Developing Communication Systems

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-5-36-33-pmIn January, my colleague (Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D.) and I presented at PA’s Association of School Administrator’s New Superintendent Academy. The focus of our presentation was district communication systems.  What are communication systems, and why are they important?

We began our conversation by surfacing four key questions.  We asked participants to think about these questions through their individual contexts. Resources, culture, attitudes, perspectives, perceptions, etc. could all affect how one leader responds to these questions.

  • Who are our/your stakeholders?
  • How do we/you communicate with different groups of stakeholders?
  • How can systems promote consistent, efficient and effective communication?
  • How do effective communication systems improve school culture?

We then shared ideas for communicating with some of our key stakeholders:

Students – How can you engage with students?  Think Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!  Our students even have in-district gmail accounts.  Social media and virtual communication can be efficient, but it is also important to have face-to-face communication with students. I volunteer as a Mystery Reader, participate in a quarterly Superintendent Advisory Council, and even visit the school cafeterias.  The past two years our administrative team completed Shadow a Student!

Faculty/Staff – It is easy to become distanced from the faculty and staff, and I make time to engage formally and informally.  I try to walk through each of our buildings once per week. I share blog posts about successes teachers are experiencing. Click here to view a recent blog post which celebrates School Counseling Week. I will often jot a quick hand-written note to faculty members thanking them for their work. For example, today a special education teacher told me she spent her snow day reviewing some IEPs.  I sent her a tablet with a handwritten note as the top sheet. Randy and I conduct quarterly faculty meetings.  We share updates and invite teachers to ask questions – all to keep the lines of communication open!

Administrators – I really value the relationships I have with our administrators.  I work hard to communicate effectively and be responsive.  We have implemented a couple of structures – monthly administration team meetings and  monthly one-on-one check-in meetings. Additionally, I try to stop by the buildings and spend some time informally hanging out in the office.  This gives us time to catch up, explore any current challenges, and develop our relationship.  We did try to use Voxer with our team, but it did not fit our needs, and the team did not value using another tool.

Board Members – Communicating with the board is essential to developing trust.  Our board works diligently to allocate resources for our students. They ask thoughtful questions, share perspectives, and make difficult choices in the best interest of the organization.  We spend time with committee chairs prior to each meeting so there are no surprises on the agenda. In addition to a written bi-weekly report, we collaboratively share an update each month during the Superintendent’s report at the Board meeting.  We also invite our board to our state School Board conference and spend time learning together.

Parents – I have spent a lot of time getting to know our parents over the last couple of years. I visit the parent drop-off/ pick-up lines at the elementary schools, attend PTA/PTO meetings, speak briefly at all Open Houses, and participate in Coffee and Conversation with Randy and parents.  It is my hope that all parents know who I am and are willing to contact me if they have a question, concern, or compliment!

Associations/Unions – We have two unions in our district (teachers/professional and support staff). We have strong relationships with both of our unions. Meeting with the leadership informally every month keeps the lines of communication open! When there is a concern or issue, either side shares the challenge and we discuss solutions together.

Effective communication is one strategy to develop strong relationships with stakeholders. Click here to view our collaborative presentation on developing communication systems. Who are your stakeholders, and how can you develop systems to communicate with them?

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