Create a Culture of Communication in Your Districts
By Rich Bagin, NSPRA executive director
Recently, I spoke before a group of superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. I most appreciate that honor and I also used my acceptance to speech to share some messages with these leading superintendents who rally around public education.
One topic I covered was internal communication — one of the weaker components in schools that NSPRA often finds when we conduct communication audits around the U.S. and Canada. What follows is an excerpt from that speech on internal communication:
As we complete communication audits for school districts across the country, we see that by far the weakest component is internal communication.
Ideally, we want all staff to become ambassadors for their schools, to vote in finance elections where it applies, and to become advocates for their schools, their children, and their communities.
Unfortunately, this rarely happens.
Lots of lip service is given to having internal communication, but it often breaks down quickly as pockets of staff have little knowledge or a feeling that they know what is really going on.
They report little authentic engagement — even when their input is sought on topics of mutual interest. Most school districts have a problem in closing the communication loop when it comes to internal communication.
Superintendents can make a big difference in setting the parameters for the importance of communication at every level. Our experience tells us that communication accountability is rarely measured and that may be the clue to solve this disparity.
We need to hold principals, central office administrators, service personnel supervisors, and others accountable with a communication component in their evaluations. (What gets measured gets done.)
Some do a great job communicating internally, while others ignore it. I can’t tell you how many times we have heard from a staff member, “Well, I find out what’s happening around here by calling my colleague in another building because their principal tells her staff what is going on and why decisions are made.”
In many cases, staff actually want to know what’s going on and can’t get an answer without fishing for it.
It does not have to be that way.
As superintendents, you can begin by modelling an approach to start the process to make internal communication a priority. You can begin by planting the seeds for a culture of communication in your district.
All staff are part of your communication effort and, by making a commitment to communication awareness and with a bit of training, you can make it happen.
To make my point about the power of internal communication, one staff member recently reported from an audit of a school district with 25,000 students:
“When the district’s tagline is not believed by the frontline, this district is headed for big trouble.”
Repeat: “When the district’s tagline is not believed by the frontline, this district is headed for big trouble.”
Let’s make internal communication a priority in our school districts.