Keep Your Head in the Game

Posted on Jan 19, 2017 in Blog, Musings

We asked Dr. Jerry Larson—longtime educator and trustee, former head of Cheshire Academy and now principal of Educational Directions—to talk about the role of the head in promoting good school communication. Jerry says it’s all about the message.

Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott is among the best books I read when I was a head of school, and one I shared with the administrative team and faculty. Why? Because every day we are asked to share our experiences, ideas, observations and thoughts with each other, our students and our parents. A head of school is also asked to communicate with alumni, other school leaders and the community at large. Fierce Conversations promises to “illuminate the path to a new degree of authenticity, a new way of expressing who you are and what you believe as a person and a leader… for increased clarity, improved understanding, and impetus for change.”

Today, in my work assisting schools with their leadership searches and the relationship between the board and the head, I often hear, “We need to communicate more.” In fact, in 90% of our search work, a top issue is a lack of communication or underdeveloped communication skills in candidates seeking the head of school role. It’s not enough to blast email, blog and tweet unless the head has something meaningful to convey.

As the leader of the school, the head is expected to clearly express the institutional message—the mission and the vision, the plan and the program. The heads known for their oratory eloquence stick to three to five very specific ideas. In every presentation or large group conversation you hear them over and over, perhaps not in exactly the same words, but most certainly with the same theme.

I remember to this day in my first months of as a new head of school when another head gave me this simple piece of advice: “You need to figure out The Message. Keep it simple so everyone can understand, then tell them what it is, and keep telling them what it is. When they say they’ve got it and can tell you what The Message is, tell them some more.”

Heads need to know that even in today’s fast-paced world, people still want to be participants in the story, not passive observers. Too often we see school leaders who develop their own ideas, vision or action plan without adding to its development by others to build the shared narrative.

To be real, authentic and aligned with the school community, the head of school must invite, engage and involve others in the conversation. What is needed is a dialogue—an ongoing conversation—that will allow the power of the school’s culture and strategic vision to fully support each student’s journey.