New superintendents quickly learn the overwhelming importance of mastering a wide range of internal and external communication strategies. In this world of instant and even pervasive communications, learning how to use the district’s internal systems as well as social media is essential for superintendent success and even survival. Communications influence how the community, staff, parents and students perceive the superintendent and the district. It is fundamental to the development of good decisions and integral to your work.
Irrespective of your district’s size or staff available to assist you, develop a communications plan or revisit an existing plan. This is particularly important if your district is perceived as not communicating well with community, staff or parents or has outmoded communication systems. The time to master your district’s communication strategies is before an emergency arises, not when it occurs.
Begin by examining how communication is currently done. Develop strategies to improve it. Work with your staff and board; use outside consultants where needed; identify available resources. The plan should address how you:
- Provide information to specific audiences. Examples include keeping the school community informed of board agendas and decision making, important meetings and events, student and staff awards. Identify all the possible individuals and groups who will need information from the district, and what information they will generally need. Determine how best to provide them that information.
- Receive information from the school community. Examples include developing audience receptive board meetings, attending parent teacher association meetings, responding to electronic communications and letters, and scheduling routine meetings with staff and association representatives. Your board must play an integral role in this effort.
- Engage in discussion. Examples include holding Town Hall meetings at different schools on important topics, organizing small group discussions and creating interactive blogs. The best communication strategies allow for give and take between district decision makers and the public.
Effective communication is central to the work of school districts. It needs to be purposeful, planned and tied into the goals of the district. Well thought out communication strategies help districts respond to challenging situations.
Following are major points to assist you in developing effective communications:
- Understand the purpose of communications and how communications contribute to your success as a superintendent.
- Know the various audiences with whom you need to communicate and the needs of each group.
- Learn to use various electronic communication tools. Assess the benefits and risks of using social media communications; know the importance of double checking all electronic communications.
- Work with principals to ensure good communications between schools, parents and districts.
- Engage the public in large and small group meetings on particular topics. Understand each group’s needs. Include business and community groups.
- Learn how to work with the media. Be aware of its needs as well as the local, state and federal laws governing “public information.”
- Develop a plan for ongoing staff communications. Include web sites, email access and print materials. Schedule regular meetings with staff and learn how to do successful site visits.
- Establish additional avenues of communications for administrators. Visit them at their sites or in their offices.
- Develop strategies to communicate and interact with students.
- Connect with groups outside the district boundaries such as county superintendent groups or other state and local organizations.
- Prepare emergency communication plans and revisit these regularly. Know what is expected of you and staff. Have the necessary equipment and protocols in place.
Communication is ongoing. Recognize that everyone must communicate effectively for the public to view the district positively. Be open to new ideas and approaches for improving communication. Where necessary develop procedures, protocols and expectations to ensure this occurs.