Creating a Culture of Communication - Tips for School Leaders
I am wrapping up my second year as principal of Forbush High School, a midsized, rural school in central North Carolina. When I was hired for this position in the spring of 2016, I spent the early part of that summer gathering feedback from staff about the strengths of the school and the areas in which they hoped to see the school improve. This effort turned out to be time well-spent, and I advise every new school leader to invest some time listening to the staff members “in the trenches” before finalizing your goals for that first year. Their feedback was powerful and it helped me organize my strategic priorities. While several topics came about as I spoke to staff members and gathered survey data, one topic was consistently expressed: communication. The staff wanted to see better communication between all stakeholder groups, including teachers, administration, students, and parents. There was a clear consensus amongst the staff, so I made improved communication the primary focus for my first year at Forbush. If you are looking to do the same at your school, here are some tips and ideas to consider.
Communication between Staff and Administration
Email is a powerful tool, but one that has to be used wisely. It is not asking too much to expect staff members to check their emails at least daily, but school leaders should be careful not to overuse email. In a previous role as an assistant principal, teachers would give me a hard time (mostly in a joking manner!) for sending out too many emails. Looking back, I deserved it! I used to send several mass emails throughout the week, and now I try to be a bit more strategic. I write a “Weekly Reminders” email that I send to the staff on Sunday afternoon with pertinent information for the week. Outside of that email, which arrives in the form of a 1-2 page PDF, I try to limit expansive emails or memos sent school-wide during the week.
The 24-48 Rule for Communication
I also try to follow what I call the “24-48” rule with emails sent to staff members (or parents/community members, for that matter). First, I always try to respond to an email sent to me within 24 hours, even if it is to tell the person I received his or her email and I am working on the request. Second, I never send an email to a staff member with a new request that requires them to do something within a 48-hour period. Email should be used primarily for requests several days, or even weeks, in advance, or for friendly reminders as deadlines draw near. If you need to request something from a teacher that is last minute, go to that person and speak to him or her face-to-face.
Plan Ahead to Strengthen Communication
One last tip regarding communication between staff and administration: try to plan special events and days when the bell schedule will be altered as far in advance as possible, then let the staff know so they can be prepared. It is very frustrating for teachers when events spring up seemingly out of nowhere, forcing them to adjust their plans with less than a day’s notice. Believe me, I have dropped the ball a few times myself, but it is important to try to plan ahead for events that will alter the normal bell schedule. I try to get these events in my Weekly Reminders email at least a week before, if not two weeks, in advance. If you are diligent about this, I promise that your teachers will appreciate it, as they will see how much you respect their instructional time.
Communication between Admin and Students / Parents
My colleagues may find this surprising, since I am pretty active on Twitter now, but I was not one of the first people to jump onto the “social media” bandwagon. I never got into MySpace or Facebook, and I was slow to show interest in Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. However, social media is a powerful tool that schools, principals, and teachers should be utilizing. If you are not, you are missing out on opportunities to promote your school, communicate with your stakeholders, and grow as a professional.
First, social media tools are a great way to communicate with parents and students on a regular basis. Announcements, special events, upcoming activities, and even weather updates can be shared immediately with any social media platform. Social media is also a great way to “show off” your school and the accomplishments of your students. My assistant principals and I manage our school’s Twitter account, which is also linked to our Facebook account. We try to post and retweet sports scores, classroom activities, club ceremonies, and other student accomplishments throughout the week. This is a great way for your school to “tell its story” while also boosting school and community pride. Many students and parents are using these platforms, so it only makes sense for schools to meet them where they are. I highly recommend a free app called “Buffer” which allows you to schedule posts days, or even weeks, in advance. Buffer is compatible with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, making it easy to link multiple accounts so that you save time while reaching an even larger audience.
Using Social Media to Connect and Communicate
Lastly, I highly recommend that teachers and principals use social media platforms to connect with fellow educators. Twitter is a great avenue for sharing ideas with educators from around the world. There are so many great blog posts and articles that are shared on Twitter and other social media platforms; it’s like free professional development for teachers and principals! Moreover, it is important for our students to see appropriate social media usage. Many of our students do not know how to maturely participate in an online community, so it is vital that we, as educators, utilize these platforms in a manner that models responsible digital citizenship. Sharing articles and ideas, encouraging meaningful dialogue, promoting our schools, communicating upcoming events, and showing off the accomplishments of our students is a powerful way to do just that.
Robert "Boomer" Kennedy - Boomer is in his second year as Principal of Forbush High School in East Bend, North Carolina. He previously served as Principal of Nancy Reynolds Elementary School, Assistant Principal at South Stokes High School, and Teacher at Robert B. Glenn High School. His wife, Lindsey, is also an educator, and they have a one-year old daughter, Emerson.
Follow Boomer on Twitter at @BoomerKennedy
Follow Forbush High School on Twitter at @ForbushHS