October is National Principals Month, and here at K12 Insight, we know how hard school building leaders work each day to create a welcoming and supportive environment for students, teachers, staff and families. We also know a key part of creating community is communicating often and proactively with stakeholders.
As a former principal, I know on most days, communications doesn’t end when the final school bell rings. I also remember that feeling of being pulled in different directions, trying to find answers for families and staff as quickly as possible. Over time, I realized I didn’t have to do it all on my own.
In honor of National Principals Month, I’m sharing what I learned about communications during my time as a principal and ways education leaders at all levels can effectively manage communications.
Lesson #1: Streamline communications at the building level.
As building leaders, you’re already doing an awesome job distributing information through multiple sources. In fact, most school leaders use all channels they have available — social media, local media, website, text messaging services, and others — to ensure you reach families. However, when families reciprocate communications using every channel, it can quickly become challenging to ensure questions don’t fall through the cracks (especially during a pandemic).
Luckily, some of our greatest innovations have come out of our most challenging times and prioritizing communications has amazing potential for building positive capital and trust within your school community. Using a tool like Let’s Talk helps you streamline communications at the building level — saving your staff time and energy while ensuring efficient communications with stakeholders.
Lesson #2: Technology is your friend when managing incoming communications.
The ways families communicate with schools is exponentially growing. Twenty years ago, contacting the school meant an easy drop-in or a phone call to the school’s administrative assistant. This gatekeeper allowed for an efficient systems approach to communication. While at times the message could be directed to the wrong person, it was easy to make a quick adjustment.
Fast forward to today, families communicate with schools through many channels. Schools used to be able to control the narrative in a way that allowed for very few distractions to student learning, however, this simply isn’t possible any longer. Now it’s a full-time job trying to monitor Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, and emails.
Fortunately, Let’s Talk has made it really easy to track communications from every channel. With Let’s Talk, you can efficiently monitor and manage inbound communications and ensure your community gets a timely response. Plus, you no longer have to feel pressured to be checking Facebook messages or email all night.
Lesson #3: Communications is a balancing act.
As building leaders, we want to be approachable and transparent. However, that does not mean we need to leave the door wide open 24/7.
When I was a principal, I’d receive emails from parents regarding an issue that could be handled by the classroom teacher, coach, transportation department or another leader. Those emails triggered my internal clock to respond quickly and I found myself answering emails directly or coordinating communications with the appropriate person throughout the day. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time in my inbox.
Let’s Talk also makes it easy for school building leaders to listen to community feedback and respond quickly to dialogues — all while providing insights and data into their school community.
Lesson #4: Work smarter not harder (and yes, that means breaking your sticky note habit).
During my time as a principal, my goal each work day was to leave my office with zero Post-it Notes on my desk. I loved that sense of satisfaction.
I remember times when I’d leave my office to walk the school and there would be one or two sticky notes on my desk. And when I’d return, there would be 10 to 15 that needed a personal touch. However, rarely did that personal touch need to come from me, and I would spend hours assigning someone to follow up with each request. Back in those days, I wish I had an easy button when it came to following up and making sure each task was completed.
Instead of using the sticky note method, Let’s Talk allows school leaders to automatically direct incoming dialogues so they end up with the appropriate person or team from the start. This workflow automates assigning tasks and provides the ability to communicate internally about a dialogue and add additional team members if needed. Being able to funnel phone calls, texts, emails, and website requests from your stakeholders into Let’s Talk frees up those Post-it Notes for reminders like “don’t forget to eat lunch.”
Lesson #5: Shared leadership means trust and open communications.
As building leaders we trust our team. However, we have all had the situation where we asked someone to complete a task and it did not get done. Let’s Talk reduces errors and missed tasks by creating strong workflows to keep communication efficiency at its peak while providing school leaders with clear and actionable data on stakeholder communications and perceptions of their interaction.
As building leaders, we can use Let’s Talk to examine dialogues from a 30,000-foot view — including the owner of the dialogue, team members, how long the dialogue has been open, and what the internal and external chatter is. We don’t have to create a bottleneck in the communications process either — rather we can predetermine who to delegate questions and suggestions to.
School communications will continue to evolve and today’s building leaders have a unique opportunity to stay ahead of the curve. I hope these lessons from my days of being a principal sparked new ideas for your building communications. And most importantly, I hope it helps you get back to your true passion: working with students and guiding teachers to become strong instructional leaders.