champions of the tool. This has made the expansion of the tool to other campus sites much smoother.
According to Overman, this widening adoption of Let’s Talk! is leading to a better customer experience in her district. “It’s really, for us, all about creating those school to parent relationships and building those connections for positive customer experiences, and that’s going to benefit everyone in the long run.”
For more on how Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD is improving engagement with its community, don’t miss the full on-demand webinar featuring Megan Overman.