While the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed so much of the work of school and district leaders, there are some traditions that carry on. This includes a changing of the guard, as new superintendents replace veterans who are soon to enjoy well-deserved retirements.
We have always said that the first 100 days of a new superintendent’s term is a critical time. That’s even more true during this era of COVID-19. With that in mind, below are some communication-related tips to help you make the most of your time as you gain your bearings in your new school district.
First, we suggest reviewing this time-tested checklist of to-do items when looking ahead to the next school year.
Find your key messages
Before jumping in and creating the various items listed below, the first thing you should do is reflect for a moment. Consider exactly what you want to communicate. What do you want the district community to know about you, your leadership and your personal vision? What are the three or four critically important messages you would like to communicate with every staff member, parent and community member in the district?
Consider some key questions, such as:
- Who am I as a professional?
- Why did I choose to work in this district?
- Why did I choose to work in education and what motivates me to this day?
- Why am I so grateful to be your superintendent?
Keep it light and do not be afraid to show your heart as you write these messages.
See also: Advanced Messaging in School PR
Develop a stump speech
We believe it’s important for every superintendent to have a “stump speech.” By this, we mean they should have, at the ready, a three- to five-minute speech that can be presented at a moment’s notice. This speech can be built around the message points detailed above.
We wrote about this in a popular post: Why Every Superintendent and Principal Should Have a Stump Speech. The key when you are new in a district is to not be afraid of sharing what makes you tick. Again, why did you choose to be a superintendent? Why did you choose to come to this specific district?
The best leaders show their hearts. Again, don’t be afraid to share yours.
Update the website
Most districts have space on their website for a message from the superintendent, along with a photo. Be sure to use this space! In the earliest days, many people, staff, students and parents will want to learn about you. Use this space to introduce yourself and make this language consistent with your stump speech.
Remember, this information is for parents, students and staff. It’s not for a graduate school seminar. Do not provide overly technical information and avoid the use of acronyms.
Distribute a news release
After you take over as superintendent, you should distribute a news release. This will be rather formal and include quotes from you and from your board president. We also suggest including a quote that describes how grateful you are to work in the district.
See also: Writing News Releases
Write a letter to the community
Within the first couple weeks of your arrival in the district, we suggest you have a letter published in the local newspapers. The letter should be simple and hit the points noted in your messages, described above. The letter should be published with your photo.
Send a staff email
During your first week as superintendent, send an email to all staff introducing yourself. This can be simple and build on the messages outlined earlier. If it is easy for you to do so, consider creating a video message.
Whether you choose to do a video or a letter, do not make it overly formal. Be professional, but again, allow people to get to know you as a person.
Give a board speech
Your first board meeting is a good opportunity to hit some of the messages that you will return to over the course of the year. This could be a modified version of your stump speech. Make the most of that first meeting!
See also: The Rule of Three
Write a series of articles
In many districts, leaders can reach a large portion of the community by submitting articles of 400 to 500 words on a semi-monthly basis to the local newspaper. Toward that end, we suggest we create an editorial schedule detailing what topics these articles will address throughout the year. Use this opportunity to your advantage to share your story. Again, the district community will be eager to hear what you have to say!
See also: The ‘Gas Station Principle’
Next, as you introduce yourself over the summer, plan to use your first-day-of-school presentation as an opportunity to engage staff around some critical messages. We find it is easiest to draft this presentation over time, and then refine and revise it based on your understanding of the district, the community and the local culture.
See also: Start with Staff
Meet with service clubs
Next, we suggest you make a point of going to the various service clubs in your community. These may include Rotary, Kiwanis and the local Chamber of Commerce meetings. While at the first meeting, consider making a quick introduction and perhaps give your stump speech. Then, look for an opportunity to return at a later date to give a more comprehensive presentation.
Develop an interim plan
Finally, after you have introduced yourself to the district community, update your communications plan. Often, we find that even if an incoming superintendent is replacing a veteran with great communication skills, the plan needs a refresh. Consider starting this process with a robust communications audit to determine what is working, what doesn’t work and where opportunities exist to ramp up your communications efforts.
See also: Communications articles
Are you a new superintendent? If so, we would love to support you. Feel free to reach out to say hello!