Communication – schools are busy, complex places, keeping staff informed ahead of time and aware of what is happening in a school is challenging. The #2 issue raised by staff is communication – the larger the school, the more challenging effective communication is.
“Ok, principals, raise your hand if you are an above-average leader with superior communication skills. Yes, I thought so! If we look around our metaphorical room, we’ll see that just about every hand is raised. Almost all of us see ourselves as strong leaders who communicate well (my hand is up, too). Of course, we’re probably wrong.”
Educational Leadership Journal March 2018, Vol 75, Thomas R Hoerr
Where staff satisfaction surveys are low, communication is almost inevitably raised as a significant issue. Staff are frustrated that they are not aware of what is happening in the school, decisions appear to be made at the last minute and the opinions of staff are not valued.
Effective two-way communication is an integral part of leadership. We all know that, but often we are too busy to reflect upon (and check) on the effectiveness of our communication. Where there is perceived to be a void in communication, negativity quickly fills the void. It is essential that schools leaders genuinely reflect on both their organisational and communication skills.
Leadership writer Derek Murphy is quoted in Educational Leadership Journal states that “96 percent of leaders today believe they have above-average people skills, according to a study by the Stanford University School of Business”. Perhaps we are delusional or looking through rose-coloured-glasses.
Chances are good that your communication skills aren’t quite as strong as you think and that you’re not aware of this. Begin by recognizing the five elements of good communication highlighted in the article:
- It’s two-way. Effective communicators ask more than they tell and listen well. They are curious; they want to know what others think and why they think that way.
- It’s frequent.Effective communicators don’t wait for a problem. They explain (perhaps even over-explain) what they are doing and their rationale for those actions.
- It’s inclusive. It’s important to engage and hear everyone, not just those with whom we are likely to agree.
- It’s face-to-face. Understandably, leaders rely on electronic and paper communications for day-to-day business. So they must create times to talk in person.
- It’s responsive. Effective communicators let others know what they heard, repeating back the message they received and clarifying it when necessary.
Now is a great time to check in with staff on how effective communication is within your school. Meetings, staff notices, briefings, one-on-one discussions, use of email etc. Do they know what is going on in the school and do they feel they are consulted on matters that are important to them?
If you are feeling brave, you might ask all teachers to rate you on how well they think you listen, communicate, engage them, share your thinking and make yourself available for in-person meetings.
The responses may disappoint you but we need to be committed to continuous improvement and this starts with the current situation.
Now, raise your hand if you are going to work to improve your communications.