Three Monthly Head Talk Meeting Mishaps
Vol. 14 No. 3
Last month, we talked about the benefits to having monthly “Head talks,”during which you’d make yourself available to chat with parents and families in an informal setting. We still believe they’re a great tool for building rapport with families and community stakeholders. There are, however, some problems that may arise in such a program, should you not take care.
1. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Monthly Head talks offer you an opportunity to get to know some of your community’s most involved and dedicated parents. However, schedule conflicts, personality clashes, and other obstacles might hinder your reach with the larger community.
See, if the same people show up to your monthly Head talks every time, there’s a chance that you may be missing out on other, equally valid perspectives on school issues. Other parents might be shy about expressing their opinions to you, or work during the hours you offer your monthly Head talk. They may prefer electronic communication to in-person conversations.
By relying on the monthly Head talk as your primary channel of communication with families to relay important news and take suggestions, you may be inadvertently promoting “louder” parents’ objectives without seeing all sides of the picture.
Solution: Make yourself available to hear suggestions and ideas in multiple places and times.
Monthly Head talks are a great opportunity to get feedback from your community, but don’t let them be your only chance to have authentic conversations with parents. Online communication works wonders for a 24/7 open channel in this capacity, as do casual meetings during regular congregations of parents (school events, everyday activities like pickup & drop off of students, etc.).
2. Conversations are difficult to predict—and control.
The recommended monthly Head talk format is based on the idea of having an open dialogue with parents. Yet, that sort of conversation can be risky. It’s impossible to know what’s on someone’s mind, whether potentially explosive topics will be brought up, or how your audience will react to your responses.
Should someone inadvertently “spring” an awkward conversation on you that you hadn’t anticipated, your simple monthly Head talk might start to feel more like an unofficial press conference—or an interrogation.
Solution: Control the meeting with prepared agendas.
Be prepared to guide the conversation in the direction you want to discuss, to ensure that you get the most useful information for whatever program or aspect of your school you want the most feedback on. Also, have a set amount of time for random questions or casual conversations with parents at the end, so that they can’t completely derail the meeting from the start.
If someone broaches a subject you didn’t anticipate or you don’t know how to handle appropriately, try to postpone answering until you can gather more information. “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you by tomorrow,” might be an answer—but then you absolutely must follow up with that parent tomorrow with a solid response to the question.
3. You may accidentally bypass the “chain of command.”
This last obstacle to successful monthly Head talks is a doozy. When serious problems arise, people may gravitate toward the person they think has the most “pull” in a given situation. For private schools, that would mean the School Head—you.
So when you hold monthly Head talks, you’re building a relationship with these parents, which is good. But that also might lead to uncomfortable situations where they come to you with problems that should be handled by other administrators or their student’s teacher.
Solution: Encourage relationships between parents, faculty, and staff at all levels.
Keep the boundaries clear, even as you encourage open communication. If a parent suggests something that should be properly handled by another administrator, tell the parent that you can’t take care of this, but so-and-so can. Then, connect the appropriate administrator with the parent later in such a way that tells the parent that you heard what he/she had to say and you’re equipping him/her with the resources necessary to correct the issue.
Also try inviting other relevant administrators and faculty into the monthly Head meetings, perhaps to do a presentation on the annual fund or how the new science wing has impacted students’ education. Doing so will give these administrators and faculty your “approval” in front of parents, as well as offer them a chance to build a relationship with families.
After all, the goal of monthly Head talks is to build a better relationship with everyone at your school and open up the channels of communication. After a few months of such regular meetings, your parents should feel more confident in your school’s program and any of its administrative leaders—you included.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 14 No. 2 Three Advantages to Monthly "Head Talks"
The Source for School Heads Vol. 9 No. 8 The Head as the Face of Your School's Advancement
The Source for Development Directors Vol. 10 No. 9 How Two Schools Recognize Some Key Constituents
The Source for School Heads Vol. 14 No. 1 Conversations With New Families: Retention Starts With You
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 29 No. 16 15 Administrative Actions and Approaches Compatible With the Findings of ISM's Head Leadership Study