Staff Relationships: The Key to a Good Public Image

The relationship between district leadership and its staff can either make or break a district’s reputation. When teachers, administrators and support personnel are well-informed about board policies and are proud of the work they are doing, they tell their friends and neighbors and do much to instill a positive public image for their schools and school district. Conversely, a district leadership team with poor staff relationships can almost always expect a negative public image.

A school board can go a long way toward promoting good will and understanding simply by governing effectively and communicating well. All district personnel, both licensed and classified, should work within the parameters of written board policies covering such items as duties, salaries, insurance, absences, leaves, resignations, dismissal and other items applicable to a particular group. A board must ensure these policies are clearly communicated to staff. Board policies should provide opportunities for employees to share ideas, concerns and expertise as efforts are made to improve district services and the policies themselves.

Employees generally speak highly of an employer when they feel valued. Appreciation and respect are rewards that any school board can afford to give its employees.

Employee Communication Processes

Most boards and superintendents use a variety of tools to communicate with staff. Board meetings are, of course, open to all employees. It is important that the staff be familiar with the work of the board and vice versa. Some boards periodically schedule meetings with staff to gain firsthand knowledge of the workings of various departments. Some superintendents meet with staff and then report to the board. Some boards schedule informal gatherings to get better acquainted with employees. Others meet on occasion with committees representing employees. School districts often use bulletins or online newsletters to help keep employees informed of the board’s vision or board action. In many districts, it is common practice for staff committees to be assigned responsibility for studying specific problems and issues.

CASB recommends that boards establish appropriate avenues for communicating with administrators as well as licensed and support staff. Generally, board-staff communications are coordinated through the superintendent. In particular, all official communications, policies and directives of staff interest and concern should be communicated to staff members through the superintendent. In all circumstances, district leadership should communicate important information to staff before it is communicated to parents or the community at large.

School visits offer excellent opportunities for two-way communication between a board and staff. Many boards work with the superintendent to maintain a regular schedule for school visits. Individual board members interested in visiting schools or in volunteering should make arrangements through the principal with the full knowledge of the superintendent and fellow board members. Board members must regard these visits as informal expressions of interest and not as “inspections” or visits for supervisory or administrative purposes. Members should share information gleaned from school visits with the full board-superintendent team.

Staff and board members share a keen interest in the schools and in public education. Board members can anticipate informal discussion on education issues when they see staff outside of the district and should be cognizant of proper communication channels, even in informal settings.

Building Relationships: A Checklist

  • Does the board have a policy specifying community relations goals and objectives?
  • Is there a step-by-step plan for implementing this policy that specifies each aspect of the communication or community relations program, and who will be responsible for that aspect?
  • Do you have a plan for dealing effectively with the news media?
  • If you have delegated community relations responsibilities to some staff members, have you made adequate budgetary provisions to support the program?
  • Is the superintendent asked to regularly report on the progress of the community relations program?
  • Has the board stressed the importance of good communication throughout the school community?
  • Is community relations training included in the in-service programs for district employees?
  • Does the district have a publication directed to its employees?
  • Is there a planned way of communicating with parents and nonparents?
  • Is there a plan for feedback from both staff members and the public?
  • Does the board use its meetings as a vehicle for communication and feedback?
  • Does the district use citizen advisory committees?
  • Do school board members participate in school and community events and stay in touch with other public service and government agencies?
  • Does the board observe an appropriate chain of command for resolving complaints or grievances raised by school staff or patrons?
  • Are all communication efforts evaluated at least annually?
  • Does the board have a designated spokesperson?
  • Does the public have easy access to board agendas, policies, financial data, student achievement data and other information?
  • Are public surveys, community conversations or other tools used before the board takes action on major policy items such as the budget or school closings? Do you use your board meetings to showcase district programs and emphasize student achievement?

Adapted from Becoming a Better Board Member, a publication of the National School Boards Association