The school fails to implement effective procedures for managing communications with key stakeholders, such as staff, students, families, the board and the local community (communication strategies may include the use of satisfaction surveys, newsletters, parent meetings and so forth).
Schools are very aware that communication within the school and to all school community members is a shared process – a two-way street. They know that any communication has to be effective and it should be used to build trust and relationships between people. It should use a defined and clearly understood language (not just educational jargon) and it should always be respectful and tailored specifically for the audience. In addition, and from a much bigger picture perspective, the effective communication of policy and procedures is one of the most crucial means of changing staff behaviours and therefore influencing and driving cultural change within a school. It could be argued that without effective communication strategies, cultural change simply cannot take place.
With this big picture perspective in mind, principals generally ensure that their school has clear and proactive school policies and procedures, routines and other operational matters so that more time is made available for the principal to communicate with all of the members of their school community and hence can better influence culture and cultural change. A good quote on this point is: ‘Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader's success. He can accomplish nothing unless he can communicate effectively’ - Norman Allen.
It can also be argued that schools can create an effective partnership by being open and communicative with its wider community. This is how positive relationships are developed and maintained. It is also how the school culture is inculcated into everything that the school does. However, it is essential to routinely assess the effectiveness of the communication within the school. Therefore, schools should regularly review their communication strategies and conduct audits regarding the effectiveness and value of their current communications.
Many schools have made considerable changes in the way that they communicate with parents, sometimes without actually realising that the changes have been made. As an example of a change in a communication strategy, in the past, most schools communicated with parents by relying upon students to take printed messages or notices home. This was often frustrating to both schools and parents as newsletters or notices rarely arrived home in one piece or they languished in the archaeological layers of the child’s bag until a clean out or an errant fermenting fruit warranted an examination of the contents of the bag by a parent. If anything, this type of regularly used communication provided a natural barrier to developing any sort of relationship between the school and the home.
Now schools are using technology in an increasingly key role to bridge the gap. Parents are able to both receive information from and pass information on to a school in a range of ways convenient to their circumstances. Contact can be established with parents, irrespective of location – so parents living apart, or parents of overseas students, can maintain valid and open communication with their child’s school.
So what could principals do as a form of pre-audit exercise? The following questions (adapted from Educational Leaders NZ) are a suggested starting point.
- As an exercise, try this; at the end of the day, list everyone you communicated with during that day, no matter for how short a time. Your results may be surprising.
- Are your reasons for communicating helping you lead the school in managing change?
- Do you select communication strategies that are appropriate for staff, parents, your board, the wider community and for students of different ages and stages of development?
- Is the way you communicate actively assisting you in problem solving?
- Is the way you communicate helping you to strengthen working relationships?
- Are there two or three aspects of communication you should emphasise during the next year?
- Is communication difficult for you? What can you do to resolve this?
In-school communication audit - a suggestion.
Schools may wish to develop and complete a table similar to this to review and audit their current communication strategies. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive and schools should identify all of their communication pathways and the manner in which they communicate. Other groups to consider include; the board chair, the school board, government regulators, external associations or organisations (for example school associations or an affiliated church) and the local community.The principal may wish to complete this table as a form of self audit:
|To whom do you communicate?||Why do you communicate with this group/person?||What are your methods of communication?||Are they effective? Use a rating system.|
For example, with staff communications, schools could identify all of their communication pathways and the manner in which they communicate. The following questions are suggestions that may assist in helping to determining how and why staff communication occurs. Note that these strategies only involve standard communication protocols and there has been no discussion of non-verbal communication, body language or actions/behaviours.
- Are your communication strategies suitable for the size of and the cultural bias of your school population?
- Are you reviewing how effective your communication strategies are?
- Do you conduct formal and informal staff meetings and do these meetings have agendas, minutes, outcomes and actions?
- Are these meetings considered to be an effective means of communicating with your staff or are they “meetings for the sake of meetings”?
- Have you employed new technologies to improve your overall staff communication outcomes? In what way have they been successful?
- How can you be assured that the messages that you wish to communicate to your staff and the messages and/or responses that they wish to communicate to you are not only being received and acted upon, but are ensuring that your relationship with your staff remains one of trust, respect, positivity and culturally appropriate for your school?
Communication risk mitigation strategies are an essential part of the day to day life in any school. The manner in which a school communicates within and outside of its own community presents the culture and the persona of the school to the world. So, what could be a possible outcome if your school fails to implement effective procedures for managing communications with key stakeholders, such as staff, students, families, the board and the local community? This may be a risk that simply cannot be ignored.