Like businesses and relationships, schools live and die (or pass and fail) by communication. So what can they do to make it better? The following are just a few things our school did to improve communication.
1. The Monday Memo
An endless barrage of emails, texts, handouts, and announcements can lead to a communication overdose. The message, scattered about, gets lost when there are too many outlets. The easiest remedy is to consolidate these communications in a single, consistent package. We called ours the Monday Memo. It contained operational nuts and bolts, calendar events and deadlines, observations and insights from the school leader and others, weekly goals (which were shared with students as well), and at least one professional article aligned with the school’s mission and vision. The Monday Memo was like a Napoleonic bulletin—it kept the troops well-informed and on the path to victory.
Note: Whenever possible, add a little levity. A cartoon or humorous story usually does the trick. A Monday morning smile can often carry a teacher all the way over to hump day.
2. The Huddle
At big schools with lots of grades, teachers often work themselves into silos. Freeing them from these silos is a scheduling challenge, but one well worth taking up. A teacher of ours came up with a simple solution: The Huddle. (We actually called ours “The Herd” because our mascot was a yak.) Once a week for just 15 minutes, we would all gather (with refreshments, of course) to share team plans and to look for opportunities for collaboration across grade levels.
And just like a football huddle, we would break with a unified clap.
Note: This can be accomplished electronically, but being eyeball to eyeball makes a world of difference.
3. Tea With Teachers
Once a month, I would meet with parents in the morning to discuss anything and everything having to do with the school. I called it Donuts With Dunbar. (We served lots and lots of coffee as well.) One day a teacher came up to me and asked, “Why don’t you ever have donuts with us?”
“Y’all are always too busy in the morning,” I said.
“Then let’s do refreshments in the afternoon,” she said. And thus Tea With Teachers, or TWT, was born. Unlike most faculty meetings, TWT was voluntary and the agenda was set by the participants. There were no time limits nor goals—only open, honest, real discussion.
There are a number of ways to acknowledge and celebrate best practices and excellence in schools. One of the best and easiest is the humble shout-out. Throughout the week, faculty and staff would submit nominations for academic, artistic, and cultural achievement. Every Friday, we would recognize those students, teachers, and community members who had gone above and beyond the call of duty. We would also note progress toward weekly and annual goals. It was a way of keeping all eyes firmly on the prize.
5. Art Jams
During the school day, it’s almost impossible to think creatively. Grading papers and juggling deadlines doesn’t exactly foster creative thinking. Yet such thinking is more important today than ever. So how and when do you generate new, innovative ideas? For us, it took place after school and off campus, surrounded by art and with plenty of adult beverages. Being an arts-integrated school, we called it an Art Jam. It was a time to brainstorm crazy ideas—ideas that might just lead to improved teaching and learning.
6. Social Media
A board member once asked me why I managed the school’s Facebook page. “Don’t you have more important things to do?” she asked.
“Believe it or not,” I said, “Facebook is one of the most important things I do.”
The principal is the vision keeper for a school. That vision has to be shared with all stakeholders. Social media—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.—is one of the best ways to accomplish this. Use it to promote instructional best practices, to celebrate excellence, and to recognize all of the things that make your school unique.
7. Professional Culture Surveys
So with all of this improved communication, how do you know if it’s working? As with student achievement, there has to be an end goal or measure for success. At our school, we developed a professional culture survey and gave it out three times a year. It was anonymous, and the perception data was shared with the entire faculty and staff. We used the results to, among other things, further improve communication.
When it comes to communication in schools, less is not more, and more is not necessarily better. It needs to be systematic, intentional, and transparent.