A few weeks ago, I posted the following paragraphs to my personal Facebook account:
My school has a perception problem, and it is frustrating. Willis serves the lowest socioeconomic area of Chandler and there is an unfortunate stigma that goes along with that…the impression that our students, and our school, have less potential than other schools (district and charter). I know I am biased, but this is not true.
I love our kids and our school community. We embrace the diversity on our campus. I will not apologize for the students, or the community we serve. Our kids are bright, resilient, creative, empathetic, and possess unlimited potential. That is the truth about Willis!
Every school, including Willis, has its challenges, but we are working hard to tell our story — one of persistence, determination, and success. I believe in our students, our staff, and what we are doing for kids. I hope others will take the time to move beyond history and perception and recognize the value of every student at Willis and the great things they are doing. Our kids are deserving, but we need help telling our story.
So, just after posting this message (as if on cue), our school went through two of the most frustrating weeks I have ever endured as a school administrator. I will spare you all of the details, but we were the victims of multiple bomb threat hoaxes (not believed to be the work of any of our students). While these were clearly incidents beyond our control, public perception can be wickedly cruel and our school’s reputation, once again, paid a price.
However, I stand by what I posted to Facebook. I am proud of our school, and I know that we have more to offer than most people outside of our school community would believe. So, how do you change the negative perceptions? How do reach beyond your staff, students, and parents, to tell your story to the community, and to the city?
There is not an easy answer. Five years ago, we began an annual ‘showcase’ and invited the community. We do our best to put our students out in public eye and let them show the good that is happening at our school — through academic work, music, art, and community service. These efforts have had a positive impact, but their impact is relatively narrow. We want to cast a wider net.
Recently, we have been exploring this idea of ‘telling our story’ through social media. For some time, we have done this with Twitter, and Facebook, but recently we have been using Instagram.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
This is by no means a novel concept. Over the past few years, I have appreciated the opportunity to follow Tim Lauer, the principal of Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon on Twitter and Instagram. Although I have never met Tim, or visited his school, my perceptions are very positive. Tim has done a great job of ‘painting a picture’ of Lewis Elementary School (and I know from people who do know Tim, that the story he tells through Instagram is accurate).
While only one small piece of the effort, I am hopeful that social media — specifically Instagram — will provide an avenue for our school to replace negative perceptions with positive images. It is a window into what is happening on our campus, in our classrooms, and beyond our school walls. The goal is not to hide our blemishes, but to highlight the overwhelming amount of good that goes on in our school community.
If you would like to follow our progress, and help us tell our story, you can find us on Instagram at: @wjhsfirebirds, and on other social media #wjhsstory.