I spoke recently to an infectious disease doctor who works in a New York hospital who told me that she has seen new coronavirus cases drop from nearly 400 cases every day to something in the low to mid 200s. This is the kind of “curve flattening” that experts have been hoping for. It’s my sincere hope that this is the path it will take throughout the rest of the country. Today, we begin week 5 of remote school. As a New York principal, I’m hoping to share my experiences and contribute to the body of knowledge in the field of education that is emerging during the quarantine.
Today’s insight, lose the “principal voice”.
In leadership roles, we seek to employ the appropriate tone and vocabulary to suit the audience and the occasion. There are situations that call for a great deal of formality, that demand a straightforward harnessing of facts and a recitation of procedures. Early in the year, we gather students in the auditorium for a discussion of rules, expectations and important safety procedures. These occasions require observance of convention and a formal tone so as to convey to kids the seriousness of the message. Similarly, when we carry out emergency drills, it’s my intent that my tone via the PA is calm, succinct and measured. In written communication about situations like this, to staff and to parents, I exercise this tone also. My mentor called this the “principal voice”. You’ve heard the “principal voice” but it emerges in other roles as well. Those of us who work in schools are familiar with the “teacher voice” and the “superintendent voice”. Its purpose is to convey authority, certitude and to inspire confidence in the messages being communicated, to avoid distractions from the gravity of the situation.
When faced with a crisis, one would assume that the “principal voice” is always the appropriate tone for the leader to assume, but in these singular times, my intuition tells me that what people need most is the human side of their leaders. Even the strongest among us have been dealt a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety during this global pandemic. As a leader, it’s your true, authentic voice that can restore some sense of normalcy to a highly tenuous situation. That’s what our staff, families and students need to hear. As a parent, it’s what I want. I’ve received a great deal of information from my own children’s school district. My kids’ teachers are doing a great job of keeping them on top of schoolwork but what I appreciate most are the Read Alouds that Juliet’s elementary principal does on a regular basis and also the video messages that our superintendent puts out each week. In Jericho, our superintendent has grandchildren who attend schools in the district. In his communications, whether in writing or via video, he invariably shares his own emotions and concerns for their well-being. Yesterday, in his daily briefing, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, reviewed a large number of facts about the pandemic in our state. However, it was his reflections about his Italian immigrant grandfather and his admission that he cherishes the time he’s spending with his daughter Mariah that had the greatest impact of the press conference.
In times like these, leaders need to communicate facts, but more importantly, they should share their own experiences and feelings. By communicating, not with the “principal voice”, but with our dad, husband, father, brother, or friend “voice”, we can connect and maintain some sense of normalcy in a highly uncertain time.