“Communication breakdown. It’s always the same.”
There’s not a lot of lessons schools can take from the music of Led Zeppelin, but this is one.
Have you ever surveyed your school community only to experience low response rates? Have you ever sent a letter home to parents with the hope of setting the record straight, only to watch a controversy spin further out of control?
There’s one reason your community isn’t hearing your message: You’re not communicating effectively.
In a recent LinkedIn post, “Leaders, is your team listening? If not, it’s your fault!” veteran principal and education consultant Dr. Keith Stephenson outlines three steps for school leaders to achieve more effective school communication. His strategies are written with staff engagement in mind, but they’re equally applicable to community conversations.
1. Communicate constantly
How often do you reach out to your school community? Is it only in times of crisis? Or, when you need something from them?
School-community communication needs to be a two-way conversation. And it starts with schools.
Don’t be afraid to “overshare” what’s going on in your school buildings, suggests Stephenson. That might mean tweeting out a picture of a meeting you just had or highlighting student achievements. Show your community the good that’s happening in your schools and let them know you want their help to make additional improvements.
Whenever possible, demonstrate that you’re listening by asking for feedback, both formal and informal. When that feedback contributes to change, make sure you credit your school community for the role they played in that process.
2. Meet community members where they are
When you invite parents and students to provide feedback, you want a high response rate. When you don’t get it, you wonder why. It’s not because parents and students and staff don’t care.
More often than not, it’s because they don’t know that you’re asking.
Did you send a follow-up? Did you make the request on social media? Did you announce your request in public, at board and community meetings?
You have any number of communication tools at your disposal. Find out where your community is, what tools they are using—and join those conversations.
3. Celebrate your successes and recognize your challenges
In his post, Stephenson advises school leaders to praise staff publicly, but criticize them privately. While it’s important to not air dirty laundry or internal arguments in public, it is important for you to acknowledge when your district has made mistakes.
Establishing trust requires frankness and transparency. That doesn’t mean you have to tell your community every detail, but it does mean acknowledging the challenges you face.
How do you ensure you’re providing an environment for your community to listen and engage with your school community? Tell us in the comments.
Want more ideas about how to have stronger conversations with your school community? Read How to rediscover the ‘lost art’ of communication in schools.