It is always wise to know your audience, but this rings particularly true when you are addressing an administrator who is in a supervisory role to you.
It’s safe to say that every campus has its clicks. Within those groups, there are teachers who have a closer personal relationship to campus and district-level administrators than others and those whose personalities are more like oil and water, only speaking to particular leaders when it is absolutely necessary.
Regardless of these dynamics, a concern delivered with a well-thought-out and researched plan (as mentioned in part 4 in our recent series) is more likely to be accepted and acted upon.
Part of the “In-Crowd”
If you are in the “buddy” group and have a casual, personal relationship with the administrator you need to address, you may be tempted to forgo the prep work and formalities and just pop into his or her office with a casual “Hey man, got a minute?” or casually bring up your concerns when you are at a game or standing over a grill.
While this approach may be socially acceptable considering your relationship, it may not be the best method to effectively communicate the seriousness of your concern and ideas.
Take the time to really understand the issue at hand so you know what you are talking about. Gather your facts, find out how other schools/districts are handling similar situations, organize your thoughts, and be intentional and purposeful in how you present what you think is important.
It may seem frivolous to schedule a meeting with someone you can just call and chat with any time, but let them know that you have something important you would like to share and that you would like to request their undivided attention. Feel free to let them know that you have been working on a possible solution and that you are excited to share what you have learned.
You probably know his or her personality better than most members of the staff. You will know what attitude to approach with, what tone to use, and what subtleties and little things they find off-putting (let’s be honest, you’ve probably joked about them together). Use this to your advantage.
You know whether it is advisable to use humor or keep it serious, whether to provide a handout or PowerPoint (or both if they are prone to distraction), if they need to have information in advance, and even if they are in a better mood at the beginning of the day or at the end.
You may feel a little ridiculous taking such a formal approach with someone you know casually, but you’d be surprised at the difference it will make. At the very least, you are communicating how important this issue is to you.
Most importantly, don’t expect to get what you want just because you are friends. That is really an inappropriate expectation.
Not at the “Cool Table”
It may seem like not being buddies with the administrator would put you at a disadvantage, but you can approach with no strings attached. There is a complicated mix of emotions when a decision has to be made that could potentially upset a friend, even if it is just a little tweaking of an idea or some constructive criticism.
Without the emotional complications, presenting information from one professional to another may be considerably easier for both parties.
If you have had little personal interaction with the administrator you will be addressing, this is your moment to shine, but be careful not to overdo it. The temptation may be there to go all out, dress a little too out of the norm, and have your presentation “gussied up” at the local Staples. You don’t want to be the story shared at the next principal’s meeting that is introduced with, “Oh yeah, wait til you hear this one…”
Practice what you’re going to say; maybe even do a mock presentation for a colleague who will give you honest feedback.
Talk to a couple members of the staff who have been there for a while and have had experience communicating with this particular person. Ask what works and what doesn’t.
Dress professionally, but not out of the norm of what you would wear on an average school day.
If you are going to show data in a presentation platform, ask the secretary if you can try it out before the meeting, and have a backup plan if the technology doesn’t work.
Have something printed out that you can leave with them, but keep it simple, just bullet points, and let them know that you will send them a copy electronically, too.
Be prepared to have your meeting delayed or even rescheduled. And go into it expecting the best response to be something like, “Thank you for sharing this with me” or “I’ll have to think about this” so you are not too disappointed if they don’t quickly act enthused and commit to run with your idea.
The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to offer solutions, but do it in a way that respects the gravity of the issue and the hierarchy of the system. Your goal is to let your voice be heard and hopefully bring about change, not to boost your ego.