Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad tidings. But for a school administrator, it’s part of the job.
One of the most difficult skills to learn is how to give people information they don’t want to hear. Few people are “naturals” at it, and I’m not sure you’d want to be anyway. But being able to deliver critical information in a straightforward, nonjudgmental way so that there is no mistaking the content is an essential administrative skill.
At the beginning of my administrative career I was so bad at delivering criticism that people left my office unsure of what I was trying to say. Some may even have thought I was telling them they were doing a pretty good job because I went out of my way to not hurt anyone’s feelings by offering my own excuses for their errors of judgment or incompetencies. “I know it’s tough teaching five classes back to back,” I would say sympathetically, or “Getting home late from coaching a game makes it hard to be totally prepared for your first class.”
After a while, I realized that my “criticism” did not make any difference in employee behavior, so for the good of the students I decided I needed to change my own behavior.
I learned that the best way to deliver the message is simply to say it flatly and factually:
“I’ve dropped in on your class four times in the last two weeks and every time you were sitting at your desk while the students were talking with their friends.”
“The volleyball nets should be set up before the class comes in. Students shouldn’t be sitting in the bleachers for the first 20 minutes of class time watching you set up the nets.”
“You have developed a pattern of absences on Mondays and Fridays. In fact, you haven’t had two full weeks of school back to back since September. Is there something I need to know?”
“Parents expect to hear from a teacher when their child is failing the course. You did not alert them early enough for them to intervene.”
“It’s clear after two years that your teaching doesn’t meet the standards of the district as evidenced by your formal evaluations. We will not be offering you a contract for next year.”
It’s not fun, but being direct is the only way to change behavior. And it turns out that rarely is the person surprised by what you say, only that you’re finally saying it.