3 Strategies to Manage Your Day When Your Day Tries to Manage You
As school leaders, we all have days when, from the moment we wake up, our day tries to manage us instead of us managing our day. Emergencies and bad weather have specific protocols ensuring we jump to the more pressing priorities on our calendars.
So, how does a principal plan effectively for unexpected sales calls, complaints from parents, or staff / student issues so that they prevent their days from running amuck?
- Create and communicate a protocol for people who stop by the school without an appointment
One of the most helpful strategies for a principal is to create a protocol that outlines what to say and do for drop-by visits that will derail plans for the day’s schedule.
Step 1: Create the protocol. An example protocol:
“We do not interrupt the principal for visits while he or she is in classrooms. Your concern / visit is extremely important to us. Let me get you to the person who can help you right now. The principal will call you back before he/she leaves for the day and after the appropriate staff member investigates your concern.”
Step 2: Plan for contingency situations. Obviously, situations arise where someone needs to communicate information to the school principal. Often, though, people believe that the principal is the only person to whom they should speak. Make sure your office team has been trained on which situations need to come directly to the principal and which situations fall under another staff member’s responsibilities.
Step 3: Communicate the protocol. Once the principal and leadership team have created the protocol and brainstormed contingency situations and how to handle them, communicate the protocol as part of the school climate plan as follows:
A. Build investment from the central leadership team by communicating the protocol and the contingencies and ask for feedback and support. Once your central team understands the protocol and the why behind it, they can message the protocol to parents who may call the central office when a principal does not immediately stop everything to hear them.
B. Communicate the Protocol in Writing. The principal should communicate the protocol in the school’s handbook and welcome letter to parents that the school disseminates at registration.
C. Communicate the Why to Parents and other stakeholders in person. The principal should message the why behind the protocol at parent meetings and school assemblies so that people understand the rationale for the process. Communicating that the principal’s first goal is to ensure safety and high quality learning for students is a reason that every parent can live with, as long as they understand the avenue for being heard.
2. Train your office and support staff on how to communicate the protocol and other messages in person and over the phone.
Parents and visitors just want to be heard. Leaders should ensure that office staff have a message that makes parents or the person wishing to speak to the school know that he or she is being heard. How the office staff communicates that they are listening and will help the person be heard is critical for stakeholder relations. Below are examples and how communication and protocols can work effectively.
A. Report of Bullying: If a parent is reporting a bullying incident in person, the office staff should move the parent to a private room to listen. Then, they should contact the assistant principal or the student’s counselor so that the parent may report the alleged incident to the appropriate person to investigate. The assistant principal or counselor should explain that they will call the parent as soon as the investigation is completed on that same day. If the investigation cannot be completed on the day of the report, they should call the parent and inform them that they are still working on the investigation and that the parent has not been forgotten.
B. Report of Staff Violating Law: If a parent is reporting in person or on the phone a violation of law by school staff, the office personnel should notify the principal immediately, so that an investigation may be initiated. These situations often get to the media before they can be fully investigated, so acting quickly is crucial.
C. Triaging Phone Calls: For phone calls asking for the principal, the office personnel should say, “The principal is in a classroom observation (or whatever activity he or she is doing), could you tell me generally what your call is in reference to so that I may get you to someone who can help you immediately? Based on the subject of the call, the staff member routes the issue to the appropriate person. Office staff should always make sure that the person to whom they are transferring a call actually answers. Never leave an upset or concerned parent to speak to voicemail.
D. Angry Parents Who Initially Refuse to Supply Information: When parents are upset or angry and refuse to give information, office staff should employ de-escalation strategies by saying things like, “I can hear (or see) that you are upset / angry. I promise that we will help you, so if you will help me by giving me the information, I will make sure personally that you are helped.”
These communication norms for office staff create an efficient, responsibility-aligned way for staff to route parents and others to the appropriate people without bogging the principal down in interactions that take him or her away from their primary responsibilities to students and teachers.
3. Monitor The Time You Spend Getting To Resolution
Another way a principal’s day gets sabotaged is when he or she spends too much time handling situations that arise with staff and students. Often this occurs when the principal forgets his or her own protocol and moves right into “handle-it” mode. For example, when the principal walks up on two students arguing in the hallway, he or she should de-escalate the situation by moving between the students and saying something like, “I can see you two are in disagreement. Let’s get you some help getting this situation resolved.” Then usher the two to a counselor, assistant principal, or dean of students who can investigate further and help students get to resolution and the principal may move on with his or her observations or conferences.
If staff are busy with other students, the principal may find it beneficial to handle the situation him or herself. One way to do that efficiently is to outline a problem-solving protocol to students so that they know how they are going to communicate their issues.
Step 1: Write About the Issue. Each student has 2 minutes to write their issue on a piece of paper. This gives students time to vent and calm down before speaking.
Step 2: Listen to the Issue. For the next 2 minutes, each student reads what he or she has written while the other student and principal listen. One may not talk while the other is talking.
Step 3: Restate the Issue and Brainstorm Solutions. Principal re-states what each party’s issue is and asks each party to write 2 ways that each can help the other solve the issue in 2 minutes.
Step 4: Resolve the Issue. Each party listens and decides on a way to help the other, and the principal agrees to hold them accountable. This step should take 5 – 7 minutes if possible to get to a resolution.
It is easy to let interpersonal landmines derail our days. Creating and communicating protocols for unscheduled calls and visits, how to handle upset parents, and how to get students and staff to resolution as quickly as possible are three ways protocols will help you manage your day when your day tries to manage you.