By Martin Silverman
This is the third article in a series. Read the other articles in the series.
Education is a game of data and numbers. Due to the nature of the beast, we often identify our schools with labels that describe the place, population, identity and economics. For example, is your school urban, suburban or rural? Do you have a large or small student body? What is the predominant ethnic identity? Are you in a rich or poor area? All these questions attempt to identify a school as a certain “thing,” and yet do those identifiers really tell the story of where you lead?
Leading with the heart and mind requires us to think about our communities and how we relate to them in different ways.
If you were to ask me where my current school is located, I would give you a longer than expected reply. It is a lovely building smack in the middle of a two-lane semi-suburban street surrounded by two different subdivisions, one gated and one not. Across the street, there are two more subdivisions. It is located on the edge of a small city that is part of the greater San Antonio area, but across the street from our school is a different city, and at the end of the road there begins yet a third city. We are not in a neighborhood, and our fence line is the back fences of the two subdivisions.
Contrast that with my previous school which was located on the main street of another small city that bordered San Antonio. We were the only elementary school in the city and served virtually all the students who lived there. The mayor, police officers, firefighters, and city workers connected closely with our school. We were physically located on the edge of the city but were fully identified with the city and the families.
Leading with the mind when considering community relations requires us to know quite a bit about the people we serve. For example:
- Where are we geographically? As I mentioned in the stories above, we are identified by the place we inhabit on the map.
- Where are we politically? Knowing this information helps us understand our families and their expectations. As we work to meet people where they are, it is important to know the political climate of our school communities.
- Where are we economically? When we look at the best ways to serve our community it is important to know the economics of our area. I am not talking just about the percentage of economically disadvantaged students here, but how our families are employed for example. Family economic needs are not dependent on whether you qualify for free or reduced lunch. We need to know what our people really need.
- Where are we when we consider how our families are housed? When I worked in Houston, most of my families were apartment renters. When I worked in a small town outside San Antonio, my families were a mix of rural and suburban with a sharp difference in housing status. Housing status is important for us to know as we look to serve needs and understand our communities.
- Where are we when we consider access to services? In general, families in urban/suburban areas have better access to shopping, medical care, and basic services. When I worked in a rural community those services were much more difficult to obtain. However, in the small city bordering San Antonio, we knew our families were farther from a full-service grocery store and had no access to a public library. We need to consider how our families get what they need to survive…and how they get to those places.
Mapping out the bigger picture of our community demographics is definitely a work of the mind. It helps us understand how our families live and how to better serve their needs so our communities are more than numbers on a data chart. This leads us to be able to serve our communities through the lens of service…leading with our hearts. When we are called and chosen to lead a school community, we are more than serving our students and staff. It is our duty, and hopefully our pleasure, to love the ones we are with and understand the values that make our communities unique. Some questions to ask when going beyond demographics and leading with your heart are:
- What is something this community values? Sometimes you are lucky enough to land in a school surrounded by a community with a strong, palpable point of pride. Maybe it is a place of significant historical events. Perhaps your community is known for outstanding music, food, sports, culture or industry. Find the points of pride and learn about them. Best practice would be to find the people connected with whatever you are researching and ask them to teach you!
- What are the true needs of the community? When I worked in a rural community, food drives were vital to serving the needs of my families. The rural poor had more difficult access to grocery stores and often less reliable transportation. In the small city close to San Antonio that had no library access we were able to work with the San Antonio Library to get a Bookmobile to make bi-weekly visits to the school parking lot so families would have access. Put some thought and research into what people really need so you are putting effort into the right type of service!
- Who are the people who influence your community? Oftentimes there are religious and political figures who are important to our families. Find ways to incorporate them into the school so you can learn about the people who live in your area. One way I have brought these community members into school is by having them serve as judges in our annual staff cooking contest. I have invited the mayor, representatives from the community college down the road, pastors from local churches, along with district staff to create a space where they can work together on a fun activity and get to know each other better.
- Where have we been, and where are we going? One of the most important elements of leading with the heart is to listen to people who have been connected with the school for a while. Listen to their stories and learn what is important to them. At my previous school, we held an annual handwriting contest for our students. This was an event that pre-dated me by many years and though it was not vital to continue it provided a sense of continuity and connection. At one of the award ceremonies a man come up to me to tell me that when he went to the school he won a ribbon in the handwriting contest and that his mother still had it. At the same time, one of our substitute teachers chimed in and said he had also won a ribbon in that contest. By honoring the history of the school and community you show you not only lead with your mind, but also with your heart!
Judson ISD principal, Martin Silverman is committed to providing the best educational experience for students and families at Salinas Elementary. His interests are in creating and nurturing school culture, providing enriching experiences for students and families, and developing future teachers and administrators. He hosts a podcast called “The Second Question,” which highlights educators and provides them a forum to discuss ideas and to honor the teachers who have influenced their lives. A longtime TEPSA member, Silverman is also part of a trio of Texas educators who host the podcast “The Texan Connection.”
TEPSA News, August 2022, Vol 79, No 4
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