School Climate & Safety Opinion

Communication Builds Your Team

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — April 07, 2016 3 min read
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March Madness...NCAA basketball for non-sports enthusiasts...is over. Villanova won the men’s championship with a “buzzer shot”. When an interviewer asked Kris Jenkins, the 3 point shooter, when he knew the shot would be a good one, Kris responded by saying he knew when he received the pass. It came to him exactly right. Here was the star of the night, a college junior, acknowledging the teammate who passed the ball. That’s a team at work.

What to do when your team isn’t in alignment? With so much going on these days, having the whole team moving in the same direction vital. But in many circumstances, the team is working as separate entities, even with the best of intentions. Communication, along with clarity of purpose, is key to getting everyone on track.

Each leader in the district has distinct responsibilities. Each has different urgent matters as the days unfold. Unless there is a process for open, honest, multi-directional communication, the tendency to hunker down and take care of “home front” business will be overpowering.

Top Down and Middle and Bottom Up
Top down communication is common and necessary, and often easily accomplished. But what about bottom or middle up? When communication becomes two way, it takes time and truthfulness. In order for it to be done well, every person must know their role and that each is essential to success. It takes leader-sincerity to welcome clarified concerns, accompanied by the whole team participating in a resolution.

Where do we learn to speak truth to power? In schools, do we invite children to do it or do we teach them compliance? Don’t we want them to speak up if they receive an incorrect grade or if they have been placed in the wrong class, or if they have to be excused from a class or a day of school or if they have an idea for the next class project? Sometimes, parents see it as the responsibility of their child to learn how to advocate for themselves. But, the children need models. We will not serve them well if schools are bastions of caution and hesitation or if they are places where anger is the vehicle for messages of discontent or dissatisfaction. Everyone has a responsibility to change this condition, no matter their perceived rung on the ladder.

Leader’s Deep Listening
Except for the children, teachers are the largest constituency in a district. Often conversations about what needs to be done or what is not being done takes place in the faculty room. In environments where little trust exists, it often feels more comfortable to complain with colleagues than to do something about it. There may be a few who will engage the principal sharing those conversations; then the principal’s actions and decisions matter. Does the principal listen deeply and return to the whole faculty for a larger conversation?

Create Multi-Directional Communication Pathways
Districts can operate with multi-directional communication pathways in which each constituency has access to the other with respect and consideration for diversity of perspective. The mission to create and support safe environments for ALL students rests in the hands of everyone. Teacher, principal, district office leader, or superintendent, all have views to be considered and listened to. The old Indian Tale about the Blind men and the Elephant, translated by John Godfrey Saxe ends:

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Staying in one’s limited zone and not communicating with others is a human weakness. It will make a difference in schools if each person, focused on the mission of our work, to offer safe and enriching environments for ALL students, speaks their perspective to whoever needs to hear it. And it will make a difference if each person, focused on the mission of our work, listens with openness and welcome and views all perspectives through a systemic lens. How the words are spoken can make a difference in how those words are received. And acknowledging, as Kris Jenkins did, that it is the whole team that wins, not just the one who takes the winning shot.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.