3 Steps to Improving School Communication

This blog comes from Justin Robbins and Karen Dempster, co-authors of ‘How to Build Communication Success in Your School’ and workshop facilitators at  “Education for the Soul” Conference 2018.

According to research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology “85% of our success is due to our ability to communicate”. This puts effective two-way communication at the heart of a successful school.
In our previous post, How to Develop your Own Personal Vision we talked about how important a personal vision is to a leader. Similarly, a school’s vision and how it is lived is what sets it apart.
A School Leader can create or evolve a vision that inspires their teachers. This best happens through genuine two-way communication and listening.  When lived fully through all that a school does, the vision sets the tone for the right culture, supporting wellbeing, innovation, creativity and enabling teachers to collaborate.  Ultimately, improving the education experience for children.
But, what about when the communication doesn’t reflect your vision or values? For example, a school value is to be ‘considerate’ but parents are literally bombarded with school emails on a Friday afternoon. Or the school vision is to ‘excel’ and yet spelling mistakes are common in staff memos.
Here are three simple steps that your school can take now to ensure your vision and values are reflected in how you communicate…

Step 1 – Listen

Our school communication philosophy is based on starting with good listening habits. One-way messaging, whether to the school team or parents, is just passing on information, a bit like reading a newspaper. A two-way discussion, where the sender considers and interprets the receiver’s verbal and non-verbal response(s) is ‘communication’.
Listen carefully and with an open mind to avoid making assumptions. Avoid listening while also formulating your response. And then listen to what people say once they receive the information to ensure the right message was received, resulting in good communication. This applies for in person or written responses. Responding to an angry email with an angry response isn’t a good idea. Before you do, take a moment to seek to understand what’s behind the angry email and then you can send an appropriate response that demonstrates you are listening.

Step 2 – Air Traffic Control

A School Leadership team needs visibility of all ‘communications’ (written messages, face to face events with staff or parents, etc) to ensure they are consistent, appropriate and well planned. We call this air traffic control. Just like when landing an aircraft, it is about ensuring messages land safely, without fuss, one at a time in an orderly manner.
The simplest way to do this is by creating a spreadsheet on a shared drive, which captures date, target audience (school team, parents, etc), the key message, how it will be shared (meeting, email, text, etc) and who is responsible. This level of visibility will help to drive the discipline needed to ensure your vision and values are consistently reflected in every communication. Ideally, you would assign one or two people responsibility and authority for gatekeeping this process.

Step 3 – Traffic Lights

You need to quickly identify how important various communications are, as they are scheduled, so you can prioritise the most important ones and act on them. We recommend using the well-known traffic light approach of red, amber and green within your school. Red communications are urgent and of high importance so take priority. Amber are important but not urgent and green are just for information. You may want to have agreed templates for each level of communication.
For example, for written messages, this would include consistent subject headings, calls to action, contact points and further information, aligned to your school vision and values. For presentations, it might include an approach to ensure there are three key messages being delivered and they are clear and memorable for the audience.
Using this type of approach will allow communication activities to be rescheduled without anyone losing control or feeling they are being ‘cheated’ out of communicating. It sets a standard for everyone, which is focused on the outcome and a best practice approach.

How to Build Communication Success in your School


On the 18th October 2018, Karen Dempster and Justin Robbins joined us for our “Education for the Soul” Conference to share more about outstanding school communication.

Their talked formed a key part of our conference which was based around the theme of “Creating New Narratives for the School Leaders’ Journey” and was designed to extend the conversation around School Leadership, well-being and standards in our schools.

It is fair to say, the day was a very special one and a huge success with so many School Leaders and education professionals joining us for this. It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.
Following the success of the conference, I’m delighted to say that in October 2022, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.
“Education for the Soul” 2022 will feature a new selection of expert speakers and workshop hosts, who will be sharing their insights into how School Leaders can look after their own well-being, get the most out of those they lead and deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.
The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of our previous “Education for the Soul” conferences and seek to explore how School Leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose.
As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and their deepest values. Above all, “Education for the Soul” 2022 will aim to help School Leaders and teachers:
– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff
– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and personal development
– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others


Learn More



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