The truth is, I know better. I have been around long enough to see the damage that can come from poor communication, not communicating in a timely fashion or worse yet, failing to communicate altogether. In fact, I often find myself in my role as principal addressing issues that revolve around communication. I truly believe that most of the negativity, harsh feelings and unnecessary work that is endured in schools and organizations alike and that impact culture all can be related back to poor communication, thereby causing me to examine closely and pose the following question, “Is it the root of all evil?”
Yet here I stood in a room full of people trying to navigate the emotional sentiments of some of our parents that I could attribute back to a lack on my part to communicate effectively. That’s on me. It wasn’t that I underestimated the fallout that I knew that would occur from my decision and maybe that is what eventually led to my failure to communicate information out in a timely manner, somehow subconsciously leading myself to believe that it would not matter. Yes, it was a hectic week and I was trying to navigate what seemed like a bizzilion things that were coming my way, but quite frankly, people don’t want to hear excuses, especially from a leader who prides himself on owning his mistakes. So I did the only thing I could do in that moment. I apologized.
That evening as I reflected back on my failure to properly communicate with some of my stakeholders, I began to think about the recent issues I’ve been dealing with at work revolving around poor communication. In doing so, I decided to write some examples down in order to not only to learn from my own mistake, but also to help others so they will not have to endure a moment in time like I did that evening for my error in judgment. My hope is by doing so it will serve as a reminder to others the critical importance of doing our due diligence work up front so that we do not cause irreparable damage on the back end. After all, no one is immune from failing to effectively communicate at some point in time, but it should not keep us from striving to model communication that does not detract from our goal of cultivating a culture of excellence.
- Timely communication is vital. If “last minute” becomes the norm, people will begin to question your effectiveness as a leader. Great leaders recognize this and lean on a team of people to help keep them organized and hold them accountable.
- If there is a concern or issue that needs to be addressed, it is best that you have the conversation in person rather than via email. If you are the one who receives a contentious on-line communication, respond by asking if you can meet face to face to discuss the concern.
- If you are concerned regarding the way something was communicated or don’t agree with a decision that was made, I strongly encourage you to go to the source of the information/communication in order to clarify or question the decision. Gossiping to others about a decision or the way it was communicated will not resolve your issue, but learning more about the situation/decision may help you better understand the reason why it was made.
- There is no excuse for not contacting a parent whose student is failing your class. By failing to do so, we must own part of the failure. The conversation is sure to take on an emotional and negative tone if the communication comes after the final grade has been given.
- If you know of a student that is struggling who has typically been successful in school, take time to seek out that student and ask what you can do differently to help them be successful and then follow up with a phone call to a parent. The mere fact that you took time to ask and call will help build trust with your students and parents.
- Avoid sarcasm, defensiveness and never ask a student to repeat an inappropriate comment you clearly heard the first time because you are upset and want to use it as ammunition to punish the offender. Don’t make it about you.
- If you are having difficulty contacting a parent or you are unable to reach a parent altogether due to a non-working number, seek the assistance of an administrator immediately and ask them to help you make a contact. This is one way they will see you being proactive in trying to help students be successful.
- Whether you are a teacher or an administrator who is dealing with student behavior issues, stay out in front of it by communicating early on. The last thing we need is for things to build up and then when we reach a boiling point, have a parent hear for the first time the entire laundry list of miscues by the student.
- If you are a director or a coach and you plan to have a student who has consistently performed or played in previous events/contests and a decision has now been made not to have this student perform or play (same goes for starting roles), it is imperative that you take time to sit down face to face and explain to the student why the decision was made and what it means for their role moving forward. Follow this up with a phone call to a parent (not email).
- If you are a witness to a good deed, be sure to make it a priority to validate that person’s good work in person or through a personal note. If it involves a student, a positive phone call home can be a game changer for many kids and parents who are not conditioned to hear such positive comments coming from schools. We need to make sure we are champions for recognizing and communicating good deeds as much as we are at reporting bad news.
I am not sure we can ever go wrong with over communicating as long as we are doing it effectively. We must recognize that the way in which we communicate, the timeliness of our communication, and the quality of our communication will determine the value and contribution of each individual member of our community and their impact on the success of the entire organization.
In reflection, I have gleaned that the manner in which we condition our students, staff and parents to respond to our communication ultimately will determine our success as an organization. In order to maximize our effectiveness and our success, we must learn not to take communication personally, but to make it personal so that the root of communication does not succumb to evil, but remains healthy and vibrant where good always prevails.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw