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Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

The Principal is the storyteller in chief

As a principal, you often learn lessons the hard way, and practice is the best teacher. I learned quickly that I had to work tirelessly on effective communication and community relations. When you communicate effectively, you inspire optimism and hope in others. Part of your role is to set the tone and climate in your school. Your community feeds off you. Highly effective principals employ well­ crafted, effective communications to ensure that all in their community are engaged and supportive. The principal is the storyteller!

Over many years and for various reasons, I have reviewed the prospectuses for principal appointments, and two traits or skills appeared consistently in every single one: interpersonal and communication skills. Boards expected expertly honed communication skills.

Effective communication builds understanding and trust. When teachers and parents or carers understand and trust you as the principal, your school is better able to work with the whole community to support children’s well-being and development. Effective communication is the key to establishing and maintaining positive partnerships with parents and carers.

During the peak of COVID-19 transmissions, when political leaders were making daily announcements that impacted our school’s operations, I would send a daily 3pm email to parents. Replies to this email allowed me to keep my finger on the pulse of parent opinions, and I was able to use the feedback to bolster or validate decisions.

Face-to-face Communication
Late in my career, as I reflect on parent partnerships and the relationships with parents, I am now inclined to pick up the phone or arrange a face-to­face meeting rather than manage communications through emails, letters or newsletters. I have found face-to-face meetings to be most effective.

One of the great joys of working in P–12 schools is your beautiful exchanges with little children. It is an art to communicate effectively with a six-year-old. There is an old show-business adage – never work with children or animals. I don’t know about the animals, but although children can behave unpredictably, most are adorable.

My supervising practice teacher at Kenmore South Public School told me, when communicating face-to-face with a child, to “connect before you direct”. He suggested squatting to the child’s eye level before talking.

I recall a morning greeting with two kindy kids walking down the path, seemingly full of business and knowing exactly what they were meant to be doing. They stopped to chat with me. I squatted to their eye level, greeted them using their names, and kept it simple (as I had been taught to do). “What do you have on this morning?” I asked them.

The boy replied, “My shirt, tie and my blazer.”

Communication Goes Far Beyond Just Talking
While speaking is one major component of communication, listening, writing, body language, and other nonverbal cues are all equally important.

Pay attention to your body language and tone of voice when you’re having a conversation. Your mood, actions and demeanour can convey powerful messages.

Confidence in what you are saying and doing is essential. I have found that if I appeared confident, others were more likely to agree to what I might propose. Conversely, the less confident I appeared in delivering a message, the more objections I was likely to get.

Ensure the link between what you say and what you do remains close. Failure to follow through on a goal or promise will undermine your credibility. If a disparity develops between promise and action for any reason, explain why.

Remaining approachable while being regarded and consulted as a professional leader with significant knowledge about teaching and learning requires principals to maintain a cheerful demeanour, even if the going is tough. The grumpiness of a principal can quickly pervade their school.

In Hindsight
Strong communication skills were the elixir to lasting influence and success. I worked tirelessly to see these skills consistently visible daily and in every interaction.

Remember that when you are a principal or become one, you become a public figure and will be subject to much more scrutiny than you were as a teacher. Be clear, consistent and transparent so that all community members know that what they see is what they get. Enjoy answering questions, discussing the school vision and goals, and listening attentively to all community members.

Reference: Teys, 2022, So You Want to be a Principal, Amba Press, p.181