Across the U.S., July 1 is the traditional date when thousands of principals and superintendents take the helms of schools and school districts. The time between the beginning of July and the year-end holidays can be especially challenging, especially as it relates to communications. So, in this article, we outline a series of tips to help you meet all your communications goals and help ease your transition.
Make a list of important groups. The very first thing we encourage all new superintendents and principals to do is to assess the stakeholders in their community and make a prioritized list of all stakeholder groups in the school or district that they need to engage. Keep in mind that some groups will be internal groups, including staff, fellow administrators, and board members, and others will be external, including parents and community members.
Principals should remember to include parents who lead the PTO, PTA, and various clubs, including booster clubs, and community members whose properties border the school. Superintendents should also include community leaders, including the mayor, the police chief or sheriff, and local business leaders, including the president of the chamber of commerce, as well as the reporter from the local newspaper who covers the school district.
Create a list of these stakeholders and then categorize them by group.
Now would be a good time to use a simple and inexpensive, or free, contact-management system. We like Contactually.com for this purpose.
Be active. Next, spend time every day of your first few weeks reaching out to people on your list. Email and telephone calls are nice, but meeting in person, even just for a cup of coffee, is better.
Hand out your business card, and handwrite your cell phone number on the card. Invite those you connect with to contact you if they have anything they’d like to discuss with you. Whenever you connect with someone, ask if there’s anyone else to whom you should reach out. Push yourself to meet as many people as you can, and remember to add names to your contact-management system.
Introduce yourself. Remember, active communication is not a one-time activity but an ongoing effort. Therefore, in addition to reaching out personally, if at all possible, send an introductory letter by email to parents and staff, and say in it that you’ll send these on some sort of regular basis. Include your contact information, and don’t be afraid to share how excited you are to be in the school or district.
Consider congratulating parents and staff for creating a great learning environment for students, and if you’re comfortable doing so, share a bit of background information about yourself.
Be present in the community. In addition to attending sporting events, meet and greet parents during drop-off and pick-up times. This is especially important for both principals and superintendents. Finally, consider new ways to connect with parents and community members away from the school. Join the local Rotary or Kiwanis club, hold “office hours” in the community, or volunteer at local events.
Rinse and repeat. Remember, you’re about to get even busier (How’s that for an understatement?). Don’t let your communications efforts get sidetracked. Make communications-related goals, and remember that these efforts will pay off in the long term. Keep at it.
However difficult it may be, push yourself to get out of your office and meet people. Your staff and community members want to see you and hear from you. Get out there and make it happen.