All of us in school leadership positions understand that effective communications with external and internal audiences is key to navigating our day-to-day work. That’s never truer than in a crisis.
However, internal communication with staff is often underappreciated or underutilized as part of an overall communications plan. In fact, one could argue your internal audience can be your most important audience. Good internal communication not only builds good relationships but also sets your staff up to be effective brand ambassadors. After all, they are the point of contact for thousands of interactions with the public every day. This is true whether one is leading a traditional district or an educational service agency such as mine in upstate New York.
A focus on speaking with your staff first can build trust, provide a sense of purpose, clarify the bigger picture, boost employee retention and morale, and help you understand what your staff needs.
Facing a difficult situation within your community? Making a change? Need to explain policy or procedures? Staff members need to hear directly from you before someone else twists what you are planning. An inside-out approach is key to maintaining a healthy organization. It is also particularly important when dealing with a crisis or other situations when emotions are running high.
I have sought to get to know our staff and their needs, including their preferences for communications. For my agency, that means that my staff can now expect a Tuesday virtual town hall and a Friday email every week, where we share relevant information, celebrate individual and team achievements, and invite collaboration. We share other messaging as appropriate, particularly as conditions change.
Our principals, directors, and coordinators also assist in this effort through conducting “rounds” with each of their direct reports twice each year, in addition to our formal evaluation process. This process allows us to demonstrate we value our staff and their input.
These short conversations start with making a personal connection, followed by four simple questions:
- What is working well for you?
- Do you have what you need to do your job?
- Is there anything I can do to help you continue to perform well?
- Is there anyone who has been especially helpful to you?
Once you have strong pathways for internal communication, this process can also be completed with students, parents, and community partners. You just have to be intentional about making time to connect with others.
As school leaders, it is always our responsibility—before, during, and after the pandemic—to motivate others. Developing routines, expectations, and goals for internal communications helps create a culture where others feel valued and committed to the mission of supporting students.
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