Why we need 21st century communication within our schools

Posted by Justin

In our research with parents of school age children, only 44% said they felt well informed by their school. That leaves over half who were saying the school that their child went to was not meeting their most basic fundamental need to communicate well with them regarding their child’s education. Parents are not the only ones suffering as a result of poor communication management within our schools. Teachers are leaving the profession more than ever before. Talk of a ‘crisis’ is everywhere. Disillusioned by the system, they have possibly forgotten why they wanted to become a teacher in the first place. Are schools powerless to prevent this? Or is there a way they can remind teachers what they stand for and why they make a difference?
It’s time to take communication seriously in education leadership

The 2014 Ketchup Leadership Communication Monitor reported that “Open communication remains critical to effective leadership yet only 29% feel leaders communicate effectively.” In education the role of a headteacher today is not just about being a senior teacher. It is about being a leader that can inspire and create meaning for their school and everyone involved. The National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers (2015) say they should, “Communicate compellingly the school’s vision and drive the strategic leadership, empowering all pupils and staff to excel.”

Addressing retention by creating meaning for teachers

School leaders need to create meaning for their teams, parents and students. This starts with the ‘Why’ not the ‘What’. In his global best selling book ‘Start With Why’, Simon Sinek talks about how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Creating meaning through communication is a fundamental element of leading a school. A school leader can create or evolve a vision that gives meaning to their teachers. This needs to happen through genuine two-way communication and listening.

When lived fully, through all that a school does, the vision sets the tone for the right culture, supporting wellbeing, innovation, creativity and enabling teachers to collaborate. Ultimately improving the education experience for children. A recent report from the Royal Society of the Arts called ‘How school system leaders can create the conditions for system-wide innovation’ states:

“If transformation is to come from within education systems themselves then it will depend on the emergence of a different kind of leadership. This will be leadership which has authentic conviction about the potential for education as humanity’s best hope; and which can both assemble a compelling case for change and communicate it.”

Collaborating with parents

As parents of school age children with a background in Communication, it has pained us over and over when we see opportunities for real parental engagement being wasted. When parents are brought together, for whatever reason, it should be to create an environment that enables discussion and sharing of ideas and experiences so they can learn from each other. Precious face-to-face opportunities with parents should not be used to preach at them and then send them on their way.

This was the most common complaint from parents about their school in our research – they needed a way to ask questions and give feedback. The second most common was that teachers needed to improve their ability to communicate. The National Standards for Headteachers call for positive relationships with parents and yet parents feel they don’t have a voice and teachers aren’t good at communicating with them. It really is a broken system at the moment. We firmly believe that parents are the key to unlocking potential. At the heart of this is communication.

Communicating with the next generation

In a 2013 report published by Booz & Company called “Listening to students’ voices – Putting students at the heart of education reform in the Gulf Cooperation Council”, it found that student engagement is the missing element in education reform. Could schools better involve students in decisions about their own learning?

We may think that Millenials and Generation Z (all those born after the early 1980s) want everything electronically, faster and with constant opportunities to contribute ideas. While there is an element of immediacy in today’s Snapchat and Instagram conversations, if you talk to young people about communication there is still a longing for physical communications – paper based for certain things. It is more novel and permanent. Of course, they expect online collaboration, instant information and opportunities for feedback but like some older generations who were swamped with paper, they are now swamped with electronic channels. They still seek meaning. They are the future. We need to communicate in ways that resonate for all generations.

Bringing it together through communication

Corporate organisations caught onto the opportunity to create competitive advantage some years ago. We have robust statistics that prove there is a clear link between effective communication and performance. Educational establishments, particularly schools, still need to grasp this opportunity. Those who do will truly differentiate themselves and reap the rewards.

21st century communication within a school means that:

  • Every school should have a clear vision, with shared meaning for all in the school, that makes them stand out from the crowd.
  • Communication needs to be deliberate and planned (for the long term) rather than ad hoc.
  • Education leaders need to be able to inspire and motivate, telling their school’s story, through having excellent communication skills.
  • Communication training is a fundamental skill set, on which every teacher should receive on-going development. Everyone knows what good communication looks like and lives it.
  • Schools need to be clear who they are communicating with and their communication needs so they can meet these or manage expectations.
  • The channels (face-to-face, email, text, website) used to communicate with various people are the right ones, based on knowledge of what works best and is the most appropriate.
  • It means that real two-way channels of communication need to exist because parents expect to have their say (and it benefits the school when managed well).
  • Information is managed and distributed in an appropriate and timely manner – reducing information overload.
  • What is communicated internally is now also external – the lines have blurred but this provides opportunities for a new approach to marketing.
  • Enabling teachers to communicate well will reap rewards, reduce duplication and create a sense of one school team.

Our belief is that effective communication between every stakeholder involved in the educational process will enhance understanding and collaboration, which will result in our children having a more positive learning experience. Isn’t that the future that we all want for our children?

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