Serving the Ring and Not the King (or Queen)

A wise mentor once counseled a frazzled school communicator to serve the ring and not the king. It was sage advice considering there had been changes in the superintendent’s office – ones that made the communicator anxious. Perhaps you’re new to the superintendency, or maybe you are onboarding a new communications professional.

A clear understanding of the unique partnership between a superintendent and a communication professional is key. Here are the ABCs for starting this partnership on the right foot (or making a course correction):

Access. Maybe your communicator has requested time on your calendar or an opportunity to participate in leadership meetings and you’re wondering why. There’s good reason, too. Best practice of effective communication advocates for communicators to have access to the C-Suite. This is why they are advocating for a seat at the table. For those superintendents who have made it a priority to have their communicator on their schedule, know that you are saluted. If you are a superintendent who hasn’t implemented this practice yet, don’t be afraid to start.

Buffer. An effective communicator can serve as a buffer between the good ideas developed at the leadership table and translating them in a way for families and staff that make sense. Their best work comes when they are allowed access to you and your senior leadership team to ask questions about the decision and highlight concerns families may have before you roll out an off-target plan for your community. 

Counsel. As trusted counsel, your communicator is there to “advise and anticipate” according to the typical 12 functions of public relations. It’s a unique position that relies on close collaboration and a clear understanding of your goals for the district. You can only get there with high degrees of trust by both parties. Oftentimes, the communicator position predates the superintendent. Perhaps they have worked with your predecessors to see what is most effective in your community. This institutional knowledge is invaluable. Don’t be afraid to access it. Recognize that after a close collaboration is established, they might not be afraid to share that perspective either.

Edward Bernays, considered the father of public relations, explained it thusly:

The profession of public relations establishes a common meeting ground for an entity (whether a business, an individual, a government body or a social service organization) and society (Bernays, 1923).

The role of your communicator is to assist you in establishing common ground in your community on matters important to students in your community. Understanding that you both are after the same thing: ensuring that students have what they need to be successful and that families are part of the process. That can only happen when the communicator understands their role and how serving the ring helps create stronger communities.