With so many to serve—students and their families, teachers and support staff—as a principal, you are communicating all day long. But are you sending the right messages? How you say it matters as much as what you say. Here are five mistakes to avoid.
Mistake No. 1: Making it all about you
Your job as a principal is to think about your school first and foremost. But Communications 101 reminds us that it’s important to know your audience, too. “Audience members are generally most interested in things that directly affect them or their community,” say the experts in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Communication. Even when the “why” may seem obvious to you, it’s always helpful to stop and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Use inclusive pronouns like “we” and “our.” When you are sharing news, think about how each part of your community will receive that information.
Mistake No. 2: Using education jargon
In education, there’s an acronym for everything — not to mention the programs that are unique to your school. You probably know these terms inside and out, but does everyone else? Journalists know they can’t count on people remembering everything they were told. That’s why they don’t hesitate to use the “nut graf” — a one- or two-sentence description to explain acronyms or concepts. The German writer Jean Paul Richter once said that “Repetition is the mother of education,” and while he might not have been talking about nut grafs, the concept is the same. Taking a moment to explain what PBIS stands for, or to remind people about your latest program, helps you build an inclusive and welcoming environment, and keep everyone on the same page.
Mistake No. 3: Burying your message
For many schools, the paperless future hasn’t quite arrived yet (so many forms!). If you’re making your messages as digital-friendly as possible, you’re already way ahead of the game. Digital media specialists know that even the smallest roadblock — like having to click through a lot of prompts, or download an attachment — can make it harder to get your message out. “Start by considering how your users are already interacting with you … and how you can better shape that experience,” advises Martin Doettling of the mobile app management company Swrve.com. The more you can to do to make messages targeted and easy to receive, the happier (and more well-informed) your audience will be.
Mistake No. 4: Starting conversations you don’t actually want to have
Social media can be a double-edged sword for educators. On one hand, it gives you a way to connect directly with parents and community members. But if posting to social media leaves you feeling like you’re about to get pelted with rotten fruit, read on. “Social media is meant to be a space for dialogue and engagement, rather than simply broadcast,” reminds social media strategist Jessica Riches of LMW Labs. Riches reminds us that we can steer the dialogue on social media by considering each post as the beginning of a conversation. Your best successes on social media will come from the conversations that you do want to have—and setting a positive tone can be a major culture-builder for your school as well.
Mistake No. 5: Hiding from bad news
When something goes wrong in your building, sometimes we’re too busy fixing the problem to even think about telling anyone about it. But whether it’s a school bus in a ditch, or an angry parent blasting you to the media, any PR professional will tell you that getting out in front of a problem can reap big dividends. Even your darkest hour can be an opportunity to let your community know what your values are. Leadership expert Jim Lukasewski advises, “Listen to your lawyer, your crisis communicator—but then do what your mother taught you.” Owning up to mistakes or mishaps might be painful, but having those conversations on your terms can also be empowering, and can go a long way to building (or restoring) trust. No one said communication is easy—that’s why, for some people, it’s a full-time job! But if you can avoid these five pitfalls, your communications will be more effective—and that’s good for your school, your students, your staff and you.