Communication Strategies to Transform Schools
Plan your classrooms as if you are delivering an MBA presentation. Build a crescendo where you have middle and high schoolers from both regular and special education who have an active role in brainstorming the topic. Before and after an hour, all students work in teams on a set of prep questions to hone in on a topic.
Professionals like art teachers, social workers, and school counselors often work with children who are difficult to teach. I find these teachers have the same issues: they often lack clear communication with their colleagues who have more bureaucratic, technical, and administrative relationships with their school. Motivate teachers so they will challenge a situation and achieve more.
Craft simple cognitive words that reinforce the key messages. For example, use a “latchkey” child as a target to demonstrate that you are modeling care in a situation that may be viewed as untenable or intolerable.
Consider the community’s strengths. When incorporating a positive statement that all issues can be solved, an essential component of any strategy is to include discussion about “natural underlying strengths” and “creativity.” Building confidence by naming strengths is a powerful tool.
Step 1: Design Unique Support Services. Begin by forming a communication team within your school. If you do not already have one, this team is part of the transformation effort. Their job is to identify ways in which schools can improve with fresh approaches that better engage students and their families. We have found in this work that “communicating better” involves a team approach that communicates in all three dimensions: a functional team that “arrives at the problem,” supports an individual task to find “a way forward,” and engages a community “to get there.” Collaborative teams have also accomplished much in helping to improve classroom education, including adopting the Common Core standards, integrating technology, creating more engaging curriculum, and involving parents.
Step 2: Focus on the Problem. Rather than “out of sight, out of mind,” all communication must take place on a level above the teacher. Let’s explore three steps of the communication process and how to simplify the process for your audience:
Step 3: Internalize the Problem. In this step, not only do you need to know the problem, but you need to think about and learn to look at the whole picture before you begin to formulate an approach. It’s the same with brainstorming questions. Discuss the full range of possible solutions, beyond your comfort zone.
Step 4: Make a Practical Approach. When preparing for a meeting or your yearly review, you’ll need to deliberate on both “how it’s going” and “why it’s going” to determine if the approach you are taking is making a difference. Are your efforts reflected in the student’s progress or is the matter fading away? An effective strategy is centered on solving a complex problem with a strategy that reflects “what works.” In order to make gains, your teacher and student audiences need to recognize the problem before you propose a solution.
Step 5: Borrow Perspectives from Critical Content Knowledge. Identify an essential question to address. This is the subject matter area upon which your overall strategy will be based. Your answer will raise important issues and provide your audience with a foundation on which to proceed.
Step 6: Start a Conversation. Let the student or the student’s parents know that you are prepared to share your evaluation. In using this approach you are using your time wisely. Ask yourself the following questions:
If I had to do it over again, would I do it differently?
How have I communicated with the school district and the Department of Education about this problem?
What are the interventions that would be most effective to help this student to be a success?
To the student and parent, “What do you think needs to change?” Ask the same questions to everyone, including the teacher, the teacher’s professional development team, the teacher supervisor, the parent and community. Look for ways to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Once you know the sequence of your action, communicate with people who can help speed up your response.
Step 7: Spread Your Word. Remember the importance of good communication at this stage. Tell everyone in your organization about your action plan and commitment to “this child’s education” in order to achieve change.
Step 8: Build Capacity and Support. Most educators have limited training and no professional development that includes a multitude of professional development experiences. Instead of relying on trained staff, consider using resources you control. This would include teacher training, professional development panels, and parent-teacher training sessions.