Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Grouping" Communication...The Principal's Challenge

The last post examined digital communication from the viewpoint of the recipient. While the well-worded, all-inclusive blog post reduces fragmentation for teachers, it presents a problem for principals.

When a thought crosses the principal's mind and needs to be communicated to the faculty as a whole, firing off a quick e-mail is easy to do. The principal can now call that task "done." Nothing needs to be written down. Nothing needs to be remembered.

Grouping that information into one blog post presents another challenge. When a thought crosses my mind, if I can't put it in an e-mail, where do I store it until time to compose the blog post? Moreover, how can I have one system that works whether the thought occurs at my desk, while I am walking down the hall, or whether I am at the grocery store.

Let me answer that question in two ways, one for those who organize their lives with paper, and one for those who organize their lives digitally.

For Those Who Organize With Paper
When I became a principal in 1997, the Day-Timer was my signature tool. If that term is foreign, read this post. That little book provided me with two facing pages for each day. The left-hand page held my appointments and to-do list for the day. The right-hand page provided a place to record notes from meetings, conferences with parents, conference with teachers, notes from phone calls, or any other information I might need later. I still have all of those old pages. They are neatly stored in three-ring binders.

To this day, you could go back to any one of those binders and flip to a Thursday. On that right-hand page would be a running list...a running list of everything I wanted to include on the Friday Memo. No matter where I was, my Day-Timer with with me. No matter where I was, when a thought struck me that I needed to communicate to my faculty, I opened that book to Thursday's page and let that thought roll right down my arm and right onto the paper.

On Thursday afternoon, there were all of my notes, all in one place, serving as a reminder to put them on the Friday Memo. That was easy, easy enough I would actually do it.

For Those Who Organize Digitally
The process is the same; only the tool is different. Those who organize digitally need one place to put all of those bits of information that are later to come together. In addition, the system needs to remind the user at the right time. That's why in the Day-Timer, that list of items for the Friday Memo was on Thursday's page. Thursday was the day I composed the Friday Memo. Thursday, therefore, was the day on which I would need to be reminded.

If I were doing the same thing today, my task list on Outlook (synced to the BlackBerry) would include a task labeled "Friday Memo." That task would have a due date of Thursday. Throughout the week, as new thoughts occurred while I was at my desk, the drill would be to click on Thursday's date on Outlook. I would then be looking at Thursday's tasks. Double-clicking on the task that says "Friday Memo" would open the note section where I would be keeping that running list.

If I was out and about when a thought occurred, I would pull out the BlackBerry, press the "convenience key" (which is programmed to take me straight to the task list), and start typing "Friday Memo." I probably would not have to enter more than "F-R-I" before the list would be narrowed to the task I want. Hitting one key opens the task where I would see everything collected to that point for the Friday Memo. I would then simply add the new thought.

When Thursday rolled around, the task that says "Friday Memo" would be sitting there to serve as a reminder to add each of those ideas to the Friday Memo.

Those are the "nuts and bolts" of how to grab hold of the messages you want to communicate and then present them as a whole. If you are looking for ways to spend less time composing e-mails to faculty, I guarantee that if you have 12 things you need to tell them, it will take less time to compose a blog post covering all 12 than it will to compose 12 e-mails spread over the course of a week. When we look at the time spent on the couple of lines of pleasantries that typically begin each e-mail and the rhetorical thanking everyone for their cooperation at the end of the e-mail, we can quickly see that there is a great deal of wasted motion and empty words.

In addition to the principal blog mentioned earlier in this post, the blog I used with my faculty is located here. While the blog is no longer being maintained, it serves as a model for what a blog can be. I have learned a great deal over the three years since I left the principalship and given the chance to do it all again have many ideas that would have made that blog even more effective than it was.

Grouping communication. It's the principal's gift to a faculty to turn fragmentation into focus.
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