A good principal must be many things, but first and foremost, s/he must be an effective communicator. Language is powerful; when we use it the right way, our words can instruct, inspire and strengthen our relationships with students, parents and teachers. Conversely, when we misuse language, we can stifle and even derail relationships. To help you have better conversations, we’d like to share five dos and don’ts we gleaned from Robert Ramsey’s book, How to Say the Right Thing Every Time: Communicating Well With Students, Staff, Parents, and the Public.
Have Better Conversations: 5 Dos and Don’ts for Principals
Do be honest—even if hurts in the short term
Educators love the pursuit of knowledge, but most of us were also drawn to the profession because we care about people and want to nurture—not hinder—their growth. Because of this, educators have a tendency to soft-pedal issues and euphemize touchy topics to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.
There’s a subtle but important difference between using tact and euphemizing. Learn that difference and use it, even if it hurts in the short term.
Don’t rely on jargon
Like most groups, school leaders have their own form of discourse that may seem perfectly normal when they are surrounded by other educators. To parents and students, however, our use of technical, professional and scientific jargon can be extremely alienating.
Consider the difference between the following:
- On this nationally norm-referenced standardized test, your child’s score fell at the seventy-fifth percentile.
- Your child’s score was as high or higher than seventy-five percent of the students the same age across the country who have taken the same test.
Which of the above do you think parents would be most responsive to?
Principals and teachers have a lot more life experience than most students. This experience can be used to teach—or it can be misused to pontificate. Instead of using soapbox lectures, try to teach using Socratic questioning; this will help students see issues through a different lens and push them to draw their own conclusions.
Don’t bend over backward to be politically correct
By taking extreme measures to avoid offending anyone’s sensitivities, educators can end up saying too little, saying the wrong thing, or saying nothing and appearing ridiculous in the process.
This next point is important, but we weren’t sure how to phrase it as a do, so here’s one last don’t.
Don’t be overfamiliar
There’s nothing wrong with being friendly and approachable, but occasionally school personnel make the mistake of becoming too familiar when they communicate with students and parents. As Ramsey points out, these folks may feel that familiarity makes them appear more down to earth, but in actuality, it makes them appear out of bounds. In most cases, kids and adults have enough pals, buddies, or confidants. What they need are teachers, counselors, mentors, and leaders.