Transparency has become a well-used (in fact, over-used) mantra in the workplace — and, in the public sector in particular, there has been an increased demand for transparency.
For me, transparency promotes accountability, accessibility, and it provides timely information for students, staff and parents about what their school district is doing — it demystifies the work of schools and school districts. Most people in the community have a clear idea of what teachers do, but as we move farther away from that direct relationship in the class, there is much less of an understanding of what non-enrolling teachers, school administrators, district staff and Trustees do.
My goal around transparency is to help bring greater understanding to these important roles and to the full scope of the work we do in our district.
My own evolving list of strategies to increase my transparency, as well as that of our district, include:
1) Giving the Community Multiple Channels of Communication: including traditional methods like letters, telephone calls, and new methods through social media and text messaging.
2) Giving Out My Contact Information: Many were surprised when I gave out my contact information to everyone. It is on my business card, it is posted on my blog and on our district website. I don’t want anyone to ever say they don’t know how to find me.
3) Build a Relationship with Traditional and New Media: Some people are easy to contact when they have good news to share, but can’t be found when there are more difficult issues. It is often said that education is poorly treated by the media — we can change that by not complaining and by engaging the media. This includes both traditional print media and new media — dismissing edu-bloggers as ‘not influential’ would be a huge mistake.
4) Sharing my Cell Number: I remember, 15 years ago, when teachers were getting e-mail addresses at my school. Some teachers were adamant about keeping their e-mail addresses private — they were private e-mail accounts and they would only share their e-mail on their terms. This was and is ludicrous, since the district email is not a private e-mail; it was/is a work e-mail and our work is working with the community. My cell phone is also provided by the school district, so it is my work phone. So, I don’t really get the idea of not giving out this number, and this is also reminiscent of the e-mail discussion from 15 years ago. I can always choose to answer the phone, but I would much rather have people find me on a mobile number. I look forward to my office phone completely disappearing one day.
5) My Calendar is Not a Secret: I do have some confidential appointments on my calendar, and they will be labelled as such, but I am fine sharing my calendar with anyone who is interested. I know most people in the school district, let alone the community, have only a limited sense of the work I do. The more people who understand the work — the greater appreciation for the work.
6) Creating Personal and Corporate Identities: This is subject matter for a future post about how we can balance our own personal identities in the context of our district identities. I am mindful of the separation between my own identity and that of the one in the district — but they are also closely connected. FYI, I don’t have access to post to district Twitter or Facebook accounts — this is done through our Communications Officer.
7) Meet at Schools: Whenever a teacher or administrator wants to meet, I do my very best to do it at their school and not in my office. While this is not always possible, most of our schools are within 10 minutes of the board office, so, on the most part, it can be done. As well, I often use these out-of-office meetings as an excuse to visit at least a couple of classrooms — it gives me a better sense of the tone in the school. The more I can connect “as a real person”, the better.
8) I Share a Bit About My Life: I have four kids, the oldest two are in school. They attend public schools — I have a personal interest in a great public school system in BC. This is a careful balance, but we have public jobs and people appreciate knowing some of the things in life, beyond the job, that drive us.
9) Tell My Story in My Words: There are a lot of reasons why I blog, and one of them is that I can share my messages — unfiltered. I don’t have to worry about being misquoted, or hope that others will share ideas in a timely way. My blog allows me to connect in real-time to the community. It is also a place for discussion and dialogue.
10) Think Twice if it Needs to be on E-mail: Rather than sending e-mails with information to groups of people, if there is an appropriate place to post the information publicly and share the link with those who would be most interested, I prefer to do this. One tool I am using is SlideShare to post Powerpoint presentations publicly, rather than e-mailing the presentations to those interested. I am amazed how many times people have stumbled on information I have posted publicly, and who really appreciate the content.
I have said that transparency will be a key aspect of everything I do, as well as regularly asking questions like, “How could we do this in a more public and engaging way?” There is a lot to do and this list will continue to evolve.
I am curious about how others promote transparency in education.