Electronic communications, already an essential part of principal-teacher interactions before the pandemic, became even more vital once the outbreak began. With remote and/or hybrid learning commonplace, tools like Zoom, Facetime and Skype joined old standbys like email and text messaging as critical links among educators.
Those tools are still available – not to mention invaluable, given the time crunch administrators face, and the various directions they are pulled. Need to address a matter with a teacher whose room is at the far end of the building? No worries. Just dash off an email. Have something you wish to rehash with a staffer after hours? Great. Just fire off a text.
At the same time, there simply is no substitute for face-to-face communication. It’s simple, direct and personal. Essential context – context that might be missing from an email or text – is provided. There is less chance that there will be a misunderstanding, greater opportunity for the parties involved to find common ground.
The conclusion, then, is that it is best for a principal to strike a balance – to seek out personal contact as much as possible, while at the same time using electronic tools when necessary.
That underscores one of the essential elements of principal-teacher communication – intentionality. It is crucial to have a plan, to map out just how you are going to convey information to staff.
As an example, I know of administrators who make it a point to walk the halls of their schools at some point every day, knowing the value of running into a teacher (not to mention students and other staffers) at some point. Much can be accomplished during these brief interactions. Moreover, you establish yourself as a presence as opposed to an abstraction, seated in an office where you are rarely seen or heard.
No matter the nature of the communication – whether it is one of these brief meetings, an email, a text, a formal sit-down, whatever – it is of the utmost importance that the principal follow through on whatever decision might have been reached. One blog post described that as matching words with actions, and it establishes the principal’s credibility, reliability and integrity. If there is a disciplinary issue, for instance, an administrator must deal with it directly. Waiting until the following day is not going to cut it. There must be an immediate response.
Timeliness also matters when it comes to informing staff of new initiatives, as was made obvious during the pandemic. When revised guidelines were issued regarding masking, hybrid learning and the like, teachers always needed to be informed before parents and students, in the event of unforeseen circumstances. There can be no breaks in the chain, no public announcement before word is circulated in-house. Otherwise you have chaos. You have questions posed to staff that they have not yet been equipped to answer. And that reflects poorly on everyone involved.
Finally, affirmation matters. In difficult times like these, praise goes a long way. Your staff needs to be celebrated at every opportunity. They have a difficult job to begin with, and it has been made that much more difficult by the circumstances of the last few years. Let them know they are doing a good job. Salute them. Celebrate them. Find ways to reward them.
Principals should never forget that they are, first and foremost, in the relationship business. They need to cultivate and service those relationships. They need to ensure that everyone in their building is unified, that the entire staff is pulling in the same direction. That is the best way to ensure that morale is high, and that students are having the best possible experience.