Admin Help Admin: Communication
Written by: Laura Christie
Entering into the role of Assistant Principal is a wonderful challenge! Many educational administration programs prepare you for the role of principal, yet most new leaders step into the role of AP first. Educational leadership does not have a Teachers Pay Teachers site to help you generate ideas. Celebrating the role of administrator, requires a focus of “Admin Help Admin” with the area of communication. See my collection of tips and links in the slide deck.
Clarity in Communication is the Why to Better School Culture
Being a leader requires communication skills. You are probably familiar with Brené Brown’s quote, “Clear is Kind. Unclear is unkind.” Teachers, students, and families need us to be clear with clarity – often very quickly. Resolute leaders want to set a positive culture with their caring communication style. We know what we say and how we say it matters!
“Resolute leaders want to set a positive culture with their caring communication style.”
Connect with Your Principal
If you are in an Assistant Principal role, you know the value of keeping your communication clear with your principal. You want to check in, run ideas past the principal, and keep building culture together. Connecting on the vision for the building and being a reliable listener are key to the effectiveness in the supporting role. Set aside time for regular check-ins or ask for a regular check in time. My principal, Erin Kay, models clarity in her note taking and documentation. Her valuable tip when I started as her AP was to use Brandless hardcover notebooks that are inexpensive and easy to store. Stock up on notebooks that are simple and easy to take along with you.
Connecting with a New District and Getting Up to Speed
Let’s face it, many times a new leader lands an Assistant Principal role in a new district or at least a new school in their current district. You may be meeting a lot of people. It is important to use memory tricks and repeat names or information about the new person you are meeting in your head. If possible, take notes of who you meet when you have a chance. Study previous yearbooks, use your district organization charts, study building classrooms, and learn as many student names as possible as you enter classrooms or assist with lunch duty. Learn names! Keep working on names because using them matters! It is time well spent and helps you connect.
Communication through Email
Since you may be new to a district, this means you may have a brand new email account. What do you do first? Set up folders. For example, set up a folder for each grade level. Then within the folder make a folder for each teacher. Here is a list of further ideas for inbox folders:
- Set up a district leadership folder and a folder within for each leader.
- Set up a district information folder. You will find that there will be many subfolders for this one.
- Establish a folder for professional development. Inside make three folders: personal PD, building PD, and district PD.
- Create a folder for special education
- Generate a folder for your school counselor
- Develop a folder for any of your instructional coaches
- Set up a folder for your special area teachers
- Make a folder for your office staff
Once you have a framework, it will make organizing your email much faster. You will also know where you need to establish new subfolders. This will make saving emails much faster. You want a system that will be easy to use and save you time. The folders also serve to help you learn more about the people you are serving and working alongside at the district level. You can use your folders to review who serves in different capacities, which can help you know where to direct any questions you have to the appropriate people. Responding to email can be tricky, especially as Assistant Principal. You often want to make sure your response is what your building leader prefers. However, the trouble with waiting to respond is that emails just keep coming. You can quickly have an email buried and may forget to respond. Wise leaders share tricks of keeping emails from getting lost. You may be familiar with “pinning” an email to the top of your list. You may use this strategy for something you might use within the hour or day. However, there is another feature that can help. Microsoft Outlook offers My Day as an organizing tool. It allows you to see your calendar agenda and create a task list. You can drag an email you need to respond to later straight onto your task list. Trust me, this saves so much time scrolling for the email later.
Parents Communicate Concerns
When responding to a parent concern, you want to remember that parents need to be heard. To be prepared for taking notes, you may want to use the “Parent Communication, Parent Initiated Form.” I developed this as a guide for a productive conversation. You will want to restate what the parent(s) are saying by leading with “What I hear you saying…” Reflect on the emotion you are sensing from the parent. Respond with, ”If it were my child, I would feel _.” Partner with parents by saying, “Thank you for sharing your concerns.” In addition, you want to find out prior communication with the teacher. You will be looping back with the teacher and want to have a parent version of communication. It may be stated by the parents or you may want to directly ask, “What are you hoping for in this situation?” The last part of the form is designed to give you space for follow up. Remembering to keep returning to conversations is important in building partnership with parents and teachers. We have these conversations so we can best serve our students.
“We want to observe and share what we value, and a positive message brings value to the individual.”
Remember – Clear is Kind & Celebrate the Good!
Write lots of positive notes for staff. When you notice something good, write a note of gratitude and leave it for the staff member. Do this often and make it a habit. Don’t worry if it is not on fancy stationery – it feels more genuine when it’s simple. Who does not like the clarity of a kind note? We want to observe and share what we value, and a positive message brings value to the individual. Words affirm. The next installment of “Admin Helping Admin” comes out in July; in the meantime, check out the previous post!