Our school communication philosophy
Below is the transcript of an interview that we recently gave to our publisher Routledge, reproduced by kind permission from their website here.
What motivated you to write How to Build Communication Success in Your School?
Karen: Our motivation was a shared passion to break down barriers and improve education for future generations through great communication. As parents of school age children, we had daily experience of school communication. We began to see how our combined 30 years of experience as communication professionals, could make a difference. We have backgrounds in Marketing, Public Relations, Internal Communication and managing change in organisations, large and small. We were experiencing many missed communication opportunities and wanted to help.
What do we mean by communication?
Justin: Communication is more than just telling. It’s about using all of our senses to ‘listen’ and respond. People often confuse information and communication. When they do they aren’t usually listening. They are giving information but not checking if what they said has actually been understood. Providing information is a one-way process whereas communicating is a continuous cycle.
Why does good school communication matter? What are the benefits of putting it into practice?
Karen: It matters everywhere but especially in schools. When you consider that 85 per cent of our success it related to our ability to communicate, it’s critical that we get it right.
We regularly hear about the teacher retention crisis. Simply put happier teachers equal better results. We don’t dispute that there are workload issues in the profession. But there are also information overload issues that can easily be fixed. Having simple practices in place can remove some of the frustration and take the pressure off school teams.
Parents also need to understand how to support their child’s learning. A strong school parent partnership gives a child their best chance of success. It is proven to have a positive impact on results. There are simple things that all schools can do to ensure parents feel listened to and supported.
Good school communication can also save money. It is a competitive market, and schools need to stand out from the crowd for the right reasons without spending lots on Marketing. Effective communication, with clear and simple messages will create school supporters who can be advocates. This is often a better and more genuine way to find out what a school is really like rather than reading a glossy prospectus.
Give us some ideas of how schools could achieve better communication with parents for example?
Justin: There are three simple tools that we regularly talk about that will help parents manage the overload of messages they receive. Firstly, ensure all school staff have visibility of everything scheduled to be sent to parents. This means that messages need to be planned in advance as much as possible, using something like a spreadsheet that everyone can see. Set guidelines around how many messages can be sent to the same parents in a specific period of time. This way, staff are less likely to overload parents with messages that can wait, if there are already more urgent messages planned.
Secondly, differentiate the type of messages between ‘need to know’ items such as exams, and ‘for information’ items such as a raffle. Generally, need to know items are more time critical, whereas for information items are less so. If a staff member needs to send something and can see, in the planner, that there is already a time critical message planned at the same time, they will know to avoid it. Whereas, a for information message might indicate an opportunity to negotiate a reschedule.
Thirdly, provide parents with an information finder that answers their most common questions so they can find information or contacts quickly and easily. This will also take pressure off the school team, reducing the number of repeat questions they have to answer.
What would be your advice to schools looking to develop their communication approach? Are there any practical steps to get started?
Karen: Start by doing a self-assessment of how you are doing. We have a simple communication fitness test on our website that helps people through this step. Then focus on listening. Ask the school team, parents and students about their communication experiences, including their preferences, challenges and ideas for improvement. It’s important to check that what you are hearing is aligned to your school vision, as your guiding star. You should then be a position to define what you are doing well and where you need to improve. Define simple, measurable actions with owners for each that you can put into a plan to improve communication. If you have a lot of actions, prioritise those that will have the greatest impact and will be the easiest to implement and be realistic with your timescales.
What is the one message you hope readers will take away from your book?
Justin: Communication is such an obvious area it’s often ignored. We hope our book gives the reader a greater understanding of how fundamental communication is in a school and how a planned and structured communication plan can lead to success for everyone.