HOW CAN SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS COMMUNICATE WITH THE COMMUNITY?
School board members become one of the many faces of the school district throughout our communities. Parents, business owners and members of the media often reach out to school board members in hopes to have their questions answered. In certain situations, members of the board may ponder, Am I the right person to be answering this question?
At times, the answer is yes. District administrators appreciate school board member’s support when communicating with the community. However, there are also times when the answer is no. During challenging situations, some messages may become muddied and create confusion. The reverse is also true. There are times when the district can take a step back and let the school board deliver the message.
We increase confidence in our schools when board members and district administrators collaborate to make the best decisions while each staying in their lane.
FINDING THE RIGHT LANE
School boards and district administrators each exist because of their separate responsibilities to the community and school system. While one party may feel they have enough information to comment on another’s responsibility, the truth is vital details may be missing. Therefore, to best communicate (especially with the public) we want to stay within our area of expertise. This is what we mean by finding the right lane.
Strong working relationships between the board and the district help us interact confidently with those outside of the school. We support those relationships with transparent communication, opportunities for ownership and respect for one another’s ideas. From this foundation, administrators and board members can work together to answer the following questions:
- What topics do the school board members own communication around?
- What topics do the district administrators own communication around?
- Which topics are the most sensitive? Where should we go to find those answers?
- At what times do we want to hand communication over to the superintendent or other school representatives?
As school board members and district administrators change it can be helpful to review and refresh this information annually. Next, empower the school board to lead through changes by using four tactics that support board member communication.
4 TACTICS TO EMPOWER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS
We’ve witnessed countless benefits to communities as the result of board members and school administrators understanding and supporting each other’s goals. The following tactics lay a foundation to help these two parties connect and communicate effectively.
When we use a scorecard, we can share our goals and progress in a clear, consistent and visual manner. The use of scorecards comes with several benefits:
- Board members can openly see the progress that’s being made.
- The most relevant priorities are brought into focus.
- Wins can be aligned to goals and celebrated.
- Board members can use scorecard information to communicate the value of the school and the impact on those it serves.
To illustrate, Studer Education coach, Dr. JoAnn Sternke explains how to communicate key changes with the school board using a scorecard.
Who needs to know what when? Everyone wants to deliver and receive the right message, in the right way, at the right time. Cascading communicating helps us to accomplish this goal. When school board members or executive leaders meet, follow the cascading communication guide to develop a plan for sending information accurately and timely. At the end of every meeting ask, who else needs to know this?
- Who will deliver the message?
- To Whom?
- By When?
- What is the message? Why is the message important?
- What communication method(s) will be used?
Leaders may want to cascade messages in combination with the visual scorecard tool mentioned above to deliver the right information clearly and accurately.
ROUNDING WITH THE BOARD
Leaders build trust by regularly connecting with school board members around their roles. This behavior nurtures relationships and shows the members they are valued. Our goal is to capture feedback to best support the board and the community during these rounding conversations. We can also use rounding as an opportunity to ensure board members are clear about when to communicate externally and where they can find the right information. Consider scheduling time with a few school board members each month.
Commit to rounding with the board by following these steps:
- Identify who you will round with first.
- Send the board member an email or meeting invitation.
- Ask the following questions:
- Open with a personal question to build rapport – “How was your vacation?”
- What is working well for you as a school board member?
- Do you have everything you need to do your job?
- Is there anything I can do to offer my support?
- Is there anyone who has been especially helpful to you that I can recognize on your behalf?
- Reward and recognize individuals mentioned with a thank you note or phone call.
- Follow up with each school board member and close the loop. If you discussed an opportunity to offer support, let the person know what actions will be taken or if their concerns have been addressed.
HANDOVER AND MANAGE-UP
Representatives of schools are in the business of providing service to the community. This service forms positive or negative relationships based on the person’s experience. There are specific moments we can handle tactfully to make a positive impression even if we aren’t the right person to offer our support. We refer to this pivotal moment as a handover. A handover is when we direct someone to receive service from another school board or staff member.
If you’ve ever been passed from one customer service representative to another to get your problem solved, you may know how frustrating this experience can be. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. To properly hand over a stakeholder, we focus on reducing their anxiety and preventing any errors or misunderstandings.
Here are some other handover tips to consider:
- If the handover is in-person, remain in their presence until another representative takes over. Put the person at ease by saying positive things about the other board member or district employee. This is also known as managing up and helps to reduce anxiety and complaints.
- When you are initiating a handover to another representative, let them know any information about the stakeholder that will help ensure a positive outcome.
- For telephone handovers, provide the person with the phone number and name of the representative that will be handling their request.
- Let the customer know what they can expect. If the right district or school board member isn’t available, share this with the stakeholder.
- Also, consider making a note to follow up and ensure their request was resolved.
School board members and school administrators all have a critical role to play to ensure the district’s success. When we collaborate and communicate from our area of expertise we reach the best outcomes for those we serve: our community.