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April 1, 2015
Vol. 72
No. 7

Tell Me About … / Good Ways to Communicate with Teachers

Tell Me About … / Good Ways to Communicate with Teachers - Thumbnail

A Reality Check

Mid-year and mid-spring, I gave teachers a Reality Check—a one-page sheet with five questions: What's going particularly well for you this year? What concerns/issues do you have at this point? What can I do to best support you right now? If you could get some professional development right now, what would it be? Anything else? Teachers could return it in hard copy or electronically. This never failed to yield important nuggets that helped me focus my support on teachers' priorities.
Dave Weston, principal (retired), Saudi Aramco Schools, Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia

Video e-Mails

I used to send out a weekly staff e-mail on Thursdays that contained school information and calendar items. Several months ago, I discovered MoveNote, an app that enables you to send a video through e-mail, and I started using it for my weekly e-mails. My teachers love it because they can multitask as they watch my message for the week. They also get the bonus of "pausing" me.
Paul Baez, principal, Alief Independent School District, Houston, Texas

Show Respect

The best way to communicate with teachers is to show them that you value their time. Meet them in their classroom rather than your office, turn off notifications on your phone and computer, and open the conversation by asking questions. Show teachers that you know their time is valuable and that their voices matter.
Brianna Crowley, English teacher and instructional technology coach, Derry Township School District, Pennsylvania

A Collaborative Blog

My assistant principal and I publish a weekly blog (using the Smore app) to provide teachers with inspiration and innovative practices for their classroom. The blog features a different teacher blogger each week, who shares a practice he or she is passionate about. Topics have included Genius Hour, guided reading, math stations, differentiation, and relationship building. In another section, "The Principal Ponders," I reflect on the teacher's topic and how it affects our school. Also included are articles and videos from various sources that relate to the topic. What started as a simple communication from administrators to teachers has evolved into a collaborative venture in which teachers, and now students, are waiting in line to be the next guest blogger!
Kelly Hayunga, principal, Lewisville, Texas

Sitting Down Together

I have used many media to communicate with our staff—phone messages, text alerts, Twitter, e-mail, faculty meetings, team meetings, department meetings, and so on. However, we all know that the best communication is face-to-face conversations. Technology enables you to send a message to everyone instantly, and in many instances, this is great. But the real work happens when we sit down together.
Bill Powers, middle school principal, Springfield Public Schools, Missouri

Honest Feedback

What I want from the principal is honest feedback. I appreciate criticism that is heartfelt, constructive, and delivered personally, in a way that shows me what needs improvement, but also shows that my successes are valued. I want the principal to acknowledge my efforts when I go above and beyond and to tell me when a student or parent has shared positive comments.
Cossondra George, teacher, Tahquamenon Area Schools, Newberry, Michigan

An Open Door

As a child, I was never called to the principal's office over the loudspeaker. So, when I was called to report to the principal's office during my first week as a new teacher, I had some anxiety and stress as I walked down the hallway. As it turned out, she just wanted to hear how my first few days had gone and to let me know that her door was always open! In my several years of working under her leadership, I loved her open-door philosophy and her approachable demeanor.
Christina Bauer, program specialist-technology, Cleveland Heights High School, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

What Do You Want to Accomplish?

This year, I started having teachers and education technicians talk to me one-on-one about their hopes and dreams for the next six weeks and how they hope to accomplish these dreams. I've been surprised and pleased with the energy and thoughtfulness of their reflections. These conversations give me a focus for helping them become better at what they do. Observations are more meaningful for everybody.
Sally Brown, principal, Dike Newell School, Regional School Unit 1, Bath, Maine

Voice Messages

We use Voxer, a mobile messaging app that enables you to send recorded or live voice messages to one person or a group. It's faster than e-mail and better than sending a group text message when it's important to convey tone and empathy. You can also attach text and photos. It allows educators to make the most of commute time and spend more time sharing how to best meet the needs of students and families.
Joe Mazza, leadership innovation manager, University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, Philadelphia

Make It Personal

After conducting an evaluation observation, the principal left me a note saying she sincerely hoped her son would have me as a teacher. The ultimate compliment!
Paula Hoffman, special education teacher, Grand Ledge High School, Grand Ledge, Michigan

Putting Money in the Bank

As a principal, I felt it was important to be available to all teachers, students, and staff. That meant being in the halls and doing walk-throughs so that I could talk to all staff every day. I also made a point of being in the department lunch areas at least once a week to be part of the casual conversation. As Stephen Covey would say, this "put money in the bank" for the times I had to take money out of the bank.
Chuck Achter, high school principal, Anoka Hennipen District, Coon Rapids, Minnesota

Show You Care

It is vital that principals actively listen to the teachers and parents who come to them. One of the most important things I have learned is to stop and put myself into that person's shoes—to think, What if this were my child? Student? Parent? Situation? Then I focus on how I would feel, before moving on to what I would do. For communication to be constructive and successful, people need to know that you have listened to them, that you understand them, and that you care.
Jessica Banks, assistant head of lower school, The Out of Door Academy, Sarasota, Florida

Say It and Write It

I believe the best way to communicate with a teacher is a face-to-face conversation followed up with an e-mail message. The face-to-face conversation gives you an opportunity to personally engage with that person, ask or answer questions, and resolve any concerns. You can gauge how that person feels about what you are discussing, which could lead to a make-it-or-break-it decision. The follow-up e-mail ensures that everyone is clear on what has been said and what decisions have been made.
Jeanette Patterson, principal, Cherry Creek School District, Greenwood Village, Colorado

Collaborative Improvement Goals

My best communication tool was a positive, supportive assessment process to help teachers set goals. After formal class visits, we would sit down and discuss "commendations" and "recommendations." I would ask the teachers to tell me what commendations they hoped to hear and what recommendations they thought I'd probably offer. Often, they already knew an important goal that they needed to consider. On the basis of the recommendations, we would set two or three specific "let's try" items, and I would ask what supports the teacher needed to accomplish the new goals.
Thomas Woodall, retired principal/educational supervisor, Loudoun County Public Schools, Dulles, Virginia

Building Trust

The best way for me to communicate with our staff is to be in their classrooms, recognize their hard work, and share with them what I've learned from them. This personal communication builds trust and relationships and shows an investment and partnership in their work in our school. Unlike digital communication, it's rarely misunderstood.
David Huber, principal, Mountain View School, Bristol, Connecticut

Grade-Level Mentorship Teams

Each week, I meet with a small team of teachers from three consecutive grades to discuss what's happening in the classroom, explore curriculum, and address concerns about particular students. In these meetings, teachers learn from and give one another feedback. Natural mentorship opportunities arise as veteran teachers share expertise with the novices in their team. These team meetings support our school culture and ethos and ensure that no teacher gets left behind.
Michelle Hughes, head of school, High Meadow School, Stone Ridge, New York

A Staff Website

I wanted to create a one-stop shop for any information a teacher could need at any point during the school year. Shared drives and district networks are nice, but they only work if you're on campus. I used to create a website that is accessible only by our faculty. It contains information about upcoming events along with general staff notes, reminders, and announcements; links to content and documents that would traditionally be shared in staff and student handbooks; and links to archived resources from all of our professional development opportunities and programs. The site has significantly reduced the number of all-staff e-mails and has eliminated our need to meet to discuss housekeeping issues.
Eric Sieferman, principal, Cascade Middle School, Clayton, Indiana

Weekly Updates

My weekly bulletin has become a resource for all stakeholders in the building and for administrators and other support staff in the district. I have three sections: events for the upcoming week, with time and location; upcoming events throughout the quarter; and an "As Seen" feature, in which I give important updates and shout-outs. Having a comprehensive bulletin has freed up time to concentrate on professional development.
Bill Basel, principal, Defer Intermediate School, Streetsboro, Ohio

Continual Communication

We have weekly face-to-face meetings with all our teachers. This is the most personal way we communicate and the most effective, but we do use several communication methods daily to stay in contact. Our teachers are on their iPads or laptops all day long. We communicate throughout the day through instant messaging, Skype, and private messaging within our learning management system. The more we communicate with our teachers, the more effective we can be as a school.
Michael Segelnick, principal, American High School, Hollywood, Florida

Say It With Chocolate

When I taught 5th grade, my principal, Dr. Joan Montgomery, was an excellent communicator. I will share several examples that I incorporate in my leadership today.
  • Consistent information. Every Monday morning, regardless of how early I arrived, there was always a one-page weekly newsletter from her to all staff. She would highlight successes from the previous week, note any concerns, and include a weekly events schedule as a reminder. It was a great way to focus everyone on the week.
  • Commitment with chocolate. Dr. Montgomery had the largest bowl of chocolates in her office that I have ever seen. It served as an open invitation to any staff member to come say hello or grab a quick pick-me-up. There were moments when a piece of chocolate could solve any problem I had, and other times when it simply reminded us of her commitment to engaging with all staff.
  • Approachable. Dr. Montgomery always smiled and was positive. There was a never a time when I felt I couldn't approach her about something. Her office door was always open, period.
Melany Stowe, instructional technology, Danville City Schools, Danville, Virginia

Full Attention and Support

I will never forget my first teaching assignment under Mr. DeForest. As a novice teacher, I had more than enough questions for any one person to bear, but Mr. DeForest always made me feel like I was the most important thing on his plate. He would come out from behind his desk and sit next to me—no distractions, no reading through papers, no sideways glances at e-mail—and listen. Twenty-plus years later, his example still resonates deeply with me.
Renee M. Burnett, curriculum coordinator, OCM BOCES, Syracuse, New York

A Special Thanks

This past Christmas, my husband received a handwritten greeting card from my school principal, expressing her thanks to him for sharing me with the school. I feel appreciated all the time, but this confirmed my value to the schools that I serve.
Dawn Waddell, ELL teacher, Desoto County Schools, Hernando, Mississippi

An Inspiring Challenge

When I was hired, my dean told me, "Your job is this: Be the best at what you do and help every student succeed." That was wonderful. And that's what I did.
Frederick Talbott, professor (retired), Nashville, Tennessee

Share the Positive

The best form of communication I received from a principal was a high five. The principal addressed me face-to-face to discuss what I was doing in my classroom. It made me feel good to know the principal noticed and talked about it with the rest of the staff.
Adrianne G. Williams, teacher, Guilford County Schools, Greensboro, North Carolina

Better Than an e-Mail

With all of the technology available, I cannot find a better way than face-to-face communication to build relationships and create a culture of trust in our school. It is easy to use apps like Remind, or simply shoot out an e-mail or a tweet, but none of those avenues gain teachers' respect like face-to-face interactions.
Zach Wigle, high school principal, Keokuk Community School District, Keokuk, Iowa

Nothing Beats Face-to-Face

I believe that a face-to-face conversation is still the best way to communicate. It allows deeper conversation and nonverbal communication. There are times when e-mails or written notes are useful, but to really move change forward, we still need face-to-face conversations.
Eric Townsley, middle school principal, South Tama County Schools, Toledo, Iowa

Bringing in Different—Perspectives

I appreciate when my principal values my experience and expertise while challenging me to see things from a different perspective. Sometimes my tunnel vision gets in the way, and he opens my eyes without discounting my ideas.
Patty Howard, English teacher, W. F. West High School, Chehalis, Washington

Open and Accessible

I appreciate that all critiques, celebrations, and suggestions are done in person. An open-door policy makes it easy to communicate with my principal. He is eager to hear all about my students' successes.
Katie Koontz, 2nd grade teacher, Diablo Unified School District, Concord, California

A Calendar Facilitates One-on-One Meetings

In my 14 years of teaching, I believe that communication has been best when my principal has used multiple forms of communication. Face-to-face is best, but all educators know that our fast-paced day may require alternate forms of communication such as e-mail, phone calls, or a quick note in a mailbox. Recently my new principal has adopted the use of an online calendar that she shares with her entire staff. She encourages us to check her calendar and fill in time slots if we would like to meet with her face-to-face.
Stephanie Moore, special education teacher, Beaver Dam Unified School District, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

Let Me Evaluate Myself

I was an elementary special area teacher for 42 years, and I had 12 different principals. Probably the best way a principal communicated with me was in my early years of teaching, when one principal asked me to fill out my own evaluation. I felt that I knew more about what I taught than he did, and it demonstrated what my strengths and skills really were. We briefly met, discussed the evaluation, and signed it. Principals have many responsibilities, and outstanding teachers should do their jobs and report what they have done. I learned from every administrator and became a better teacher.
Patrice Bove, retired elementary music teacher, Berwyn, Pennsylvania

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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