Chris has been an educator in Massachusetts for 19 years and just finished his 11th year as a building administrator. He is currently the Principal of Whitman-Hanson Regional High School in Whitman, Massachusetts.
He’s passionate about continuous improvement and the idea that success is not a destination, but a process. A teacher centered Principal whose believes the importance of a positive work environment, continuous growth, and a healthy family work life integration can be seen in the multiple presentations and workshops he has given for the Massachusetts School Administrators Association (MSAA), Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE), Massachusetts Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (MASCD), the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP); and participation in the Better Leaders Better Schools Mastermind group.
Communication Tips for Principals
He was most recently described by a past Superintendent as being “…wholly invested in the success of the school…a creative problem-solver who is able to deliberate yet be decisive, be creative yet accountable…calm and clear-headed even under the most trying of times…has built a strong collaborative and collegial school culture…he is a positive influence on teachers, teaching, and learning.” He blogs and vlog on a weekly basis as a way to reflect on my progress, share his story, and get others to think about different perspectives. His overarching goal is to positively model continuous improvement in all facets of life by being purposeful, acting with integrity, and building character.
- The Goldielocks approach to communication with your staff
- 20% is 100% communication success.
- Why you don’t need all the people rowing the boat to make it go
- How to lead when you lack empathy or fail to see other people’s perceptions
- Promote school wide initiatives without manipulation or coercion
- Leverage social media and your network to promote values and vision
- Pose the perfect question to resistors
- Is your staff is telling you “I don’t feel safe or I don’t understand”
Full Transcript Available Here
Welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. This is your friendly neighborhood podcast host, Daniel Bauer,
Better Leaders, Better Schools is a weekly show for Ruckus Makers and what is a Ruckus Maker? A leader who has found freedom from the status quo. A leader who makes change happen a leader never, ever gives up. Today is an experimental podcast episode where I talk with my friend Chris.
Chris is a principal of a high school in the Northeast. He has been a member of the mastermind for two years and today was just a one on one coaching call that we recorded. Now of course we talk about issues specific to him and you may or may not have the same questions, but from a high level. Here’s the topics we talk about that I believe you can pull nuggets out of in applied to your own life in leadership. So there’s really big four ideas here. One would be communication and how to measure the effect of it and the importance of it. We talk about communication, we talk about handling objections. When there’s criticism, when there is seeming resistance, what do you do with that? We talk about empathy and the fourth big idea that will benefit you, Ruckus Maker for listening is how you share the good work of your school. How do you promote the quality things that are happening on campus? So Ruckus Maker, thanks for being here and before we jump into the episode, I’d like to take some time to thank our show sponsors
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All right, well like I said, Chris, thanks for scheduling this and I’m looking forward, um, to serving you, and this is going to be a fun episode because it’s meta, right? I’m trying to be a powerful coach and serve you during this time that we connect. But for the podcast listener, they might be wrestling with some of the same issues and can take ideas that you bring up and apply them to their own life in leadership. So every now and then I might say, “Hey, Ruckus Maker” and talk to the listener, but you know, I’ll be talking to you as well. So thanks again for being here.
No, that’s not a problem at all. I even have something small that we can do to even kind of jump into the whole communication piece. So, typically right now when I communicate with my staff, I try to keep it to once a week because in my weekly newsletter I put a special section in for staff about what’s coming up and highlights of the upcoming week and things like that. But I found midway through the week if I just touch base with them as a couple of reminders, whether we have some surveys out for professional development, whether, I’m reminding them to get me things for the newsletter or anything like that. I want to kind of do the Goldilocks thing. I don’t want to give them too much so that they start to click delete and ignore them. And I don’t want to give them too little so that they get lost.
So I stole a little bit from you. I took the weekly email you put out, the weekend resource, I find that super helpful and kind of light to digest but has tons of information if I want to go deeper. So I’ve tried doing something like that with my staff and I was just wondering what your thoughts are on a format like that because right now I just do a couple of letters. I do reminders where I can put some links in if I want. I put an article on pedagogy or teaching strategies or something like that and then I put in just a quote that I happen to be pondering that I found interesting. Mm. I don’t know how well it’s received. I just started to do that and obviously put the caveat in email to be patient because I’m trying to figure out a consistent format. I kind of feel like, and this is the overarching goal, maybe I’m getting stuck between if that’s enough or not, if that’s reaching the goal of not too much communication or if that’s just too over the top to have resources and things like that.
Like too over top for the staff in terms of overwhelming them or whatever in terms of what you’re sending them. Yeah.
These things, you know, I try not to be over the top with myself as far as protecting time that I have, but these things are things that I’m going to catch any ways and then I’m going to see any ways. Um, so it’s as easy as, you know, taking a couple of links and putting them out. But I guess I’m concerned about whether it’s enough communication or not enough or if it’s a useful thing.
What are you using to send it out? How are you delivering it? So glad you asked that. I’m using their normal email, my school is a little, a little off. We use Google for a lot of things, but we still have Outlook for email. So you know that good old high school staff list, I just put it out and call it your weekly update or the Panther Update or something like that. Gotcha. That’s good to know. I don’t know if you’d be open to using something like MailChimp. Um, I’m actually using that right now and I used it as a principal as an AP, you can have a free account I think for up to a thousand people. So that’s good, you wouldn’t have to pay any money.
I’m pretty sure. And the reason is because I don’t know that Outlook or Gmail is going to allow you to see if an email is opened or what’s clicked on. To me, the open, I don’t ever dive in because I’m sending stuff out to 3000 people. Right. And that will grow in 2020. I want to grow the list to talk to 5,000 leaders. I’m not going to look ever, which leader opened it. Right? But I do get a sense of how many people do. And that gives you a metric in terms of how you compare to other industries, right? Because if you’re sending this out and then let’s say MailChimp, it says only 10% of people open it. Well that’s a problem, right? If you’re getting over 20, if you’re in the 30s, then you’re actually doing really, really well.
So that might be shocking for you or the Ruckus Maker listening to understand that in terms of a newsletter but that’s an open rate. We like to say, well they’re professionals right, I’m the boss and I’m sending it. It should be 100%, but that’s just not how it is. So at least that tells you if they’re being opened. But more important than that, I want to see what people click on. Right? And again, not like what did Chris click on, although I might be able to dive into that. But just in general. Let’s use the weekend resource, which I send out. I have content I created, I have articles that I find interesting from people that had nothing to do with me, or Better Leaders, Better Schools. I have social media posts that have done well and I think people should check out obviously the two podcasts, this one in school leadership series, the live event, and then the quote and generally that’s pretty much it. If there’s a webinar or maybe something with a book or other offers that might find its way in there.
But like you said, I’ve experimented with the format and I can see what people are opening. So I think that like the high level thing I want you to at least consider. Even if you didn’t do MailChimp, maybe just focus groups with your staff finding what do you find the most valuable, right? I know people aren’t going to open everything up and that’s okay. But again, I just want to get a sense of what people are finding valuable and then you just have to decide is it good enough if 10 people are opening and not a hundred. Is it worth sending an article that 10 people find really meaningful and it probably is, you know, and since you’re not bombarding them in my weekend resources only once a week, I think you can send that out and feel good about it.
That’s some great stuff because you know, my weekly newsletter that I put out through smore, I have all kinds of analytics that I look at to see who’s opening what. It actually helped me cleanse my mailing list a little bit from people that you know we’re coming back and stuff. I think the analytics are helpful. But now the timeline and timeframe of doing this, if I put it out and I notice that I’m hitting the 10% mark for the first four weeks is it something that I can continually do to put the effort in? Is there a time limit you would put on that before I start to see some traction with it? Everything takes a little while before it gets traction.
Yeah, and I’m sure you’d actually be way above that 10% that was just sort of like something I said, but to me, you know, I learned this in AltMBA, it’s a Seth Godin idea, but who’s it for and what’s it for? Right. And if your goal is to give a brief, resourceful, bit of communication to your staff each week, I think that’s worth it. Right? And they’re worth it. Even if everybody doesn’t open it, I would keep going with it and not quit.
Okay. Now I do weekly videos that then make their way to my blog. Would you suggest that I actually put a link in there? That’s kind of what I struggle with. I want to give them information and maybe this is just something about myself but I usually don’t share those with staff outside of if they access them in the newsletter. And I know that some of them do because some of them comment to me on the various messages I have. But do you think like looking at your weekend resource, should I throw a link in there to my blog or my weekly video message? What are your thoughts on that?
I think it depends on the district and stuff because sometimes they might have some rules around that. It was sticky for me because I was actually generating revenue from what I did and they might see that as a conflict. Right? So that’s something to at least consider. But from the point of view of like you’ve created this, you don’t want to be too self-promotional or something. If you believe you’re creating good stuff and it’s gonna make change happen and help people level up and you’re putting it out there for good, then I think it’s your obligation to let people know and you don’t have to be over the top. Obviously you’re not sending it out as an email and then being really needy and asking the staff, “Hey, what was your favorite part?”
You know what I mean? But if you feel like it’s genuinely good and can help then put it out. If I was working for you or if this was our culture, I’d want to know what you’re talking about because you’re my leader. I think that’s a good thing and it helps me understand you better and understand where we’re going as an organization. What you think holds value as principles and values. So I think all that stuff is good.
All right. No, that’s cool. Thanks, I appreciate that because obviously, I mean it’s not about self promoting and some of the messages are specifically things that would help classroom teachers and so forth. I’ve been considering doing a series on SEL and stuff like that, which is what our district is focusing on now and so forth.
So it supports the district vision and it helps teachers that want to be more intuned with their kids. I think that’s a good thing to share.
So the vision thing obviously keeps coming up and that’s a good thing. If you don’t mind me just kind of shifting gears a little bit, but I think it has to do with vision, if that’s alright with you. Yeah. I’m here for you. So the whole idea around, and I’m glad we mentioned SEL and with that comes empathy, the whole idea of vision, which is kind of, I feel like I’m getting stuck a little bit with vision this year and I think it’s noticeable to myself and then that obviously raises my stress level because of the whole idea of if the principal sneezes, the school catches cold type thing.
So if I feel that way, I become concerned that the rest of the school is going to feel that way because I had a lot of, I had a lot of things that were very clear starting out and we’re still moving forward with those. But some of the resistance that I’m running into, I find myself struggling to empathize with that viewpoint. And I guess what I’m looking for is any kind of specific strategies or anything like that that could help me improve my ability to empathize with people and obviously not all people because you can’t empathize with everybody, but make sure I’m not missing the valid concerns or valid reasons that people want to slow down with change or want to try something new. And right now I’m kind of, I’m kind of struggling with, with specific strategies on how to do that and help myself do that.
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I’m hearing the one part where you want to make sure you’re not missing anything and understanding where people are at in their concerns but then you said some earlier about struggling with that viewpoint. I didn’t understand the viewpoint part, the struggling with the vision part you’re talking about. Yeah. I think what you said was that you’re struggling with people’s viewpoints. And I didn’t know, maybe I misunderstood you.
No, no, I think so. Say I say I want to implement something, like a vision and one thing we’re doing as a school this year is we’re writing a book as a staff about how well we do things at our school so that we then have a piece of work that works as reflection for people on their practice. It ties groups of staff members together that don’t typically work together and know what each other’s doing and then we’re taking nuggets out of those discussions where it can be put forward as wise practices and used as a resource for other staff members. A new staff member specifically. So clear vision has started out. I’ve explained it a couple times. Other teachers explained it, but I have some pushback as far as the whole idea of reflecting and being involved in this as something different than people didn’t want to do. I’m stuck on the idea of how could you not want to reflect on your practice, right? Or discuss your practice with other people. And I find myself asking if this is a lack of empathy or a failure to see other people’s perceptions, the way they see it or if it’s just me empathizing enough, but just not agreeing with the viewpoint, which is a possibility as well. I don’t know if I cleared that up or if I made that about as clear as Boston Harbor.
Well I think you gave an example where the struggle is happening and so you’re doing a project that is very inspiring to you and a good portion of your staff. And then there’s some who aren’t as bought in and so you’re trying to figure out what to do with that. And that, I think is where the struggle is, right? Yeah. I can’t understand why somebody would not want to be involved in this and reflected on their practice. The question to ask is why are they right to believe that it’s a project that is of little value? What would they say if you were them? What would they say? Why? Why are they right?
They’ve got other things that are higher level priorities for them and that’s above other things. Then people get involved in thinking you get rich writing a book but then they wonder what’s going to happen with the money who gets accredited? I had one, two staff members say that they’re concerned that any information in the book will be able to be tied back to them in a student, things like that. So I think some of its, they don’t think it’s a good thing because they’re a little gun shy about connections between students in their practice. They’re concerned they’re going to lose out and not get credit somehow. They’ve got other priorities as far as making sure they’re doing what they need to do as teachers in their classroom rather than being involved in this.
I think those are all good things. You know, I know you, so I know you’ve handled criticism and alleged resistors within staff meetings pretty well on like leadership team stuff. And using those objections is a way to understand maybe you haven’t articulated enough what the point is or made it safe enough. You know, that they trust that this is a good process because I can understand, I think you did a really nice job. So I commend you that they might be afraid about their practice being tied to students. And so obviously you can make a bunch of that stuff anonymous and I would think that that would hopefully make them more comfortable. The money thing. People get weird about money, right? When I’ve collaborated with Jeff soul, SNA bell and a bunch of others on Ed Right Now, volume two and there’s like 13 authors as well. None of us make any revenue or profit from it. You know, it all goes towards a nonprofit, right? We support an organization that’s against or trying to prevent teen suicide. And so maybe there’s a foundation or something that your book’s proceeds can go to that benefits your local community or it gets tied into books for the library or whatever. For you guys locally.
I’ve thought of that. And it’s funny because I thought about a local community thing, but we came up with the schools that are always struggling for funding. So any proceeds from the book are going to go into a PD line because we can see you’re writing the book of PD professional development. It’s going to go into professional development lines specifically for high school teachers to utilize.
That’s a win win, you know, because they create it, they’re reflective and then any proceeds generated from book sales go to their own training and continuing to get better. So that’s amazing too. I don’t know if you guys talk about that consistently and if that wins people over or not and if it doesn’t, I would just continue to dig like, Hey, what this looks like from my vantage point, is a solution to what I’m seeing as your challenge. What am I missing? And I wonder what they would offer up then. Some people just aren’t going to want to participate because like you said, other priorities, maybe they think it’s hard. Writing a book probably is hard. Even just a chapter. Maybe some of them are just a bit afraid and so they’re saying other things and they just don’t want to be accountable to creating something that other people might read because they have major imposter syndrome. Like who would want to read my chapter? Some people may be struggling with that and I can understand that. So we shouldn’t necessarily push them to participate. But I agree with you, I think there’s incredible value from it and I would create something special with the people who enroll and say that they want to participate. So create something special.
Okay. Kind of like when I’m working with my own personal kids or even students, I guess just highlight the good behavior instead of worrying about shoring up the negative behavior. And some of it takes care of itself.
Yeah, I know it’s the majority of people who are wanting to participate with this and name five even other schools that are doing this, I can’t name five. So I think that is something incredibly unique and something that the community can be proud of. And especially too, if they can choose to participate or not. It’s not a mandatory iron fist, like you’re gonna do this. Like I think it just makes it that much sweeter. Right. Okay. So I mean you’ve given me some good stuff as far as how to work around things like that. Some of the things you’ve said we’ve been working on. So some of it’s very reaffirming that I’m kind of on the right track. There’s some stuff, but some of the other things I think I can really lean into more. Yeah. And just to review for you and then for the ruckus maker listening. Okay. Hopefully they’re still with us and they might not be creating a book as a staff. But the point is you’re doing something, you’re making some kind of change happen and you’re going to hit resistance.
And so the, I think the big idea, the two of them would be one, how do you use objections as just a way that your staff is telling you I don’t feel safe or I don’t understand. It’s your job as the leader to make them feel safe or to communicate in an effective way. Right? So that they’re on the same page. And then two, understanding that you don’t necessarily need everybody for every project and having a culture where people can raise their hand where they want to plug in and not feeling coerced or manipulated or shamed into participating, that makes it even better. Right. And I think the goal is to continue to find people who want to do this kind of stuff. So you have a culture where most people are participating, but to me that’s a safe and accommodating and honoring culture, right? Where people can disagree and not be shunned or kicked out or the community. That’d be a place where I would want to come to work every day.
Okay. No, that’s good. I don’t want to take up too much time, do you have time for touching on one more thing? I think it might be short. I’ve got these different things going on like this where we’re doing all kinds of personalized professional development, like the whole idea with the book teachers teaching teachers, all kinds of different things going on in the school as far as the way we communicate what we’re doing. I want to get the word out more. And I do, as you know, I do a lot of communicating. I have a newsletter that’s really popular. I do weekly videos and I do podcasts when I get the chance, but I’m wondering if there is a way, whether it’s me out presenting how I can get the word out and some of this, I guess maybe a little self serving. I don’t want to say it isn’t me because I like presenting and I get something out of it. But how can I go about getting more exposure to myself and therefore my school because that’s how I introduced myself that I’m the proud principal of the school. My superintendent’s supportive. I’m just wondering if you have any ideas as to how to leverage or social media, different conferences, things like that.
So to expand the reach and the impact to people outside of those that already know about your good work? Is that right? Yeah. How do I tap some different people to show them, besides the ones that already know, like you said, to show them the good things that are going on in my school. The different things that we’re doing, what we’re trying and things like that. I eventually want to use us as a PD resource and host a conference. And I have individuals that could run sessions and my idea was to invite regional schools for free and make the first one as beneficial and useful and valuable as possible to anybody attending. And then the following year say, okay, you come free if you have a team presenting, then I could actually look at different proposals instead of just accepting people and saying, your ticket to come to the conference is you have to bring a team of teachers that’s going to present on something that’s going to add value. Our world language department’s moving towards proficiency based teaching away from all the grammar. And three of the five of the teachers use the desk plus classroom. They don’t have desks in their classroom to promote conversations and things like that.
That’s just a touch of stuffing but we have a lot of good things going on that in a moment’s notice, I could have teachers put on a couple of workshops or sessions. So I think what we’re doing here is so valuable. There’s a lot of value to what we’re doing here that I’d love for other people to see it. And I’d like to do one because that’s part of my whole belief about supporting and engaging, empowering teachers. I’d like to empower them to where other people recognize them for the things that they’re doing.
You might reach out to Glenn Robbins, he puts together that rewire conference and he’s currently the superintendent of Tabernacle School District in New Jersey. And he partners with a group to put that whole conference together. Through that partnership they’re able to bring in some speakers and have food for the attendees and that kind of stuff. So it offsets costs and maybe attracts some people as well. But at the heart of it, what works about it is that he’s really passionate about PD like you are in, New Jersey. It’s really getting cut and so that’s why he offers this one locally for free. If you put something together, it’s like Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come type of deal. And especially if you had different teams from different schools in the area presenting on an idea like the deskless classroom they might have colleagues that would want to support them. Right. To come out, Hey, come out, support us. Oh, and by the way, you can learn some other things from one of these other sessions.
So I think talk to Glen. Two, it might be interesting folks around you. If there are any speakers, that would come in and donate some time that might draw a crowd. The answer’s always no unless you ask. Right? So maybe there’s people you can reach out to and say, Hey, person X, who folks know is coming to talk and that would put people in the seats. That might be interesting. In terms of spreading your message and your school’s message, I know you’ve been on my podcast, I don’t know if you’ve been on, Jethro or Will or Joshua. So Jethro’s a transformative principle. Will is with the principle matters, Joshua’s aspire leadership and there’s others too, right? Those are just Justin Bader principal center radio. I mean, you’d go on and on and on, but we have a great relationship.
So it’s, it’s an easy yes for me, but why not reach out to these other guys and other gals that are doing that type of stuff and just see if you can get on the show, talk about your message there too and have a focus. So maybe it’s building this conference, right? Like one thing that I’m really learning is if I’m going on other shows, almost in some respects I want to be a broken record because for some people it might be the first time they hear from me. Even if they’ve heard from me, it’s a good reminder of what I’m sharing. Right. And then three, it helps me hone my message and tell better stories. Right? So if I go everywhere and just talk about vision or just talk about productivity and like here’s some tips on that, people will equate that with me. So for you, if it’s the conference or something else, like what is that for you? And then just start telling that story in as many ways as possible.
Yeah, that’s some great advice. I will definitely have to check it out. It’s funny, I listen to those podcasts, but I never think to reach out and stay to them, “Hey, can I be on your podcast?” Yeah. Do Some, some are more, uh, tightly held with who can get on the show than others. But I think you’d be surprised on how many shows you could probably get on right now. I’m a firm believer and you never, the answer is always no, unless you ask and I’m not all that shy. I don’t have a problem with that.
Yeah. You’re already talking at a bunch of conferences, so keep just submitting for that kind of stuff and maybe start branching out, look for, you know, you could even pay your kid or something like that. Hey, you know, go find all the online conferences happening for education and pull the URL so I can apply to be on the conference. There you go.
Maybe I put him to work a little bit. That might be an idea. Why not? Here’s 10 bucks, 20 bucks. Like make it happen. Find me 10 conferences. I like the idea of a broken record on shows.The whole idea I have, it’s funny, I have a very specific message and when you talk about it helps you get your message out there and hone your message and tell the stories and things like that. I have a very specific message about how you see your staff supporting engaging, empowering, and your staff. That really hit home for me at this last national conference in Boston when I presented it. And I’d love to keep doing that. I actually put it in for something for the spring because just because of the message and how personal is for me and how much I believe in it. Well then I’m always concerned with, okay, great. You presented at that conference who’s going to want to see it again? So I run into the issue of places I can present it or things like that. How about like the 10,000 people that didn’t see it the first time?
For you or the Ruckus Maker listening, you know, the CEO of LinkedIn said this and he said, just at the point where you’re tired of saying the message is when people are finally starting to hear it. So even if it’s within your faculty, which a lot of times you have as an audience keep saying the same darn thing because they haven’t heard it. Unless you’re physically sick of saying it like, Oh my God, I can’t say this one more time. You’re not there yet. You got to keep going.
Okay. No, that’s perfect. Like you were saying with a reminder and you know the old adage when you’re talking to people first, tell them what you’re going to say. Say it and then tell them what you said. Exactly. So now I just have to do that thinking full message with different conferences and so forth. And podcasts, don’t let me forget the podcast. Y.
Yeah. It’s all the same online conferences, face to face podcasts, your videos, like it’s all the same. And maybe that central topic is the empowering staff part and then you can look at it from different perspectives and just come in from different angles. But it’s still that same message. All right, perfect.
New Speaker (33:33):
Yeah, I’ve got a lot to digest here between MailChimp for the communication piece and um, touching base with Glenn Robbins on a possible conference at my school, people to touch base with for a podcast and different communication methods. That’s good. And, you know, actually leaning into objections and people’s objections to make it a clearer issue for me so that I can make it safer for people and inclusive for people. I just asked them why are they right about not participating? That’s the, I think, the best question to ask in order to increase your empathy for somebody else. That’s it for me. You’ve helped me out a lot. I’ve got a lot, as usual, I’ve got a lot to take away from this and go dig into.
Cool. Well, thanks for scheduling this, Chris. I appreciate you. No problem. Thank you Danny. Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools, Podcasts for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel at better leaders, better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better leaders, better schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more ruckus makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode. Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #blbs level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, class dismissed.
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- Is in direct alignment with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework
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You can learn more and improve your student’s success at https://organizedbinder.com/
School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time! TeachFX is changing that with a “Fitbit for teachers” that automatically measures student engagement and gives teachers feedback about what they could do differently.
Learn more about the TeachFX app and get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachfx.com/blbs.
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