My satirical pieces are often mistaken for true stories. But here’s a true story that I would have mistaken for satire, had I not read it in the Dallas Morning News.
Mike Miles, the new Dallas schools superintendent, has directed principals to use “power words” and “acknowledgment phrases” when speaking with parents and others. The Dallas ISD has even printed a booklet of “power phrases and remarks.”
For instance, a principal might say, “We are all about improving student performance and the quality of instruction; that is the expectation.”
The “acknowledgment phrases” include “It depends,” “That’s true,” or “Actually, I disagree.” Principals are encouraged to use them to preface one of 13 statements, such as “Our work will be professional, equitable, rigorous and student-focused.”
The reporter, Matthew Haag, discovered that the Dallas ISD had paid consultant Merrie Spaeth, of Dallas-based Spaeth Communications, Inc., to help craft these words and statements. Spaeth, Miles, and DISD communications chief Jennifer Sprague collaborated on the project.
There’s a catch, though: half-scripted dialogue doesn’t work. It has to be all scripted or not. Spaeth et al. should have come up with power phrases for the parents as well. Then principals and parents could have real meaningless conversations, such as the one that follows.
(The principal’s words below are all taken from the article, except for her last two sentences. The parent’s words are made up.)
Principal: “The superintendent’s plan brings stability and a clear direction to the district.”
Parent: “I agree. The superintendent is proactive and goal-oriented.”
Principal: “That’s true. Destination 2020 will take five to eight years to achieve, but we will make significant progress in one year.”
Parent: “I am proud to be a member of this achievement-centered team. My son will pitch his literacy growth action plan at the next goal-implementation assembly.”
Principal: “We are all a team at the school.”
Parent: “Indeed; the true team player sees accountability as a game-changer.”
Principal: “I have to learn more power phrases before I can continue this conversation. Good day.”
Parent: “We are all lifelong learners here. Good day.”
One could even use the “power word generator” (created by Daniel Lathrop of the Dallas Morning News) to keep the conversation going. When you don’t have to make sense, why stop, ever?