School principals, like orchestra conductors, must monitor the performance of a collection of individuals, giving them cues as to what to do and when to do it. If they do so effectively, they'll produce positive learning environments in which students, staff and parents work together in melodic harmony. If they fail, the school environments can suffer, producing a feeling of discordant chaos. For school principals, the most useful tool in accomplishing this seemingly unaccomplishable feat is not something that can be held in the hand, but instead an amorphous tool -- effective communication.
From dealing with student behavior problems to combing through the school budget, principals are busy. They shouldn't, however, allow their busyness to leave them hard to reach. Principals should spend large portions of their days out in the hallways and classrooms, making themselves available to all, states Sandra Harris for “Education World.” When walking around the school, principals should converse cordially with members of the school community, saying hello and asking how their day's going. Principals should also be easily reachable by phone or email, returning calls and emails promptly, to show community members that their voices are being heard.
Principals can’t just stay in their offices, opening their doors only to dispense commands to the staff then locking themselves in and burying their heads in paperwork once more. To communicate effectively, principals must continuously be cognizant of the goings-on in their schools by listening to their staff, students and parents. When seeking input, principals should ask meaningful questions, dedicating their attention to the people to whom they are speaking and seeking clarification when they don’t understand, states the education information source Educational Leaders, sponsored by the New Zealand Ministry of Education.
Not every piece of news a principal delivers will be positive. Principals often face the formidable task of telling hard-working teachers that they need to step up their game or informing parents that their misbehaving children must change their ways. To maintain control over the school and avoid damaging fragile relationships, principals must deliver these disagreeable messages with tact. As Harris reports, successful principals communicate these unpleasantries without placing blame or sounding overly harsh, letting the message recipients know what needs to change without making enemies in the process.
Though principals must communicate with their staff regularly about small, operational things, they should also dedicate time and energy to sharing vision-rich communications with others in the school community, suggest Viriginia L. Keil, the Associate Dean of the College of Education at University of Toledo, and Endell R. McConnahan, director of the Falk school, in a co-written article published in the National Association of Secondary School Principals publication, “Connections.” To build and maintain strong and healthy school cultures, principals should communicate the visions of their schools in writing, posting them visibly and including them in handbooks and newsletters, as well as comment verbally upon the degree to which staff and student actions are in line with these visions.
- Education World: BRAVO Principals… Communicate Effectively
- New Zealand Ministry of Education: Educational Leaders: Effective Communications
- National Association of Secondary School Principals: Connections: Meaningful Written Communication by Administrators
- National School Public Relations Association: Support for Principals
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.