Connect, Connect, Connect
In uncertain times connect OFTEN … even when you feel like you have nothing to say.
In times of change everyone is uncertain, on edge, fearful. If you don’t communicate, rumors will run rampant.
But what do I say, when everything seems to be changing daily?
Three phrases to use often …
Based on the best information we have now …
Be transparent, share the most likely scenarios, and end with … this is based on the best information we have now. Stay tuned. We will update you weekly as we know more.
At any given time …
Now is the time to stay flexible. Prepare for several reopening scenarios. And to be ready to change to a different delivery model … at any given time … depending on changing health conditions.
It will be messy …
We are working almost 24/7 to transform virtually everything we do in school while keeping everyone safe and attending to a wide range of needs of our students and staff. We are listening to community, staff and students trying to get it right. But we know it will be bumpy … messy in the middle … while we keep working to make things better. Be patient. Let us know what we can do to get better.
Seven big ideas for connecting
People are hungry for human contact. Create opening routines that let people connect. Put people into random break outs with a fun prompt. Ask people to enter ideas, questions, concerns in the chat. Use the time to be human, make connections and hear concerns. Share back what you heard and what you will do as a result.
Establish a regular rhythm
Create a sense of normalcy. Check in with staff weekly. Check in with community weekly. Some are doing Sunday Firesides or Friday Forums. When things change we need to hear the new message four times before it starts to stick. Remind people to check back often to your website … and keep the website current.
We will get through this … together. Come back to your core values, the big WHY, our students, again and again. Communicate with each audience: Think heart, head, hands.
- Heart: Empathize with how hard this is for families, staff, students. Show them you hear. Show them you care.
- Head: Share what you know … at this time. Share the big picture and some of the things you are working on.
- Hands: Let audiences know what they can do now: Check our web site; stay healthy; connect with your kids.
One proverb reads, A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in frames of silver. In other words, carefully crafted to fit the circumstances. For example: We know this is hard for everyone right now and everyone wants to know what school will look like in the fall. We are listening to the state superintendent, checking with colleagues, working with the health department, and listening to our community – searching out the alternatives that will work best in our community. Please be patient with us and check back often. Let people see the process … so that in the end, when decisions are made … they will know how hard we worked to get it right.
Be nuanced and flexible. When you have something concrete to share, do so. That earns trust. Then buy some time by describing what comes next, what process you are using and when you might expect to have answers. Establish a cadence of what you know and what comes next. Keep reminding people of what you do know and have accomplished. And what comes next.
This is NOT the time be ‘large and in charge.’ Be the orchestra conductor. Work to pull everyone together. Get everyone on the same page. Share options with the community. Create focus groups, panels, and surveys. End solutions will vary by community. Some will crave openness and a return to normal. Others will push for safety and caution. There is no perfect solution. LISTEN, share back what you heard. Grow understanding and ownership.
Under Promise and Over Communicate
Circumstances will change. If/When we have a COVID case in the classroom, things will change rapidly. Avoid the urge to say, Everything will be fine. Trust us. We’ve got this. Things will change. Instead keep communicating what you know … and what you don’t know. Share the process. Remind stakeholders how you have reached out to the community.
End every communication on a note of thanks. Something like: We have each other. We have much to be grateful for. Yes, we will get through this … together. Thank you for your patience, persistence and good ideas. Thank you for your hard work and helping us do the right thing for our students.
PS: Thank you to my colleagues at Washington State Leadership Academy for their great thinking, coaching and for their contributions to this blog.