Educators are in the business of communicating.
Teachers need to master it, and so do principals, central office staff, and superintendents.
If you work in a school district, you know that one wrong word at the wrong moment can spell disaster—and sending mixed signals can have real consequences.
Here are some tips to increase the odds that your message gets across and has the intended impact.
Try a once-a-week newsletter
Building-level educators are busy. Don’t blast them all day with emails from every central office department. Yes, the information is important. But consider this: If they’re constantly getting updates, they are going to start tuning them out.
How you say what you say matters.
How about a weekly newsletter? A once-a-week bulletin, with a corner for department updates; what building-level educators need to know for the week ahead; a summary of state and district mandates and changes that affect them; and what’s on the horizon, including upcoming meeting dates, and deadlines.
(Of course, communicate urgent issues right away.)
“I need the meat and potatoes,” said Cindy Sholtys-Cromwell, the principal of Kelso Virtual Academy and Loowit High School in Kelso, Wash. “Summarize it, and tell me what I need to do.”
The upshot? Building-level educators know when to expect the newsletter. And if they miss it—or forget the date of the next curriculum meeting—it’s just one search away in their mailbox.
There is more than one way to say something
Think about what you’re trying to communicate—and what you’re hoping to accomplish.
Depending on your goal, an email might do the trick. But there are times when a short video clip would suffice, or a text message—or even a phone call. The old-fashioned bulletin board in a place where everyone gathers works, too—if only to reinforce a message you’ve already communicated.
The important questions to ask yourself: What are you trying to say? Who is your audience? And what’s the best way to get that message through to them?
Sherelle Barnes, the principal of Edgewood Elementary School in Baltimore, knows her staff is made up of people with different personalities, so she uses emails, group texts, and other ways to reach them.
Teachers at her school get a text message—a more urgent, but still familiar form of communication—when important dates are approaching.
“‘We’re doing progress monitoring this week. Don’t forget,’” a text message might read, Barnes said.
“Having that variety is huge for my teachers,” Barnes said.
In keeping with the quick and simple approach, Marcus Belin, the principal of Huntley High School in Huntley, Ill., says try something new, like a newscast or short videos, depending on the message. Just give the highlights.
That approach worked well for Belin at the start of the pandemic, when information changed quickly and he needed to get timely news to the school community.
Short, recorded clips posted on social media cut through the information overload.
“People got tired of reading and sitting behind the screens,” he said.
Follow up with a conversation
Sometimes, you just need to talk.
While emails and other written communication appear easier in the moment, the tone—whether it’s urgency or levity—doesn’t always translate when written down.
A face-to-face conversation can reinforce the importance of a message already communicated through another medium, clear up any confusion, and even ease anxieties.
“How you say what you say matters,” said Belicia Reaves, the principal of Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.
“If [something] matters to you enough, then email to ask for a conversation, and then have a conversation.”
Coverage of principals and school leadership is supported in part by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/programs/education-economic. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2022 edition of Education Week as Ensure Your Staff Gets the Message: 3 Tips for School Leaders