How transparency can transform school culture
School and district leaders can model transparency by sharing notes from staff meetings, school board meetings, and even in-service teacher training days with the entire school community. Unraveling the mystery can help everyone see why the District does what it does. This includes being clear with students about the goals and direction the district is taking so they too can be part of the transparent culture. Leaders can also share what they have learned from conferences and bring that enthusiasm back to the district.
“When you use digital tools and other social media, it’s like you’re shouting at your school door because you’re so proud of something,” Mazza said. This gives educators a chance to write their own stories and communicate more easily with parents and other community members. And just as school and district leaders can inspire teachers to connect with their peers, teachers can in turn model good online behavior for students. “Accept that everything you do online and offline is a role model for children; and they need good role models,” Mazza said.
Connecting with other educators puts the control in the hands of educators, but it also helps move the field forward. “It’s important for us to not just look at connectivity for ourselves, but for the entire field of education,” Mazza said. He encourages his teachers to post the problems they face to Twitter Verse, where they can get great ideas from other educators who have encountered similar issues almost immediately.
“The more we take, the more we give,” said Jeff Zoul, manager in Deerfield, Illinois. “Sometimes a teacher tweets something about the hashtag and the next thing we know is educators across the country are sharing other resources.”
RELATIONSHIPS AT THE HEART OF CONNECTIVITY
It’s easy to hear the term “connected educator” and immediately think of technology, but the most important connections are face-to-face. “Each of our 18 schools is very different and teachers expect us to meet them where they are,” Mazza said. “Each teacher, leader and parent uses the tools on a different basis.”
Mazza will even print relevant Twitter chats – yes, print! — and articles for managers in his district who are not comfortable with technology. By first showing the power of connecting in a familiar form, he hopes reluctant educators will begin to see that the benefits can outweigh any potential hassles or harm. “When you don’t see it as work, but as inspiration and help to get the job done, that’s when your mind opens up,” Mazza said. He often sits down and reviews a school improvement plan or goals with a principal and, as they go through the list together, he lists various Twitter hashtags that might offer suggestions for achieving those Goals.
It is equally important to focus on relationships to engage parents and community members in what is happening at school. “You need these families, otherwise the kids won’t reach their full potential,” Mazza said. He tries to offer many ways for parents to engage and stresses that they should choose what works for them, not necessarily engage on all platforms.
“It’s really about listening and coming forward and building relationships with all of these stakeholders,” Mazza said. “If they’re not online at all, it’s up to us to go out there and get to know them. We can’t widen the gap just because they’re not online. He makes visits to home, especially at the beginning of the year, listening to parents’ concerns, informing them of different ways to connect with the school and showing that they care about the well-being of each student.” The majority are flattered and honored that you go the extra mile to get to know them,” Mazza said.
He has also been successful in holding monthly parent-teacher leadership meetings. The voice of the students is at the center of the meeting, and a group of students always present on something they do in school first. Then the discussion can range from how to achieve school goals to social and emotional well-being or fundraising.
In 2008 when he started these meetings, Mazza had seven or eight white families coming to these meetings. But he started moving them to different community libraries, as well as posting them online. Participation peaked at between 50 and 60 families physically present and another 30 participants online. It has partnered with neighborhood gathering places like the Korean mosque and church to set up computer labs that students use for schoolwork, but also broadcast parent-teacher leadership meetings so members community can participate even if they don’t have an internet connection.
BE COMFORTABLE WITH PUSHBACK
Including everyone in creating a positive, nurturing and transparent school culture will certainly raise questions for parents. “All this repression is rooted in something,” Mazza said. “If your culture isn’t transparent, you might automatically be pushed away because people aren’t used to sharing what they’re doing. They might think it’s not safe to do so. Mazza sees pushback as a way to bring more people into the discussion. Connected and transparent school leaders are comfortable with pushback, Mazza said.
“You can’t expect everyone to understand the first time you articulate something,” Mazza said. The only thing a transparent leader can do is continue to communicate every step of the way, continually explaining why they are taking that step and answering questions. Community involvement is an important part of being a good manager, Mazza said. And if done right, these relationships can be exploited later when things might not be going well. During difficult times – budget cuts, lower test scores – the community always knows that the principal is dedicated, committed and cares about the welfare of the school.
LEADING FROM A TRANSPARENT PLACE
“If you’re a headteacher right now and you think you have all the resources and you can do anything, it’s impossible,” Mazza said. “You need the rest of the world with perspectives to constantly expose your faculty to people trying things out.”