The importance of good communication is just as important in your professional relationships as it is in your personal. Some supervisors will tell their staff directly how they prefer to be communicated with. It is often useful to follow their preference as that can increase your chances for a positive response, but of course that is not always possible.
A common concern of educators is how to address their concerns without harming their relationship with their supervisor. Again, it’s an important part of any supervisor’s job to listen and address the concerns of his subordinates. Typically, if an educator communicates with his supervisor in a professional tone and has reasonable expectations, the expression of the concern itself will not damage his relationship with the supervisor. Of course, what is reasonable is not always what is real. Educators can be confronted by an unreasonable supervisor, just as any worker can. Unfortunately, there are no “magic solutions” to this situation for educators, just as there are none for workers in any profession.
The following are a few approaches in order of increasing formality for communicating concerns to your supervisor. Which approach is right for you will depend entirely on you, your supervisor and your specific situation.
When you have a concern to express, it is often a good first step to ask for an informal meeting with your supervisor. In an informal meeting, you can simply tell your supervisor about your concern. It is generally most effective to keep a professional tone and limit any accusatory comments, simply to limit the chance of running into defensiveness. If you have proposed solutions for your issue, let your supervisor know what they are.
If a meeting is not possible or preferable, another option for communicating a concern is an informal email. This has the added benefit of documenting the communication, which can be a significant benefit is some cases. An email can be short and simply state your concern. An informal email can also be helpful as a follow up to an informal meeting where you can document what has been discussed and what next steps if any were agreed upon.
If this informal approach yields unsatisfactory results you may consider drafting a memorandum of concern. A memorandum of concern is basically a detailed memorandum describing what your concerns are and why it is important for the concern to be addressed. The memorandum can include steps you’ve taken to address the concern, what additional support you need to address the concern and/or ask for additional guidance from your supervisor to address your concern.
If informal attempts to resolve a problem have been unsuccessful, another option for addressing your concerns is to file a formal grievance. A grievance is a formal complaint that allows you to bring your concerns up through the district administration and request remedies for your concern. A grievance can be filed about any condition of work even if your supervisor is acting within the law, but that’s not to say that a grievance is always the best alternative for addressing a concern even if your informal efforts haven’t produced the result you would like. While you are protected from being retaliated against for filing a grievance, it is not uncommon for a grievance filing to have a chilling effect on an educator’s relationship with her administration. There is no guarantee the district will grant your grievance, but it is the avenue for your concern to be heard. Educators should be aware that most districts have short timelines to initiate a grievance, so this can be an issue with ongoing concerns.
Finally, educators should remain aware that it is almost always best not to react out of emotion whether it is in anger, frustration or disappointment. Communication can be most effective after a cooling-off period, which gives an educator the chance to think about how she might best approach a supervisor with a concern. It is also generally a good idea to follow “the chain of command” of your campus/district whenever possible. For instance, your principal will likely become defensive if you meet with an upper administrator regarding a concern without first giving her the opportunity to resolve the issue.