Updated: Jun 24
You've got bad news to relate that will resonate across the entire school community : the school must sell several acres of campus to make ends meet; the head search has failed; the controversial sixth grade history teacher will not return after winter break. There's a pale comfort to be found in any of these situations; boards and heads can find excellent counsel on managing communication during crises. Buy a book, hire a consultant, dig through the online literature, and you'll find ample guidance.
But what about good news? You've reached the campaign goal, the head-elect has accepted the offer, the legendary Ms. Smith is retiring. Many experienced heads I know talk about the unexpected disappointments they experienced in their early years in conveying good news, when the communication plan, or lack thereof, registered as a "merp" with most constituencies, or generated a distracting political kerfuffle, or saddled a new appointee with negative cultural capital. I offer these elements of communication choreography for your consideration:
What are we cheering for?
A big piece of conveying good news happens at the beginning of the story, in having clarity on the end goal. Does the community have a clear sense of the capital campaign goals, the desired qualities of the new head, the remarkable contributions of Ms. Smith who, as teacher of seniors for the last ten years, is virtually unknown to most of your current students and parents?
Have you communicated the timeline for the head search, the campaign, the completion of the new fine arts building? And have you touched base with all constituencies at each milestone, given everyone a chance to feel that they're along for the exciting ride? It's safe to say that the independent school head search timeline is about three millennia longer than the leadership search processes at the professions your parent body is engaged in, and, if you're at an elementary school, the capital campaign is the first that most of your current parents have ever encountered. Have you educated them?
First to know/Weeds grow in cracks
Tell the faculty first. Then tell all other constituencies in tightly ordered missives thereafter. The faculty and staff are the school's value proposition and deserve to know news first. I've racked my brains and can't think of a situation that would call for a different order of communication. The second part of the principle is that any gap in the narrative itself, or in the communication of the narrative is an invitation for weeds, for the distorting effects of the telephone game, for the efforts of the "trolls" in our communities to warp the news.
Where's the party?
Give your constituents a place to put their enthusiasm and gratitude. What opportunities will you provide for the community to celebrate these victories? To what degree should they be customized for the celebrant, for the audiences? What opportunities exist to help you draw together seemingly disparate constituencies--alumni and current students or parents, past faculty and current faculty, etc.
This is no new news but worth mentioning. Can you thank people enough? No, you can't. You can be wooden and redundant in a way that can backfire, but if you apply even a little bit of creativity, you truly can't thank people enough.