Communication Tips for Education Leaders

Leaders set the tone for communication throughout their schools and departments. With consistent, transparent communication, teachers and staff will have the information they need to support school goals and share key points with student families.

  1. Be Clear, Concise and Consistent
    1. What do you want to say, and what do you want to have happen as a result?
    2. Maximum of 3-5 talking points per issue, no one can remember more
    3. Only ask for feedback if you plan to use it
    4. Be clear about what you know and what you don’t—bluffing doesn’t work, especially with students
  1. Know Your Audiences – What do each of these audiences want? Need? Fear? Hope for? What motivates them to act? How can you help them achieve their goals? Tailor your communication accordingly.
    • Students
      • Want to know how the system works so they can achieve their goals (make grades to play sports, be accepted to a four-year college, etc.)
    • Families
      • Care more about how their individual student is doing than how all students are doing – district test scores aren’t all that interesting.
      • Parents want to attend their students’ functions, but need plenty of notice. Many work schedules are set months in advance.
    • Teachers & Classified Staff
      • Want meaningful work, the tools to do their job, clear expectations, and recognition/appreciation.
    • Community Partners (local community and educational community)
      • Be sure opinion leaders have accurate information so they can share it/act on it.
    • Media
      • Many people still read the newspaper. Human-interest stories often get front-page coverage.
  1. Listen More Than You Talk
    • Make time in groups and one-on-one to gather feedback. Sending out an electronic survey is fine, but if no one responds, go talk to people.
  1. Seek To Understand Opposing Viewpoints
    • Don’t avoid your critics; seek them out. They may have vital information to help you change or strengthen your position.
  1. Communicate Proactively
    • Build relationships so you have trust there when you need to call on it.
    • Share good news and make others look good, too.
  1. Repurpose Your Material to Communicate Through More Than One Medium
    • Students read texts
    • Parents read emails and newsletters
    • Teachers and staff are busy and may need to hear information more than once
    • Website and social media communication require people to come to you, which is fine for some information, but not all
    • Don’t forget traditional media—newspapers, radio stations, trade publications, etc.
  1. In a Crisis, Communicate Early and Often
    • Perception is reality
    • Nature abhors a vacuum – if you don’t inform people, they’ll come up with their own stories to explain what they see and hear
    • You know what’s coming, prepare
      • What types of crises are likely? Staff-related issues? Facility-related issues? You can write 90 percent of those press releases now and fill in the details if/when they happen.
    • Never say, “No Comment.” Instead, say, “Here’s what we know…” which can be next to nothing, but it sounds a lot better.

Communication Basics to Get You Started

  • Communicate major goals at the beginning of the year – communication should support strategic goals.
  • Send a weekly email to teachers/staff with brief updates on pressing issues. Include a question requesting feedback on a timely topic.
  • Publish a quarterly newsletter to student families, (send home a paper version in English and Spanish via student backpacks, send it electronically as an e-mail attachment, and publish it online)
  • Create an online calendar with all events and include it with each newsletter.
  • Write a monthly press release about good news happening at your school.

Here are a couple of my favorite resources

Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath

Be Quiet, Be Heard, Susan & Peter Glaser