Best Practices to Improve Communication at Your School
As a school leader, you most likely count “communicator” as one of the most important aspects of your role. You, and your communication style, set the tone for interactions with faculty, staff, students, parents, and the rest of your school community. We all saw just how important effective communication was during the pandemic.
How you communicate also plays a big role in defining your school’s culture—the more cohesively and clearly you communicate, the more opportunities you have to cultivate trust and build meaningful relationships. Good communication is more than the plans you make to ensure the right message reaches the right audience at the right time—it’s also about going beyond “messaging” to “connecting.” It’s the difference between talking at your school community and listening to them.
Good communication is more than the plans you make to ensure the right message reaches the right audience at the right time—it’s also about going beyond “messaging” to “connecting.”
Below, we’ve outlined a few steps to help with that shift in perspective—because how you say what you say matters.
Start with your staff
When you’re looking to get the word out about a schoolwide change, or a tough situation, there’s no shortcut. The school communication process takes time—especially when it comes to planning. It’s that planning, though, that will save you time in the end, as it ensures everyone’s on the same page, and striving toward the same goal.
As you’re working through your communication plans—who gets notified of what, and when—consider your most important audience first: your teachers and staff. Your team serves as the point of contact for thousands of interactions between students and parents on a daily basis. When you start with your staff, it’s an opportunity to create a more streamlined (and united!) front.
As you’re working through your communication plans—who gets notified of what, and when—consider your most important audience first: your teachers and staff.
Taking an “inside-out” approach to communications has advantages. Because staff members are hearing about a situation from you first—not at the same time as parents—it helps to solidify trust and maintain healthy relationships, particularly if emotions are running high. It also creates a way for your staff to help you. They want to help get the word out in an organized and unified way too. Hearing it from you first helps them understand how to approach the situation with their students and parents. And that helps all of you get out ahead of it, if needed.
Combat comms overload with consistency and personalization
If schools send uncoordinated messages from a variety of different communications channels—and those messages are too frequent—they quickly become noise. Parents and guardians, as well as your teachers, students and school staff, will likely experience message fatigue and stop listening altogether.
The way to reduce this fatigue is to prioritize consistency in how and when you communicate with each key stakeholder group within your school community.
As this communications expert reminds us, “It’s important to remember that school is usually one commitment out of many for busy families. As a result, communications can easily get buried among everyday responsibilities.”
The way to reduce this fatigue is to prioritize consistency in how and when you communicate with each key stakeholder group within your school community. That way, parents and the school community can expect—and eventually, depend on—certain information to arrive at the same time and manner.
Personalization is also critical. For example, one principal realized it was tough for a single newsletter to cover all the information needed for students and families. He and his team created a standard newsletter format that was easily differentiated. They have grade-level newsletters that are created by teachers, one for the parent-faculty association, one for the junior high, and a high school newsletter written by the school’s journalism class.
Use stories and anecdotes to connect and engage
Messaging that comes off as too crafted is often met with skepticism. One way to combat this is to center storytelling in your communication efforts.
As you consider what you’re trying to communicate—and how you want your school community to feel—ask yourself if there are stories or anecdotes you can share about your own experiences (or the experiences of others) that might make people feel more comfortable or at ease with the situation at hand.
One principal did exactly that. He knew his teachers were nervous about returning in-person, so after a few housekeeping details at their first staff meeting, he shared a picture of himself and his two sisters waiting for the bus on his very first day of school and told his own story about facing his feelings about the unknown. His story helped teachers smile, reflect, and begin to think about the year ahead.
Stories don’t have to be reserved for challenging situations. Intentionally weaving positive stories about your school and students as part of your communication strategies—reporting on an interesting elementary school field trip, highlighting a junior high student’s community service, or interviewing a graduating senior on their post-high school plans—can strengthen your school community and help keep all the good happening in your school firmly in the forefront.
Put together a team of school “communication leaders”
This goes without saying, but a school leader is just one person. You have many other responsibilities, and effective communication is a time-consuming endeavor to tackle on your own.
Here’s where it makes sense to put together a communications team—a group of teachers, staff, and parents who are briefed on the day-to-day activities of the school, upcoming events, and the actions that need to be taken. This can not only take some of the responsibility off your shoulders but can also help others feel more invested in championing student success.
A team mentality is especially helpful in times of crisis communication. It’s typically assumed that a school leader will be the spokesperson during a crisis, but in reality, you’re most likely dealing with the situation at hand. Having a pre-planned group of people that can help you carry out your messages will ensure your message gets out clearer—and quicker—to those who most need to hear it.
Having a pre-planned group of people that can help you carry out your messages will ensure your message gets out clearer—and quicker—to those who most need to hear it.
Solid communication = a strong school
As American journalist and author Sydney J. Harris once said, “The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
When school leaders are able to communicate consistently and clearly about what is happening in their community, they create a strong school environment—one that centers inclusion and student learning.