The Informal Track
My primary focus here is the formal
track. Of the informal track, I’ll simply
say that it’s conducted by individual
staff members within the course of
their daily routines. Without adding
to their workload, staff members can
help secure the prerequisites of progress
by taking four easy steps: stop bad-mouthing one another and their schools
in public; shift their attention from the
negative to the positive; regularly share
something positive about their students,
schools, and coworkers with the people
in their social networks; and casually
monitor their contribution. This last
step might be as simple as recalling
weekly the number of times they’ve
shared something positive about their
school with their neighbors and friends.
As this process unfolds and more
staff members add their voices to the
informal track, hundreds of positive
impulses begin to move across a web
of overlapping personal networks like
ripples on a pond. Soon the entire community is enlivened with good news
about their schools, energizing everyone
in the process.
The Formal Track
Unlike the informal track, the formal
track of the Great Conversation is a
group activity. It’s usually initiated and
maintained at the district level, but it
can be implemented by an individual
school or a cluster of neighboring
The centerpiece of the process
is a scripted message developed by
participants and approved by senior
management (see “A Six-Point Script
for Phase 1”). The message evolves
over time in a series of phases that last
three to six months each. I favor using
Phase 1 to explain the goals of the Great
Conversation and showcase examples of
district, student, and staff success.
The central feature of Phase 2 is the
A Six-Point Script for Phase 1
This script works well with diverse audiences and covers six main points.
1. Welcome the audience.
Presenters introduce themselves and welcome the audience to the beginning of
the Great Conversation, a new community-wide discussion designed to increase
student success and improve the quality of life of everyone in the community,
whether or not they have kids in school.
2. Establish a sense of urgency.
The demise of the industrial age has changed what all students need to know
and be able to do to prosper as adults. As a result, it’s in everyone’s interest
to work with their schools to remove barriers to student success. Presenters
explain that higher levels of student success will have a salutary effect on crime
rates, health services, tax revenues, civic participation, the strength of the local
economy, and the quality of local government.
3. Share good news.
Presenters feature a few concrete examples of student achievement, staff
excellence, and district milestones. Accounts of good news are like injections
of a powerful antibiotic specially formulated to combat the virulent strains
of public cynicism.
4. Explain the need for restructuring schools.
Presenters explain that the U.S. school system was created to select and sort
students into two groups—thinkers and doers—according to the needs of an
agro-industrial society that no longer exists. To prepare all students to succeed
in the knowledge age, we must make significant changes in the basic building
blocks of the system.
5. Make it clear that schools cannot do it alone.
Presenters make it clear that their schools cannot meet society’s demands and
unfold the full potential of every child without the help of the entire community.
From an initial focus on civic values and cultivating basic skills in reading, writing,
and math, public schools have broadened their curriculum over the past century
to include a dizzying array of programs. Schools need community support to successfully prepare children for their multifaceted lives beyond school.
6. Conclude with one amazing fact.
Amazing facts are school-related statistics that educators may take for granted
but that the community may find extraordinary. My personal favorite is how
much money a kindergarten teacher would make if he or she were paid the same
amount that an average day-care provider charges for the same number of hours
for the same number of kids ($680 per child per month1 x 9 months x 25 children
= $153,000). The amazing fact exercise helps community members grasp the
enormity of the task facing our schools and reinforces the need for understanding
Be sure to end with a Q & A: The public will reject the process if it appears
to be no more than a disguised attempt to gain public approval for decisions that
have already been made. Presenters must provide bona fide opportunities for
people to respond with their questions, opinions, and insights.
1National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. (2009). 2008 price of child care.
Arlington, VA: Author. Retrieved from www.naccrra.org/randd/docs/2008_Price_of_Child_Care.pdf