"You communicate too much!"
Rarely are those exact words are spoken. However, many of us go about our professional lives worried about burdening others with too much communication.
Effective communication is one of the most important steps a school district can take to promote a community of trust. Strong communication keeps staff, students, parents, and community members in the loop of the school's business and is a major factor in garnering support.
School leaders who prioritize communication can dramatically impact the culture of a school. Leaders who openly share information develop a sense of empowerment within their staff. When information funnels up and down an organization in a free-flowing manner, all employees feel like a part of the team.
Alternately, inadequate communication is the most common reason school leaders lose their jobs. Think about the ineffective administrators you know. Would you consider them to be strong communicators?
Far more principals are done in by poor communication than low test scores.
While there are huge benefits for districts who embrace a culture of communication, cynical employees often question this new school approach. Exposing organizational flaws, hurting peoples' feelings, and sharing “confidential information” are common concerns of transparency pessimists.
Google Docs is a prime example of this dichotomy. Google Docs have changed the game, allowing schools to operate at a whole new level of efficiency, productivity, and collaboration. Unfortunately, some employees love to pounce when they notice mistakes are made.
For example, at times sensitive information is accidentally shared with the wrong audience. In these instances, the "Google Docs Police" make their presence known by immediately sending an email, text, or call saying, "Oh my gosh! Look at what you just did!"
My response to them? “Thanks for bringing this to my attention. We will address this immediately. However, please remember in a culture of communication and transparency there will be occasional missteps. A few isolated challenges will not stop us from doing what is best for our organization."
The topic of communication cannot be discussed without mentioning the innovation that has turned information sharing on its head:
The rise of social media has resulted in a hyper-transparent world. Virtually anything we want to know can be found online. And when something bad happens in our schools, you can bet students, parents, and (yes) staff members will flock to their favorite platform to share the news.
While everyone in the community knows what happened, many school districts operate as if the information is top secret. Leaders do everything they can to not share details of the incident. While occasionally legal experts may advise otherwise, best practice would suggest schools embrace proactive communication.
When something goes wrong in your school district, someone is going to tell your story.
Savvy schools share delicate information quickly and accurately while obtuse schools open themselves up to rumors and hearsay.
Finally, here are three more tips for strong communication.
First, when debating whether or not to share news, use the following rule of thumb: When in doubt, communicate. If the thought of communicating crosses your mind, don't waste any more time. Just do it.
Second, embrace the following: When someone doesn't get your message, it's not on them, it's on you. Often, we make excuses and blame others when they don't get our intended message. We must change this mindset. Instead of accusing our audience, we must take ownership and find better methods for communicating.
Third, schools are notorious for sharing information with select staff members. Often, support staff are left out of the chain of communication. This results in a large percentage of employees who are disengaged and misinformed. School leaders cannot forget about para educators, custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, and food service staff when it comes to sharing information.
In Culturize Jimmy Casas suggests, "I don’t think we can ever go wrong with over-communicating if we are doing it effectively. We must recognize that the timeliness and quality of our communication can affect our connection to each individual member of our community as well as the culture of the entire organization."
If by chance you are criticized for over-communicating, take it as a compliment.
The alternative is far worse.