A recent newspaper article caught my attention. It was about a dentist in my community who contributes to the schools and other community groups in many ways. In addition to being the dentist for many children who attend schools near his office, he has become a strong advocate for our community's schools. He even takes time to make presentations about proper dental care to students in those schools -- and to encourage students to consider careers in dentistry.
Why does this community-minded dentist get so involved in the schools? According to the article, he is simply following advice given to him years ago by his grandmother: "If you do well, you must take care of the people who take care of you," she said.
Her words in that article got me to reflecting about what school principals can and should do for the people who "take care of them" -- their internal and external publics and members of their own immediate families. "Taking care" efforts with all three groups are vitally important.
A principal's messages to members of his or her internal public -- the immediate school family -- set the tone for what all others hear about the school. Since members of the internal family are primary communicators about the school, it is obvious that regular and clear communication with them about all that goes on in the school -- the good news and the bad news -- is of supreme importance.
[content block] Wise principals recognize that secretaries, custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, classroom and playground aides, and extended-day employees are all important members of a school's community relations team; and those principals include all family members in all communications.
A wise principal also realizes that taking time to acknowledge the contributions of all staff members through individual notes and spoken words is the first and easiest way to ensure that those folks -- all of whom have a huge stake in how the external public perceives the school -- feel good about the school.
Another way to recognize your schools' family members is to always introduce them as equals. While teachers usually receive recognition for their good work, many members of the school's extended family have told me their principals do not acknowledge their contributions. To me, that's a shame. And I try to remind all the principals with whom I have contact of that fact, because "those who are taken care of will continue to take care of you."
Taking time to make public comments or to write a short email or note of thanks is such an easy thing to do. Principals who do those things -- and who include all members of the school family by including them in weekly newsletter mailings, faculty meetings, and introductions made at activities during and outside of the school day -- understand the very real benefits of "taking care."
Reaching members of a school's external publics can be achieved through positive messages from the school's internal publics. Establishing a corps of key communicators is one way to ensure that your school's message gets out clearly.
Communication with a school's external public can take many other forms. One of the most effective ways I've seen is very simple to do. Sharing copies of the school newsletter with realtors, doctors, and dental offices is an excellent way to reach out into the community and to be sure that a wide range of people "get" what the school is all about.
Another spot where positive messages and good news can be posted regularly is on the school's marquee. Many principals who follow that strategy also make certain that messages on the school's Web site are up to date, positive, and reflect the school culture.
When it comes to keeping lines of communication open, the last -- but certainly not least -- important group that needs to be kept in full view on a principal's radar are the members of his or her immediate family. The dentist in that news article happened to mention the importance of his private life. In addition to taking short vacations, playing golf, and snow skiing, he was quoted as saying that "just being at home with the family" is most important to him.
Principals who heed the words of the dentist's grandmother and of H.S.M. Burns [see sidebar] can expect a renewed level of support and satisfaction from the important people in their professional and personal lives because they are "taking care of the people who take care of them."
Be sure to see other columns by George Pawlas in his article archive.
Article by George Pawlas
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