Communication in Education: How to Share Your Strategy Effectively
Communication in Education: The Key Element
The presence of effective communication is a key indicator that your school is a successful school, and the example is set from the top of the organizational flowchart. Good educational leaders possess excellent communication skills, constantly reaching out to learn from those around them.
Leaders also tell the story of their schools and must effectively communicate an overarching strategy for the achievement of common goals. The following represent some practical approaches toward that end.
Set Intentions and Expectations
One reason that Understanding by Design or Backward Design represents such a powerful pedagogical concept for teachers is that it focuses all efforts on the desired learning objective. Planning the lesson from that end state can improve instructional focus, as teachers mitigate the risk of getting lost in dubious learning activities during the traditional planning process. Setting intentions and expectations of an overall educational strategy can provide similar focus.
Expectations can be formal and organization-wide (think mission and vision) or informal and individualized, such as how employees interact and collaborate daily. Regardless, they must be clear. A good first step is to gather input early and often so that expectations are team-driven. Looking to flip instruction school wide through the adoption of a standardized learning management system (LMS)? Get input. Considering becoming a "Marzano's Nine" school? Get input.
Input will generate the beginnings of consensus. Then, as the strategy comes into focus, expectations can be established for teams and individuals. For example, in my former district, administrators and faculty joined together to adopt the Ohio Improvement Process. This led to the establishment of district and building leadership teams, and smaller teacher-based teams (TBTs). A clear, five-step process for TBT meetings was implemented with fidelity and shared accountability. These were expectations everyone could (and did) get behind, with powerful results.
Be Transparent and Flexible
Don't expect all stakeholders (students, parents, staff, etc.) to get on board right away. Resistance to change is common for a number of reasons, including change being viewed as a threat to someone's personal fiefdom or comfort with the existing environment. Be prepared, be patient, and don't take it personally.
To paraphrase Tony Robbins, stay committed to your strategy, but be flexible in how you approach and communicate it. If resistance comes from a staff member but they are raising a valid concern as opposed to preserving their own power, flexibility allows you to incorporate their ideas into the strategy. Quality feedback should never be ignored, as it can only serve to help you hone your approach and garner more support as you work toward the ultimate goal.
Ultimately, much of your success will boil down to how open and transparent you are willing to be. When you allow all stakeholders to see and access the plan and provide you with constructive feedback, you lay the groundwork for greater success in the long run.
Transparency breeds trust, trust breeds teamwork and buy-in, and buy-in serves the mission.
Communicate Face-to-Face and Digitally
Good leaders cannot and must not rely solely on e-mail or other forms of written communication to get the job done. Face-to-face communication is an essential leadership skill (and perhaps the most effective mode of communication) precisely because it is so personal. It is thus an incredibly impactful way to grow support for your educational strategy.
Paradoxically, despite having this personal forum to deliver the message, the most important aspect of face-to-face communication is usually the ability to listen deeply to what the other person says, both verbally and nonverbally. Listening and thanking the other person for their contributions opens you to feedback and establishes more support for the strategy over the long haul.
Digital communication is essential and critical to consider when selecting an LMS for your school or district. School leaders may set up digital classrooms for their staff that mirror those used by the students. This presents the perfect opportunity to create an online repository for your strategy and to use digital communication tools to communicate daily, weekly, and monthly with school and community stakeholders.
Listen and Digest Messages
It cannot be stressed enough that communication in education is a two-way process and listening skills are crucial. Master and deploy listening strategies, such as seeking to understand and re-stating another's position instead of simply waiting for your chance to speak. Place your focus on what you can learn from the conversation and how you might serve a need instead of how the other person is to be instructed or what they can do for you. Now you are truly listening and becoming a servant leader.
It is so easy to focus on clearing emails or making snap decisions on the phone in the name of efficiency. After all, school leaders are bombarded by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of decision opportunities every day. Sacrifice quality communication at the altar of efficiency every time and you set yourself up for future failure. Take time to digest what you are hearing.
Sometimes a deep breath and a deleted draft lays the groundwork for a more thoughtful email response. Asking for time to ponder a question gives you just enough space to make the right call, especially when trying to develop something as complicated as a guiding educational strategy.
Whatever the strategy and however you go about pursuing it, remember that your greatest accomplishment is in looking back and saying "we built it together" and establishing a system that will long outlast your tenure. Practicing effective communication in education will help your stakeholders feel validated, engaged, and help everyone overcome resistance to move to the higher ground of a successfully implemented strategy.
What are your thoughts on education communications? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @Schoology.