Best Practices for Managing Communication for Superintendents
“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”
—James Humes, Author and former presidential speechwriter
Managing communication is an essential aspect of any superintendent’s job. As a leader, it’s essential to communicate clearly and frequently with the school board, teachers, parents, the community, and the media. Setting up your district with the best and brightest talent, along with clearly defining your communication strategy and processes, will help manage expectations and prevent unnecessary complications.
So how do you put communication tactics into action? Start by following these five best practices to sharpen up on your communication skills.
Superintendent Communication Best Practices
- Appoint a Specialist to Oversee Communications. Smaller districts may be able to handle communications with existing staff, but larger districts typically benefit most by bringing in a specialist. The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)1 offers some valuable advice on suggesting the proper protocol to follow when targeting a communications plan. NSPRA contends that hiring a public relations strategist allows superintendents to oversee communications, while entrusting a specialist to make day-to-day assessments.When choosing a public relations person, look for someone with a proven track record of communicating with the media. Strong writing and technology skills are a must. While it may be tempting to hire someone who just has school administrative experience, it’s best to choose someone with a successful background of actually mitigating concerns with the media. To ensure a direct line of communication, and to save time in the process, the public relations specialist should report directly to the superintendent, rather than a middle manager.
- Centralize Communications. Another benefit from entrusting a public relations specialist is that all communications can be centralized. Some organizations allow communications to be spread among various departments. While this may seem like a cost-cutting measure initially, it can lead to more headaches down the line. Appointing a public relations specialist to oversee and approve all communication will create consistency.NSPRA suggests that having a consistent message through multiple voices helps to get information out more efficiently through technology. The organization states: “many large school systems rely solely on the superintendent, the district spokesperson, and communication team to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to telling the district’s story.” However, NSPRA realizes news and information travels fast and sees the benefits of focusing on a consistent message to be voiced “across all district and school-controlled communication channels.”
- Budget Contractual Service Funds for Communications Department. Superintendents typically aren’t communications experts, so finding and staffing the best people becomes paramount. Public relations specialists should be involved in helping shape the public opinion of the district.NSPRA establishes “if you want rock star results, hire top people and give them the resources they need to do their jobs well.” Cutting corners on salaries in the communications department will lead to less favorable results. NSPRA further ascertains, “to compete in this environment, contractual dollars are essential” and due to the technical skills needed in communications “having flexible resources that can buy higher levels of expertise at critical times and for major initiatives can make the difference between success and failure.”
- Engage with the Community. In addition to strengthening the communications department, superintendents should also be amenable to engaging in discussion. The best communication strategies are a two-way street. Instead of making communication a one way street (directed at the public), allow for give-and-take between district decision makers and the public.One way to accomplish this concept is by holding town hall meetings, which can be beneficial to districts of all sizes. Town hall meetings allow superintendents to engage with the community, the media, concerned citizens, and parents in an open discussion. You can center your meetings around specific topics. In the article, “The Best Communication Strategies Allow For Give and Take Between District Decision Makers and the Public,2” superintendents Mary Francis Callan and Bill Levinson contend that superintendents should “engage the public in large and small group meetings on particular topics” and “include business and community groups.” Additionally, creative and interactive blogs encourage public discussion and follow-up.
- Act As an Exemplary Communicator. As the chief leader in the organization, you can use your behavior as a model for department heads. Leadership and integrity trickle down through department managers to employees, students, parents, and volunteers. NSPRA argues: “If you want your cabinet, school board members, and school leaders to demonstrate respectful and responsive service to all constituents, you and your office team must show them what great service looks like.” Leading with a developed moral character will give your team an ethical standard to follow.
What works for you?
Our goal is to make SuperEval a place superintendents can go to share ideas, opinions, and engage in educated discussions. If you have a tip that helps you communicate as a leader, please share it in the comments section below.
1. NSPRA (2013). Communication E Kit for Superintendents. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.ssc.coop/cms/lib/MN06000837/Centricity/Domain/9/Communication_E-Kit_for_Superintendents%20NSPR.pdf
2. Ventura, S., Ainsworth, L., Robinson, V., Johnson, L., Burns, M., & Author: Mary Frances Callan and Bill Levinson. (2016, November 29). So Now You’re the Superintendent: Learn How Effective Communication Enhances Decision Making. Retrieved October 24, 2017, from http://corwin-connect.com/2015/05/so-now-youre-the-superintendent-learn-how-effective-communication-enhances-decision-making/