In today’s world, people like to use random numbers and data points to label a school and its performance. This lazy attempt to help the average person understand a school creates many false positives and even more false negatives. These labels instantly make news that the school leader then has to explain to students, parents, staff and prospective staff members. And because labeling is all too common, every school leader should be ready to tell their own story, the full story or the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.
It is imperative for a school leader to understand the importance of owning their school’s story and sharing their unique message to stakeholders and even potential employees. This isn’t simply cheerleader rhetoric. This is the full story, with all the key elements – where the school and its community have been, where they are right now, where they want to go, the challenges they will face, and how they will overcome these challenges.
A school’s history gives much needed perspective. Many school leaders do not like to talk about the challenges of the past and present, but this is a necessary part of telling the full story. At the same time, it is important to not dwell exclusively on challenges. They must be accompanied by solutions. And when solutions are laid out clearly, this invites people to be a part of them. The mission and vision shared by a school leader should inspire people to take ownership, rather than standing by as passive and critical observers.
Yes, labels are easy. Telling – and understanding – the full story is not. But we can all get there, if we are consistent in our storytelling, and offer solutions that are refreshing, compelling and actionable. This is the way that difficult histories can lead to bright futures, one story at a time.