R.I.C.E. is a guide for principals that breaks our work into four quadrants: relationship, instruction, communication and evaluation. By essentializing what we do, we reach our goals faster and with higher accuracy. Last month, I discussed the elements of instructional leadership. This month, we will explore the “C” in the method, touching on the best moves and technology for communication.
As Steve Jobs said, “You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, it doesn’t matter.” With 21st century innovation and the hyper rate of information sharing, his words are true for principals and stakeholders. Staying connected in the age of multimodal education poses unique challenges for school leaders. However, if we look at new tools and practices, principals can ensure students, parents and staff are all on the same page—or webpage. Consider these four principal communication tips.
Principal communication tip 1: Start with learners
It’s easy to think of adults when putting together a strategic communication plan about an upcoming initiative or when reporting student achievement scores. For my first principal communication tip, I encourage you to start with learners instead and meet them where they are. This includes low-tech methods, such as face-to-face classroom visits to share good news and upcoming needs. It also includes hi-tech approaches, such as those appearing in the list below. Shifting to a learner-first approach will build relationships and spread the news about upcoming events and important FYIs.
Try these hi-tech approaches:
- Use administrative features in your LMS or have teachers add you as a co-teacher in Google Classroom. This allows you to message learners directly about exemplary work, missing assignments, upcoming events and more. You can also use the Hāpara Teacher Dashboard to view student activity and then reach out accordingly.
- Establish a “for students, by students” e-newsletter that empowers learners to find important school-related information and bundle it for publication. This model works well with K12 and is a great way to integrate CTE standards. (Video newsletters work too!)
- Use social media channels. Conduct a social media survey to identify which apps your learners like most. Then set up an account to share photos, updates and more. For a snapshot of current social media trends per generation read this Pew Research Center article.
Tip 2 for principal communication: Keep it safe
Around 30,000 new web pages are hacked per day. IdentityForce states that “in 2019, 14.4 million consumers became victims of identity fraud—that’s about 1 in 15 people.” The FBI reports over a half-million online predators are currently active and target 12-15-year-old children.
With statistics like these, principals should put digital safety at the top of the list when it comes to stakeholder communication. For this principal communication tip, we want to encourage individuals and groups to share and connect. They should do this in school-sanctioned areas both online and off. Participation will increase when people believe their identities, children and ethics are protected.
Here are some more tips to help:
- Collaborate with your IT department and make sure you know at least the basics of your school’s cybersecurity.
- Be sure to explain what parents need to do at home to keep children safe when using district and non-district devices.
- Integrate digital citizenship into your curriculum to empower learners as online citizens. Check out this resource from Hāpara for a jumpstart.
- Use a web filter, such as Hāpara Filter, to protect your learners from harmful or distracting online content. It gives teachers the power to approve websites in-the-moment and have important conversations about digital literacy.
- Make sure you have a backup system for digital files. Cloud-based systems are becoming more dependable, but a midnight sync to a jump drive can save time and money if something fails.
Principal communication tip 3: Leverage more technology
The third principal communication tip is to use technology to your advantage. Applications allow principals to save time, improve accuracy and increase readership. No matter what you implement:
- Remember it’s best to keep it simple and use no more than 2-3 platforms.
- Use platforms that are familiar to your stakeholders.
- Brand the channel as your “School’s ____ Feed,” rather than “Mr. Awesome Principal’s Story.”
The following is a list of the best of the best applications.
You can automatically crosspost Instagram messages and Stories to Facebook, which saves time and increases views. One post, two powerful platforms.
I switched to video newsletters last year and am so glad I did! It saves time and energy as you trade out a formal writing process for a shorthand video script. Video works at school, home and on smartphones, making it a valuable principal communication tool. If you use YouTube, you can use the closed captioning feature to support ELL and SPED stakeholders. It includes an “Open transcript” feature that loads a text version of the closed captioning for easy reading.
Mass notification systems
While pricey, if you do not have a mass notification system in place for your school or district, you should. These systems allow you to send out messages via phone, email and text simultaneously. The best systems sync with your SIS, so phone lists are updated often. This means you can guarantee contact if parents have up-to-date phone numbers on file. Check these reviews of the top contenders in this area.
Built for education, Remind is one of the most popular communication tools in K16. It uses texting to connect with students and families to share anything under the sun. They have recently added an Urgent Message feature that makes this SMS application a one-stop-shop for school leaders.
Hāpara Highlights helps teachers (and principals) remind learners what on-task behavior looks like. Educators can also guide those who need step-by-step support in positive ways. The messaging feature is a smooth way to connect with individuals and groups about their learning activities.
Communication tip 4: Collaborate, conceptualize and organize it
Of course, one person should not be responsible for a school or district’s communication efforts. It’s important to use a collaborative approach that ensures multiple voices from multiple levels. If you work for a district with a dedicated communication director/team, seek them out early and often.
I also recommend a district-wide communication plan that outlines aims, procedures, responsibilities and success measures. For this principal communication tip, it’s also important to set up “publication calendars” that capture:
- when and what content will be published
- how will it be published
- who the audience is
- who is responsible to polish and click send
Once the details have been solidified, use Google applications such as Drive, Calendar, and Sheets. Or try project management applications, such as Monday.com, Trello and Gemilius to keep everyone on track.