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Telling your school’s story

Telling Your School’s Story: The Importance of Listening to Parents

“Storyteller” isn’t a job title you often see on an education jobs board—or any jobs boards, for that matter.

But there it is, listed as an open position on the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) website, as The Southern Illinoisan reports.

ISBE officials plan to hire a total of three storytellers. They will be responsible for telling “positive stories of teachers, students, and parents who are doing incredible work to drive equity and change for each and every child.”

But in a state with historically low school funding and in the midst of a massive shift in its school funding formula, several lawmakers have questioned whether the newly created positions make smart fiscal sense.

Despite the criticism, Illinois’ new job opening points to a growing belief among school leaders and educators that engaging community members and effectively telling your school’s story is just as important in today’s competition-fueled education environment as ensuring quality academics.

Story vs. substance

According to Illinois education officials, the aim of the storyteller position is to boost “peer-to-peer professional learning,” “increase engagement,” and “build community support for ISBE programs.”

While acknowledging the importance of highlighting the good work of Illinois’ public schools, state officials like Sen. Andy Manar have questioned whether budget funds would be better spent on more traditional, academic positions, such as teacher certification specialists or budgetary staff, according to the Southern Illinoisan.

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This tension over where schools should focus their efforts—and budgets—is playing out in districts across the country.

Several large urban districts have turned to school marketing as a means to retain and attract new students.

Austin ISD in Texas spent nearly $1 million in 2016-2017 on school marketing aimed to reverse declining enrollment—a strategy that came with its fair share of criticism. Within six weeks, though, the district had enrolled 548 students above its initial projection.

Don’t just tell, listen

While critics may scoff at the idea of schools focusing their attention on anything other than what’s happening in the classroom, growing research shows that academics isn’t the only—and not even the most important—factor by which parents grade their students’ schools.

How schools engage with parents and students is also key to parent decision-making.

While the ISBE’s new staffing strategy sheds light on a growing trend in school communications, simply telling your school’s story won’t, by itself, ensure parent or student loyalty.

How—or whether—your school listens is equally important.

As TrustED columnist and former National Superintendent of the Year Dr. Philip Lanoue told us in a recent interview for the TrustED Podcast:

“Public school leaders—if we don’t get into the concept that we have to be responsive to our communities and responsive to the needs of children, someone else is going to do it for us.”

What steps is your school or district taking to tell its story? What strategies do you have to listen to and learn from parent, student, and employee feedback? Tell us in the comments.