February 4, 2011 / Staff Management / Winter 2011

Keeping administrators in your court

Written by Donald Ford

Schools exist in which the administration and the yearbook and newspaper staffs have good working relationships. However, in many schools, an uneasiness exists between them.

And there is probably a Cold War going on at a few schools.

The biggest impediment to good relationships is a lack of time. Whether the problem appears to be a lack of communication, lack of trust or unclear expectations, those issues develop because people have not taken the time to prevent those issues from arising.

In most schools, including yours, it is possible to improve the media staff/administration relationship, and, once established, it has to be nurtured. It takes work, and it takes time.

Realizing the facts of your own situation, here are suggestions for building and keeping a solid working relationship.

Step 1 – Communicate

  • Schedule a meeting between the adviser, the editors and the administrators. Discuss what you are anticipating during the school year. It would be best to schedule this during the summer, however, schedule it as soon as you can.
  • Then, schedule monthly meetings to keep administrators updated.
  • The adviser should invite the principal to class or to the club.
  • Keep the principal informed about exciting things going on by stopping him in the hall, sending a note or email or leaving a voicemail.

At the first meeting every year, make sure students, the adviser and administrators understand each other’s roles. Consider putting them in writing, starting with the basics below.

  • The adviser has legal and practical roles in the instruction and supervision of the journalism students, and oversight of the production of the yearbook and newspaper. They are responsible to students and accountable to the student staff members, readers and the administration.
  • The principal has legal and practical roles in the administration of all school programs and facilities. It is their job to see the big picture. They are accountable to students, teachers, parents, the school board, parents and the community.
  • Students need to have a personal commitment to their work product. They are responsible for completing assignments, writing articles and taking photos, contributing to the success of the publication, and their behavior and relationships.

To successfully communicate, there needs to be a commitment to respect the roles of each. Then, the foundation of trust can be established.

Step 2 – Establish trust

Administrators must trust teachers / advisers by:

  • Communicating clearly and frequently with them.
  • Valuing their expertise and professionalism.
  • Reading the publications.

Teachers / advisers must trust administrators by:

  • Recognizing time constraints; the journalism program is one of many school programs the administrator is responsible for.
  • Valuing their judgment and counting on their support.
  • Embracing, not fearing, communication with them.

Trust is earned and built – it cannot be mandated. Build support with administrators by discussing potential stories, particularly those which may be sensitive. This is not an area where you should adhere to the adage of, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.”

Understand that mistakes are sometimes made. These are teenage students, not media professionals. Make all rules and expectations clear, keep criticism constructive, and when a student slips up, depending on the offense, consider a second chance.

Step 3 – Set clear expectations amid practical considerations

Trust issues may have developed not only because of philosophical differences over articles, but because administrators did not fully understand the realities of producing and printing a yearbook or newspaper. Publications are businesses, and all parties need to discuss the management, including production costs, funding sources and community resources.

It takes work to reach the point where the administration is on your side, even when they disagree with you. Remember, a healthy relationship is not one-sided – it is about what is best for all parties. In schools where the relationship needs improving, the adviser and staff should sit down with the principal, ask that everyone get past the past and begin honest and open communication. It will help the staffs in place this year and those in the future. Today is the best day to start.

Donald Ford