Chances to look and learn about the work we do sometimes come from unexpected places and in unwelcome circumstances.
Earlier this week, my kids returned to devastating news at their school – a popular and long-serving teacher had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly during the Christmas holidays.
Nothing we do as communicators has to be handled with more care than the death of an employee. Those of you who’ve had the responsibility for communicating such dreadful news will know how heavily it weighs. And the school’s headteacher – whose list of people within its community to inform included staff, parents and children as young as four years old – hasn’t put a foot wrong.
Classes were told one by one during the course of the day, with special attention paid to those taught by the teacher who had passed away. Parents who had signed up to the school’s SMS alert system received a text message saying there was an important letter coming home with their children. At the final bell, the headteacher and staff were in the playground as their pupils emerged, many upset, to answer questions and help comfort people.
The headteacher’s letter to parents was word-perfect – the right balance of facts and compassion, including information about how the children will be supported professionally and psychologically at school and advice for parents on how to handle the circumstances at home. Subsequent letters have explained staffing arrangements, how the school is supporting the teacher’s family and how it will involve pupils in its plans to remember him. Getting technical for a moment, they have used the right communication channels in the right way at the right time.
I have a great deal of respect for good teachers at the best of times, but none more so than this week. Speaking as a parent and a professional, the way they are managing an extremely difficult situation is a lesson to behold.