The media’s influence on School Superintendents

As a followup to The School Superintendent Talent Pool-post from earlier this week, I have received numerous comments from current superintendents on how the work of a superintendent must also be protected and not assaulted.  It occurs to me that communities must also step up to not only hold their superintendent(s) accountable for moving the work for kids and educators, but to also protect the very work these school executives are charged with executing.

A community’s media outlets have a big role in this and are usually either destructive or constructive.

In the SUPES Academy curriculum, we teach current and aspiring school executives key points about working with the media which include the following:

1. Be honest and be transparent but do not be defensive, especially when feeling overly-hyped about good news or overly-cautious when navigating bad news.

2. Use social media, but use it carefully.  A superintendent’s personal brand and the associated brand of the school board and school district mean a lot in this work.

3.  More than ever, the new media is largely unchecked, and relies more and more on fewer staff to get good clean fact-checked reporting accomplished.

4.  Juicy stories are the norm with far too many media outlets.  “Juicy” does not necessarily mean accurate, but always means sensational and too often reliant on character assaults.

5.  For new superintendents, they must be able to absorb the attacks that come from doing this work and keep strategic bearings of what is best for kids and their school district and board.

In my own superintendent work, the media outlets were underfunded, short on professional staff, and overly-focused on selling papers and ad space (therefore the need for sensationalism and assaults).  In both cases, the work perpetuated inaccurate information about our work, about me, and about the board members for whom I worked.   Of the many things I learned from these experiences, one was the need to help counsel-out those who are not pre-disposed to absorbing the attacks (even when untrue) while maintaining focus on kids and the work of the board and districts.

There are other media outlets where, even with challenging economics, their journalists demand good, clean, fact-checked reporting behind every story.  This post is not about which media outlets model this and which do not.

What are the associated success-factors where all community segments (including the media) play a part in holding the school superintendent accountable, but also protect the work of the board and superintendent?  Further, which of these factors resonate especially when things become tense and tough?

Your thoughts?

JW

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