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Starting the dialogue with your principal

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It’s often tough, that’s for sure, but keeping the lines of communication open with your principal is vital. It may mean the difference between the sudden imposition of prior review or having the chance to explain how your students weighed the pros and cons before deciding to run that controversial article.

There’s probably no better time to start the dialogue than the beginning of the school year. Everyone is optimistic about what’s to come, full of ideas and possibilities. Sometimes the principal is even new to the building and needs to know what you and your students are all about.

With that in mind, participants at each year’s ASNE High School Journalism Institute at Kent State have written letters to take back to their principals — or to have me, as Institute director, send along with one of my own. It offers them a chance to share what they have learned in their two-week workshop and to show their administrators the value of allowing students to make the content decisions.

This year’s group included a teacher who isn’t going back to a classroom this fall. Megan Fromm, a journalism teacher and media adviser in Maryland up until this fall, was moving and wouldn’t have a staff of her own or a principal to understand the process. But Megan understands it — an alum of an award-winning newspaper program in Colorado, a new addition to the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission and a top-notch teacher. So…her letter for this Institute assignment is for YOU. It’s designed to be something you can tweak and adapt, if need be, or simply fill in the blanks and use for your own principal.

Thanks for the useful letter, Megan, and good luck to all who use it.

cpb

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Dear [Mr./Mrs./Dr.__insert principal name here______],

With a fresh school year upon us, I wanted to take a few moments to share my vision for [INSERT PROPER NAME/DESCRIPTION] department this year.  The start of each fall brings a rush of enthusiasm from students and faculty, and I’m excited to capitalize on that momentum and take our program to even greater heights.

I believe strongly that journalism, as a discipline, embodies so many of the skills we seek to impart to our students across the curriculum.  Research, writing, editing, clarity, accuracy, and critical thinking are just a few of the skills journalism emphasizes.  This year, I’d like to highlight an equally important aspect of journalism—and I think you could be a tremendous resource.  As educators, we all seek to provide our students the awareness, understanding and healthy skepticism necessary to compete and succeed in a democratic society.  What’s more, we all hope that our students will move beyond awareness and develop a desire for civic responsiveness.  That’s where you come in.

This year, I’d like to push my journalism students to think beyond the walls of the classroom.  I’d like for them not only to learn critical thinking skills but also to master ethical decision-making practices they can take with them into adulthood.  To do this, they’ll need to stretch their comfort levels in many ways.  They’ll need to rethink what topics they cover in the student newspaper, how they approach their sources, and how they present information to our student body.  They’ll need to take off their student hats more often and pick up their reporter’s notebooks, looking for stories around every corner and stopping only when they have the best, most accurate information to share.

This won’t be easy, and it won’t happen without a few stumbles along the way. But if you think this sounds like a worthwhile pursuit, I’d love to talk more about my specific ideas and the support structures I’ll have in place to make it happen in a way that is best for the students.  Thank you for your time, and I look forward to working with you for another great year.

Best,

Adviser/Journalism teacher

Note: Teachers, please feel free to modify this letter as you see fit. It should reflect a tone and intent you would feel comfortable using with your principal.  Also, if your school mission reflects some of the ideas presented above, adding some phrases verbatim could also be helpful in beginning a thoughtful discussion with your administration.

 

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