Administrators, Build Your Parent Comms Strategy in 3 Steps
Communication between schools and families is vitally important as a professional best practice, to facilitate student learning and growth and to promote general goodwill. As an administrator, maintaining open and proactive lines of communication is crucial to your success, which is why it's so crucial to have a good communication strategy.
Do you know what your PD is missing? Click here for an article on why self-reflection is a must in PD.
Below, I'll walk you through the basics of how to build an effective communication strategy in three steps. While this is not a definitive guide, it will give you what you need to open up better lines of communication.
Step 1. Strategize: Define the Purpose and Answer Key Questions
Planning isn't always the hardest part, but it's often the most overlooked. Planning requires a significant investment of time to step back from the day-to-day demands of building management to develop an overarching strategy. But it's worth it! Ask the big questions, and the big answers will follow.
Why are You Communicating?
In the words of Simon Sinek, start with why. Communicating because it's a job expectation doesn't inspire anyone. Communicating because of the purpose of your school and district does. For example, part of my high school's mission statement is to "empower" students "to direct their lives." Therefore, one of the reasons I will communicate with families is to empower their children and to help them be in charge of their own lives.
Communicating with purpose allows you to help your teachers move families from involvement to engagement and communication to collaboration and can change the climate and culture of your building.
Next, What are You Communicating?
In addition to emergency and other just-in-time communication, take time to celebrate the success of all students—not just high fliers. Balance the immediate with the long-range. An assistant principal is very effective when he communicates a disciplinary decision in real time on the phone with a student in the room, but also when he takes time to work with the school counseling staff to communicate a timeline of next year's scheduling process a month or two in advance across multiple platforms.
When Will You Communicate?
Have a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly plan of attack. My principal tweets and places items of interest on the front sign daily, communicates with staff and families weekly via newsletter blasts, and so forth.
Finally, How Will You Communicate?
Select each format just as you would the right tool for a household project. Twitter is great for just-in-time communication and quick shout-outs, but it probably isn't the best format with which to lay out grand strategy.
There are potential legal issues to be mindful of as well. For example, communicating through a school-sponsored learning management system (LMS) is better than direct messaging from a personal social media account. Talk about tech tools with your district technology leaders and staff, and you'll find the ones that work best for you.
Step 2. Execute: Schedule Time to Communicate
What gets scheduled must get done. Your communication plan should go on your calendar, not just a to-do list. If you need an hour every Friday morning to set the front sign and prepare next week's newsletters, it goes on the calendar at a time when you know your writing juices will be flowing.
For me, that's before most of the students arrive or during first period, when all is (relatively) calm and my mind is fresh. When you hit save and/or press send, the strategy comes alive, and you've won another day, another week, another key battle in the long endeavor to win hearts and minds.
This, of course, requires sticking to the plan. A to-do list can play right into the hands of procrastination. A calendar item with a defined time frame to accomplish the work can be a better motivator to actually complete the task. This will require time and patience, especially if this discipline does not come naturally.
It can take two to eight months to establish a new habit, so don't give up! Strategize big, start small, and persevere. You don't have to execute an entire communications strategy all at once; one or two daily or weekly items, done well over the course of several cycles, would represent a huge step forward. Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good.
Step 3. Reflect: Measure Against Performance Targets and Return to Your Purpose
Just as we encourage students to reflect on their own goals, learning progress, and performance, any effective communication strategy must include time spent in professional reflection and the evaluation of progress.
First, you will evaluate your strategy against measurable goals/targets. For example, what "push" goals did you set? In other words, how frequently did you plan to "push out" information and content to internal and external stakeholders? Did you set a goal of communicating with the staff and community every time you had students achieve at local, state, and national levels? If so, did you meet that goal?
In addition to pushing content, what involvement and engagement goals did you set? Did you want to increase parent attendance at school events? Engage parents through full participation in courses? How did you do?
Now it's time to return to your purpose. Beyond the numbers, did you successfully communicate the heart and soul of your building? Like Jimmy Stewart talking about the Capitol Dome in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the spirit of the thing has to shine through.
Build Relationships Relentlessly
A career in school leadership is a marathon, not a sprint, and communicating with families requires a strategic plan executed over the long haul, not one-shot phone calls or emails. Just as the best teachers build relationships with students, so do the best administrators with students and their families.
Building relationships with parents takes personal involvement, positivity, and a commitment to planning. You are the most powerful force that can, and will, bring it all together!