Effective Communication in Schools

Person A emails Person B with a question about an upcoming event. Person A never hears back from Person B. It’s the day before the event and Person A is frustrated with Person B. Person A needs to know what Person B thinks in order to move forward with planning the event so they decided to talk to Person B. Person A says “Not sure if you saw my email…” Person B immediately responds with “Ohh yeah I saw that. Looks good!” Person A walks away from the situation even more annoyed with Person B because they saw the email and never responded to the question.

Sadly this scenario plays out multiple times a day on school campuses. I’m sure as you were reading the scenario several examples from your own life came to mind. I know for me sadly this is a daily occurrence. I send out information into the great unknown and am left wondering if anyone will read it and maybe if I’m lucky they will respond.

So how might we stop this from happening?  I have been doing a lot of reading recently into how to communicate more effectively. A concept that resonated with me was the importance of closing communication loops. In the scenario above the communication loop was not closed effectively which lead to resentment and lack of productivity. Below are some steps that I have personally taken to help solve this problem.

Choose your Communication Medium Wisely

In 2015 there are multiple ways to get a hold of me. So why is it that we face communication breakdowns in schools? One reason I have found that a breakdown occurs is because people choose the wrong medium to communicate. Have bad news you have to deliver? Don’t send a text. Talk in person or over the phone/internet.  Need only one person’s opinion on a matter? Don’t hold a group meeting. Schedule a face to face meeting.

Below are some of the various ways we communicate in schools. I tried to list some of the pros,cons, and best time to use each method. This is by no means a be all end all list. It instead is what I have found helpful.

Communication Medium Pros Cons When to use
  • Emails can be super detailed.
  • Can attach important documents to the email.
  • Can be blast out to email groups to save time.
  • Can be too detailed.
  • People don’t check email.
  • Can be very cold. Emotions do not translate via text.
  • Detailed Reminders
  • Sharing documents with people.
  • When you need feedback form multiple parties.
  • When you want people to think about their response.
Text/Instant Message
  • People have their phones on them all the time.
  • People can quickly respond to simple questions.
  • Can interrupt a person’s workflow.
  • Easy for the person to ignore.
  • Can be very cold. Emotions do not translate via text.
  • A response is needed quickly.
  • Sending quick reminders.
1:1 Face to Face Meeting/Phone Call/Video Call
  • Able to read other people’s emotions and see how they are responding.
  • Ability to collaborate on documents/whiteboards/other text mediums with each other.
  • Time consuming.
  • Can be too one sided.
  • Can interrupt a person’s workflow.
  • A difficult conversation needs to happen.
  • The conversation will last more than a few sentences.
Group Meeting
  • Allows for everyone to have a voice.
  • Multiple brains are better than one.
  • Can quickly get information to a large number of people.
  • Meetings can suffer from too many people being present.
  • Too many cooks in the kitchen.
  • Information needs to be shared with a mass group.
  • Mass training.
  • When you need a group consensus on an issue.

Always Reply

When you receive an email read it. After you read it reply. You might be thinking to yourself “But they didn’t ask my anything in the email. It was just information.” Even then you want to reply with Copy, Got it, Thanks, etc. By replying to the email you are communicating to the sender that you have received, read, and understand what they are trying to tell you. This is time consuming, but as Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg point out in their book How Google Works:

“Being responsive sets up a positive communication feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions.”

If the email contains a question you still want to reply. 99U has a great blog post about using email to set expectations. In their blog post they share different ways of communicating different messages. I suggest checking it out and saving a few in your canned Gmail responses so you can quickly reply to an email.

The Waiting for List

A few months ago I was introduced to David Allen’s Getting Things Done framework. I have not had a chance to fully embrace GTD but I am really enjoying the weekly review. During my weekly review one thing that I have been doing that has been very effective is creating a waiting for list. A waiting for list is a list of items that I am waiting for feedback on. Most of these items are emails that I have sent to people that I am waiting for a response on. Having this list has been extremely helpful for remembering to follow up and ensure that items do not slip through the cracks. For more on the idea of a waiting for list check out this quick introduction to GTD.

I’m not going to sit here and say “My communication is perfect after enacting these three rules!”. That would be a lie. Following these three rules has helped though with ensuring that I don’t leave as many communication loops open. If you find yourself in a similar situation as the scenario above I would suggest trying a few of these methods and seeing what works and doesn’t work for you.

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