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Book Review of "Messaging Matters" by William D. Parker

Wednesday, February 7, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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Messaging Matters: How School Leaders Can Inspire Teachers, Motivate Students, and Reach Communities

Reviewed by Payton Hobbs, Head of Lower School at Ravenscroft School, Raleigh, NC

The first part of this book’s title Messaging Matters can be a bit misleading. People often hear the word “messaging” and think of traditional concepts related to marketing, instead of a communication and relational skill that is essential for all leaders. For that reason, leaders should focus on the second part of the book’s title How School Leaders Can Inspire Teachers, Motivate Students, and Reach Communities because it speaks to inspiring, motivating, and connecting with community members. Leaders interested in this book are encouraged to think more deeply about how they can utilize messaging strategies to cultivate a positive school culture.

The essential question that author William Parker challenges readers to ask and answer is this: What kind of lasting impression do you want to impart to your students, teachers, parents, and community, from and about your school?

This book is a “comprehensive approach to building healthy schools that requires digging deeply into the motivations of your leadership, the value of listening to others, and the power of seeing your school through the eyes of others” (p. 5).

It is a book for leaders just beginning their journey and serves as a practical how-to guide for connecting and communicating with all constituents in your school community. It is not one of the “must-read” leadership books, when you consider the plethora of options available. However, it is a quick read, and the author does a decent job of sharing effective strategies along with narrative success stories that can easily be implemented to support a positive culture.

The book is divided into three main sections that help leaders develop their messaging strategies when working with 1) teachers, 2) students, and 3) parents and the broader community. In each section, there are reflection questions and suggestions for specific action steps that actively engage the reader in a workbook-style approach.

Successful leaders today need to embrace the idea that their roles require them to be the “chief communicator” in their communities. They need to understand that messaging is more than the traditional definition of a formal system for sending and processing communication, and this book helps to shift that mindset. Parker nails it when he describes messaging as “the mindset that defines the way you communicate” and “the platform you use for promoting what others perceive and believe about you and your school” (p. 2).

Every school community has a unique identity, and it is important to know who you are and who you are not. It is the leader’s responsibility to share this story with others in order to attract and retain people who believe in and support your story. This is an essential component of the messaging that Parker discusses in this book. The phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a familiar one in independent schools. This book promotes the idea of cultivating a positive culture through messaging and sharing the success stories and celebrations of the community.

Parker started sharing his thoughts and ideas through the use of a blog and podcast, which serve as the foundation for this book. Sharing his school’s story every week built momentum for positive initiatives in his school community, improving communication and relationships, and inspired his desire to share his ideas at a larger scale.

Some of the key concepts and messaging strategies shared in the book include:

  • Leaders must consider multiple perspectives and seek feedback from a wide audience in order to understand the school culture and effectively communicate with all constituents. Parker uses a great analogy about someone only being able to see the side of the moon they are facing. Others are seeing a different side of the moon, depending on their viewpoint. A leader must accept their limited perspective and listen openly to learn from others as much as possible to capture a complete picture of the experience.
  • Teachers are on the front line of your messaging strategy as a leader. You must invest in these relationships and make time to connect and celebrate with the educators who are leading with students and parents on a daily basis.
  • It is important that leaders incorporate technology through the use of videos, collaborative writing tools, social media, pictures, interactive apps, and media outlets. As he says, “You are not being heard if you are a leader not using technology” (p. 90).
  • To best meet the needs of your students, you need to know them as learners and people. Students need to know you value them and care about them. Speak to the positive behaviors you expect from students rather than over communicating about the negative ones you want to correct. Position them to thrive — then they will share their positive experience.
  • Make sure your teachers, students, and parents have a meaningful, connected, and positive experience so that, when they share your school’s story it is one that helps and does not hinder your success. “Your school is more than a place of learning; it is an experience” (p. 93), Parker writes.

There is an endless supply of stories that can be shared about your community.

I agree with Parker: Messaging matters.

As a leader, if you want to turn your community members into “raving fans” of your school’s success, you need to control the narrative. What you focus on will become your reality. Spend time with teachers and students in their learning environment, and you will be rewarded with good news to share with others about your school community. 





Payton Hobbs is head of the lower school at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, NC. 

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