Trusted school leaders exemplify Character when he or she “communicates and operates from strong ideals and beliefs about schooling.” Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying that, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” In defining the Character of a school leader, in some ways, we address the subject of a shadow – but one of a very real thing. A school leader’s public reputation is based on his or her Character. A school’s reputation is based on its Character. The human element of the school (i.e. teachers, coaches, administrators, students, and staff) defines the school’s Character.
Henry Mintzber, points out that, “The behavior of a group cannot be predicted solely from an understanding of the personality of each of its members. Various social processes intervene…the group develops a mood, an atmosphere. In the context of the organization, we talk about a style, a culture, a character.” The Character of a school is defined by the decisions and actions of a few – especially by the decisions and actions of the school leader. When these are public and positive, the school’s reputation and its leader are enhanced. When decisions and actions are public and negative, the results are obvious. Consider Roman Catholic priests, and their leaders, embroiled in the sexual abuse scandal that went public in 2002. Still today, it fills headlines and is the subject of media reports, television documentaries, and even major motion pictures. The New York Times even maintains a website portal dedicated to archiving the large volume of stories about the scandal. The damage done to the Roman Catholic Church and its schools is incalculable.
Research shows that a solid, positive, healthy, and progressive reputation is essential to sustained school success – and fulfilling its mission and vision. “For students and schools to thrive, parents and communities must be supportive and involved. And the engagement and understanding needed to foster such support and involvement depend on the open, two-way, ongoing communication created by effective school public relations efforts.” Trusted leaders set the tone and take the initiative to establish a clear understanding of what the values of the school are throughout the school community. They ensure that decisions on every level are being processed and made based on those values. A school’s public Character and leadership are defined by the values actually seen and experienced by the school community.
When considering the importance of the school’s reputation and Character, leaders must also think of the connection between the school’s Character and school resources.
Community involvement is one way to generate resources that are essential for effective schooling… Furthermore, parental support can help schools to identify, attract, and maintain community connections. Schools are, thus, encouraged to think of community involvement and parent involvement as two sides of the same coin in their school improvement efforts, and to explore resources that currently exist to help schools develop and improve their outreach to parents.
However, community involvement and support at every level are dramatically reduced when the Character of the school or its leaders are questioned.
Operating a full-service private, independent, and/or Christian school that meets all students’ needs as well as families’ standards and expectations all within the constraints of limited financial resources is the single greatest challenge of the majority of those schools. Tuition income is not enough to fund the programs most private schools desire to provide. Multiple streams of income beyond tuition, and multiple streams of resourcing (e.g. gifted equipment, scholarships, donated supplies, etc.) must be identified. This can also be one of the very rewarding, tangible, and strategic benefits of investing in, maintaining, and actively protecting reputation and Character.
Experts in the field of Reputation Management note, “reputation and its management (PR, in other words) matter even more than they did in earlier times: they underpin both our marketing and our development work. Schools must work hard to win – and to retain – friends and supporters.” Gillingham, Richardson, and Petingale go on to say, “Organizations that manage their reputations well benefit not just in so-called soft, feel-good ways, but in quantifiable, bottom-line ways as well.” Thus, trusted school leaders make sure their core values are known and protected.
©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.
 Marzano et. al., School Leadership That Works, 709-710, Kindle.
 John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia, Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication (New York: Routledge, 2015), 732-733, Kindle.
 Hoy, Educational Administration, 178, Kindle.
 “Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cases,” The New York Times, accessed 30 June 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/topic/organization/roman-catholic-church-sex-abuse-cases.
 Edward H. Moore, School Public Relations for Student Success (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2009), 193-195. Kindle.
 Betsy Stevens, “Communicating Ethical Values: A Study of Employee Perceptions,” Journal of Business Ethics 20, no. 2 (1999): 113-120.
 Mavis G. Sanders, Building School-Community Partnerships: Collaboration for Student Success (New York: Corwin, 2006), 124-137, Kindle.
 Tory Gillingham, Nigel Richardson, and Nick Pettingale, Public Relations, Marketing and Development (Woodbridge, Suffolks: John Catt Educational Ltd., 2010), 162-164, Kindle.
 Ibid., Public Relations, 357-358, Kindle.