In his fourth column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching, Coach Rick Dorn offers advice for maintaining good working relationships with building and district administrators.
The Care and Maintenance of Happy Administrators
Every coach of any activity or sport will tell you that keeping a happy principal and activities/athletic director is necessary for your own well-being and success as a coach. In the speech world, you have a unique situation that can cause additional stress if not dealt with carefully. These are some simple tips to assist you in keeping your bosses happy with you and your program!
First, understand you have a few drawbacks that are not shared by other programs. For one thing, speech programs are frequently more expensive than other programs. Speech meets cost money in the form of entry fees that sports events don’t have. Most speech meets are also two day meets, so hotel and food expenses are sometimes incurred. To compare, most basketball teams will attend at most 2 or 3 two day tournaments in the course of a season. When I coached in Texas, my team would travel back and forth without spending the night, but we were fortunate to be outside of a major city with lots of schools hosting. Some states don’t have the benefit of having many schools close by, so hotel stays become unavoidable. AD’s struggle with the amount of hotel bills that speech teams can run up.
Another problem faced by speech programs is that our administrators often misunderstand the activity. Eyes glaze over when you explain how there are 10+ events that are vastly different and that repeated competition is required for students to grow. A simulated practice at home is helpful, but nothing beats actual competition rounds to help students improve. AD’s usually come from a sports background, so they often wonder why we can’t determine easily who is the fastest, strongest, or best competitor before attending a meet. We don’t have a clean way to measure potential success. We can make guesses and assumptions, but we don’t know for sure how a students will do until that student competes.
So, with these difficulties understood, there are ways to keep our bosses happy with us and our program. We can absolutely bring in students that are being missed by other programs. Research shows that students involved in activities (any activity!) obtain better grades, enjoy greater college acceptance, and graduate in higher numbers. By reaching that unreached population, we are helping principals have good news for their school boards. Not only that, but speech teams enjoy a significantly higher percentage rate of receiving college scholarships than any other school team. That makes all administrators happy. School boards love to recognize student success so make sure state accolades and national qualifiers get presented at the monthly meetings. If they have a good news portion, ask to have time one month, and have students present pieces or talk about post-graduation success of your alumni. Pick pieces carefully though. Many school boards might not understand a high school student performing an intense Dramatic Interpretation.
Another way to maintain good relations with your administrators is to stay on top of your required paperwork. The school secretary (or whoever does the travel paperwork in your school) can be your best friend or your worst nemesis. Do your best to fill out paperwork in a timely manner and cultivate a good working relationship with that person. Let’s continue to the other person who can make or break your season – the transportation director. Very few things will irritate your administrators more than the coach that doesn’t reserve the bus for competition in a timely manner. If you set your season in September, fill out the bus requests in September. I do the entire season at the beginning of the year. The Monday before the trip, contact the transportation director to confirm departure time. I usually adjust every single week because we are guessing on departure times at the beginning of the year. If a meet is changed, let them know as soon as you know something has changed. Treat your bus drivers with respect, and make sure the students clean the bus before they leave when the trip is over. Positive interactions will help you if anything weird happens on a trip or if you need extra patience from the bus driver.
Put in for a substitute at the same time as you do your bus requests. School districts are struggling to find subs, so the sooner you have your job listed, the better off you are. You’d hate to have to cancel a meet because you didn’t have a sub. Leave them clear and detailed plans. I’ve had assignments not work, and that phone call from an angry principal was not pleasant. Personally, I also try not to have subs who I know run and complain if they have issues with the work I’ve assigned. Things happen, and I’d greatly prefer for the sub to text me if the classwork isn’t working instead of running to admin. I also set up for my department neighbor teacher to help as my insurance plan if the sub has any problems.
Every year has a learning curve. Once you’ve made it through your first season, you will understand better what needs to be done to keep your administration happy. I’m sure I am missing obvious tips, but these are the ones that seemed most important for beginning coaches. As always, email if you need help!
Till next time,
Worland High School
Biography: Rick Dorn is a two diamond coach who has been teaching some kind of speech or theatre since 1992. He has been named Wyoming 3A Coach of the Year twice and has coached numerous students to national competition.