The following commentary is written by Rebecca Albright, a school board member in New York, and was originally published by the New York State School Boards Association.
In the beginning I had just two children. When my son and daughter were five and two, respectively, I adopted 1,200 others between the ages of 5 and 21.
Other school board members know the feeling. When I was first elected to the Wilson school board in Niagara County in 1986, I felt like I became “mom” in a much broader sense of the word. These were all my kids!
In 1994 I was elected to Orleans/Niagara BOCES and my brood grew to 37,000, give or take. I don’t remember their birthdays and they will never get my car keys, but they are mine nonetheless! I fret over them, I advocate for them, and I brag about them every chance I get.
I feel fully entitled to brag. It’s what moms and dads do.
There is a distinct difference between advocating and bragging. Advocating is speaking up for public education and the resources we need. I do a lot of that when I visit legislators, but bragging is bringing attention to what these kids are actually doing.
You don’t like the term “bragging”? How about “broadcasting success”? As school board members, we’re privy to lots of information that average community members don’t have. I think it’s our duty to share the good news. People rarely hear it anywhere else!
In the current economic and regulatory climate, I think we all find board work stressful. But when I brag, I light up. Bragging brings a thrill to these old bones. It’s exhilarating and energizing.
Is there anything better than seeing the faces of kids when you talk in a way that lets them know that you think they are special and that you are proud of them? Do you notice how they sit up straighter, maybe even smile a bit? Ever tried that with their parents? Have you tried that with community members who aren’t parents or whose children have grown?
One of the biggest contributions we can make as school leaders is expressing appreciation for the hard work and good results that occur every day in our schools despite all the issues that we grapple with in our boardrooms.
Recognizing accomplishments is not only good for kids, it’s good for you. When you see students, staff or community members puffed up with a sense of accomplishment, that feeling of well-being is infectious. It can easily outweigh all the other concerns that trouble us.
So here is Bragging 101: talk about students as if they are your own flesh and blood. In the same way parents are quick to open their wallets (or smart phones) and show photos of their kids, you ought to have something handy to show people or brag about. Ask your superintendent for a “cheat sheet” of facts – maybe in graphical form – on student achievements, graduation percentages, student athlete teams, the scholarship monies earned. When someone asks you how the kids are doing, give them an answer that they’ll remember and repeat to others!
Of all the duties that come with being a school board member, this is one you will truly enjoy. And it will be good for the students and the district, too. So, brag a little. After all, they really are your kids.
Rebecca Albright is president of the Orleans/Niagara BOCES board and host of “Your Public Schools” on LCTV public access television in Lockport.