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PIVOT: Three Lessons to be Learned from Friends

When someone says the word pivot, my mind immediately goes to the iconic scene in Season 5 Episode 16 of Friends where Ross, Rachel, and Chandler try to move an oversized couch up the stairs to Ross’s New York City apartment. Ross repeatedly directs them to “Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!” until Chandler finally yells at him to “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

The past year has called for educational leaders–especially those responsible for communications during a global pandemic–to pivot on multiple occasions. Although Ross failed in his attempt to get the couch up to his apartment, three valuable lessons may be gleaned from his efforts.

1.Make a Contingency Plan

As a school administrator during the spring of 2020 and the entire 2020-21 school year, I often felt like my job title should have been contingency planner instead of assistant principal. Every time a directive from local health officials, the statewide activities association, or the department of education changed, we were faced with making plans not only to meet each of those guidelines but also to best address the needs of our students and staff. We also knew those directives could change on a dime, requiring us to pivot and not only adjust the plan, but also to inform all of those around us of the what, why, and how of those plans.

For school leaders who remained in “crisis mode” for more than a year, this process became the norm, and we learned to make contingency plans A, B, and C for every event to be able to pivot and have communications ready to release depending on the decisions that needed to be made. (Humorously, I can imagine superintendents, principals, and school public relations professionals yelling, texting, or emailing “PIVOT” to their team members on multiple occasions this past year.) Contingency planning is now a part of your practice; use it to your advantage.

2. Ask for Help

Crisis teams are typically assembled following a traumatic event that disrupts the normal functions of a school; consequently, crisis teams consist of informed professionals utilizing their expertise and experience to make decisions. This past school year has been less of an emotional roller coaster and more of a high-speed emotional train offering the driver very little respite. In order to avoid a crisis, leaders should assemble these teams–sometimes involving only a few members–for all decision-making issues involving emotions, including high-stakes communications. 

One thing Ross did right in foregoing the delivery charge and opting to move the sofa himself was to ask for help in this endeavor. This is one lesson we need to continue to practice in the communication field. With the real time of social media, every word, graphic, and photo must be selected with care. By relying on team members to consider alternative interpretations and offer constructive feedback, schools can avoid miscommunications or a barrage of questions seeking clarification. This may come in the simple act of checking for spelling errors, verifying dates or times, or playing devil’s advocate.

3. Don’t Forget to Laugh

The iconic scene with the couch took on a new layer during the Friends reunion this May when David Schwimmer, who played the character Ross, revealed that during the filming of the scene, he messed up and began to laugh harder than he has ever laughed in his life. In this hilarious blooper reel, his laughter is contagious and causes a complete interruption of the filming.

Most of us have a communication blooper. Can you remember a time when you or your team made a mistake and didn’t realize it until it was too late? One of the funniest in my experience was when we needed to simply share an announcement that school activity passes were not going to be accepted at the upcoming tournament we were hosting. Unfortunately, the text read, “No Asses Allowed” rather than “No Passes Allowed.” Instead of fretting over the mistake, we all had a good laugh and reminded each other that no matter how short, how small, or how insignificant the message, it’s always important to ask for help (refer to #2). A proofreader in this case would have made all the difference. (On the positive side, a parent with a great sense of humor, called the school immediately, and we were able to remedy the situation with little negative fallout.?)

Although Ross failed in his attempt to get the couch up to his apartment and ended up cutting the couch in half before returning to the store seeking a refund, three valuable lessons may be gleaned from his efforts: make a contingency plan, always ask for help, and don’t forget to laugh.

Dr. Jill and Ben will be traveling to the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) Conference in New Orleans July 11-14, 2021.

  • Watch the latest Content Generation (CGTV) S3 Episode 2:  The Silver Lining: Communicating in a Crisis
  • If you’re attending the NSPRA Conference either in-person or virtually, be sure to stop by the Class Intercom booth to get a Pivot t-shirt!
  • Take a reflective look at Class Intercom’s collaborative Communicating Without Fear webinar from March 2020 that provides educators with tips and guidance on how you can navigate:
    1. Managing information and misinformation
    2. What you should be sharing on social media
    3. When you should be sharing on social media

Author: Jill Johnson, EdD

Over her 30 year career in education, Dr. Jill has served in various roles including secondary ELA teacher, professional development consultant, and high school administrator. After completing her doctoral study, Technology Leadership Qualities in Secondary Principals in Nebraska who Support Student-led Social Media Teams, Jill began her tenure as Class Intercom President.

Jill can be contacted at jill@classintercom.com

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