From the Lens of a School Leader: 4 Key Ways to Effectively Communicate with Your School Staff

One of the first lessons I learned when I became a leader with Choice was “days are for people and nights are for paper.”  

What does this mean? 

It means that I spend my days pouring my attention and passion into the people I serve and spend the rest of my work time completing the business of being a leader.  Sharpening my proverbial communication axe is something I spend a tremendous amount of time on.  After all, it is commonly said that good communication skills can turn a good leader into a great one; nobody wants to be just good – we all want to be great! It’s not only essential for school leaders to understand the importance of effective communication but to continually implement practices in an effort to improve their communication skills. 

Here are four key ways that have helped me build a solid foundation of communication in my role:

1. Learn their style

Leaders must take the time to get to know their staff members, including making an effort to learn how they communicate best. Whether it’s an email, a phone call, a text, a visit or a chat over a cup of coffee, knowing employees’ preferences and outside commitments can impact effectiveness of conversations and ultimately the outcomes.  This may be a trial-and-error process, but it will help narrow down solutions by being conscious of it.

When managing a large amount of staff members, it’s understandable that it may become difficult to remember everyone’s preferences. Try keeping a list of employee information where you can mark down notes to easily refer to.  

2. Take time to digest messages

Effective communication is a two-way street. It needs to involve both how we send messages and how we receive them. As a school leader, quickly responding to messages without giving them much thought is often the easy route. This approach is something I’m personally guilty of at times. I constantly remind myself to take the time to step back and really digest what I’m reading. This means I may save emails as drafts until I have time to silence my cell phone, clear my mind of the million other thoughts racing through it and give it my undivided attention. After all, what may seem like a quick way to save time in the short-term may lead to problems in the future.

3. Be careful how you communicate

School leaders need to understand that if a staff member takes the time to send an email, schedule a meeting or bump into you in the hallway, they are doing it for a reason. On the flip side, a school leader must understand that everything written or spoken, even nonverbal cues, can being read and taken at face value. Be sure you’re cognizant of your body language and tone of voice to eliminate any misunderstandings. In addition, communication can be misread or misinterpreted when it is only received in print, which is why it’s important to really think about what you are sending. Sometimes a face-to-face conversation or phone call is necessary for more serious discussions. You can’t always hide behind a computer screen. 

If body language is something that you struggle with, I recommend reading Skill with People by Les Giblin. Remember, a smile goes a long way. 

Choice uses a framework for navigating conflict or communication breakdowns in a book called Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.  This book has been instrumental in creating a culture of shared ownership and open communications.  

4. Follow Choice’s 24 Hour Rule

For communication to be effective, it must happen in a timely manner, preferably within 24 hours. When you receive an email or phone call, try to respond as soon as you can (with giving it sufficient thought). Even if you don’t know the answer right now, let the staff member know you’ve received the message and will look into finding the answer. If a phone call or a meeting is set, remember that it was set for a reason, thus, a solution, difficult conversation, or rescheduled meeting time is expected as an outcome. School staff members want their voices heard, so it’s important for school leaders to acknowledge them because we truly want to address their concerns or questions in a way that results in positive relationships.

Take the time to learn and implement these four practices, and see if you notice a change in your communication skills. Remember, school leaders and leadership teams are the face of the academies and are the key builders of relationships with the school community. We must set the example for positive, effective communication which will, in turn, create the collaborative atmosphere in the building and relationships that stand the test of time.