John Maxwell once wrote, “Educators take something simple and make it complicated. Communicators take something complicated and make it simple.” Obviously he is using sarcasm to make his point, but it is an effective use of sarcasm due to the reality that his observation often rings true. When attempting to connect with the various stakeholders of the school community (i.e. faculty, staff, students, parents, and the general community), school leaders do well to always keep in mind the following 3 essential keys to making a connection.
- Keep It Simple
As educators, we tend to provide analysis and commentary to nearly every issue – and as valuable as that may be in a course of study, it is a practice that can create a barrier to concise and clear communication. Maxwell goes on to say, “Communication is not just what you say. It’s also how you say it. Contrary to what some educators teach, the key to effective communication is simplicity. Forget about impressing people with big words or complex sentences. If you want to connect with people, keep it simple.”
- Talk About the “Why”
Perhaps the most important element of effective communication in an educational institution (and for that matter in the work of education) is that of being able to consistently and clearly communicate the why behind any directive. “Leadership requires constant communication so that people know where they are heading and why.” We know with students that they are far more likely to engage in the learning of any lesson or subject if the teacher has answered the fundamental question of why the student should care about the learning. If a student does not understand and embrace an internal motivation for participation in the learning, then it is nearly impossible for the learning to take place. The same is true of all of us. Therefore the school leader must be able to clearly communicate an imperative for participating in whatever the expectation or directive may be by succinctly making the why obvious and compelling.
Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, states that “Great leaders… are able to inspire people to act. Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained.” He goes on to observe that “You have to earn trust by communicating and demonstrating that you share the same values and beliefs. You have to talk about your WHY and prove it with WHAT you do.”
- Understand That The Medium Is The Message
Some studies have concluded that there is typically a loss of 40-60% of meaning in the transmission of messages between the sender and the receiver. “Clear communication is difficult for another reason. Some studies suggest that over 90 percent of the meaning we derive comes from nonverbal cues that one person gives to another. That means only 10 percent of communication is based on words we say!” Also, it has been my observation over decades of leading and directing teams, and engaging the broader community, that the vast majority of conflicts are based upon a lack of clear communication. The nonverbal elements of communication must always be considered; especially when attempting to motivate faculty members toward change. For example:
Principals can tell teachers during a faculty meeting that they need to work on incorporating more technology into their teaching and experience the teachers leaving that meeting either saying, “My principal doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t care what she says anymore,” or, “Wow, my principal has given me some real food for thought today. I need to think carefully about the points she made.” The deciding factor is how we, as instructional leaders, present our constructive criticism to the teacher.
The old adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters” is fundamental to effective communication. Our corporal expressions (i.e. body language), the setting in which the communication is given (i.e. the environment), the means by which the information is given (i.e. the methodology) and more are the elements that can make or break both the type of reception and the type of response to whatever we are attempting to communicate. The emotional elements of communication are the elements that people remember most. Many studies have shown that the vast majority of the content of any type of communication is quickly forgotten. Retained in the memory of the recipient are the non-verbal and emotional elements. Therefore, we must always remember that the medium (the method and the way we communicate) is the message.
These three essentials also lead to a greater level of trusted school leadership.
©2016 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.
 Maxwell, John. (1999). The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. (p. 23). Thomas Nelson.
 Ibid. (p. 26).
 Silverstein, Barry (2009-10-13). Best Practices: Managing People (Kindle Locations 1232-1233). HarperCollins.
 Sinek, Simon (2009-09-23). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (p. 6). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Sinek, Simon (2009-09-23). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (pp. 84-85). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 “The Communication Process,” The Importance of Effective Communication, 2008 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/3895068/The-Importance-of-Effective-Communication .
 Horsager, The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships. Kindle Locations 848-850.
 Arneson, Shelly. (2011). Communicate & Motivate: The School Leader’s Guide to Effective Communication (Kindle Locations 134-135). Taylor and Francis.