Conveying ideas and values to staff, students and parents is all about relationship building. Each of these constituent groups requires a slightly different strategy of communication and personal interaction, but in each case, it starts with authenticity. People need to know that their superintendent is honest, transparent, and committed to doing what's best for children. It is also important when meeting with people to not take things personally, even when they are intended to be.
My relationship building approach starts with having a clear understanding of all the issues that are out there concern school district operations, and then communicating this understanding (along with solutions and options) to each audience in a way they will best understand. However, having knowledge about all the issues and problems is not enough. People have confidence in my leadership not because I know what's going on, but because of my integrity. I demonstrate on a daily basis the values I live by, which helps foster trust.
With parents and students, it centers on a customer service attitude that requires great attention to detail concerning individual student matters, classroom matters, or building level concerns. In these scenarios, I must listen extremely well, acknowledge legitimate concerns, conduct investigations or do additional research, and above all, follow-up with people with overt interest and compassion. Simply returning a phone call, no matter how busy I am, goes a long way in developing positive relationship with a parent or other constituent.
One strategy that I have used very effectively with various parent and community constituent groups is to hold "superintendent forums" in local venues. These are meetings where I answer the community's questions, address any complaints or misconceptions, and champion various district programs that address student need. These forums work particularly well with the taxpayer groups, because I am able to communicate my beliefs regarding the school district's responsibilities to its taxpayers. I believe any district resident has a right to know what is going on in their schools, how money is being spent and accounted for, what measures are being taken to increase revenue and decrease expenses, regardless of whether or not they have children in district schools . These forums help me get a clear understanding of what's going on in each school from the local constituent's perspective, and they allow me to build strong personal relationships with committed parents, PTO members, and senior citizens.
My staff relationship building strategy is quite simple: communicate daily with the people providing direct service to students the message – "How can I make your job more doable?" In my role as district superintendent, I visit classrooms, attend educational events, participate in various team meetings, and I speak to a variety of support staff including secretaries, maintenance workers, lunch clerks, and bus drivers. The key here, of course, is visibility. Staff members appreciate it when you take a personal interest in what they are doing and that you are aware of both their individual needs and those of their colleges.
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