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Principals and school leaders know a thing or two about good communication skills. After all, principals need to communicate with a diverse range of people to ensure their school runs smoothly and successfully. There is plenty of evidence-based research to support what you already know through your own experience too. This week on School Stream, we look at educational leadership from a communication perspective, casting a fresh eye over some foundational skills.

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School Leadership and Communication

To search online for “educational leadership” is to be met with a bewildering array of results, each of which is championing a different approach on how best to wrangle your school community. Something everyone agrees on is that to be a successful educator or school leader, is to be a great communicator too – a skill that is both hardwired in most education professionals and something they work on continuously. If school leadership trends have been grounded in wellbeing and collaboration over the past few years, the research making the news in 2023 indicates that we are about to enter an era of communication-centric leadership. Let’s explore.

Authenticity in Leadership

Leading and communicating with authenticity is going to be non-negotiable, according to the US-based Centre for Creative Leadership. They define authenticity in leadership as:

“Authenticity is the healthy alignment between internal values and beliefs and external behaviour. Authenticity comes from finding your style and your way of leading — and making life decisions that reflect your ethics, values, and your personality.”

What does this look like in action for a school leader? It means finding your own voice, abandoning jargon (more on that later) and letting who you are, where you come from and what you value, shine through in your written and spoken communication. In the age of ChatGPT, fake news, bots and scams, people are craving authenticity and are more likely to follow authentic leadership. Their final advice? “Forget about eloquence — worry about being real.”

Be a visible leader

Being out, about, and accessible to your staff and community go a long way towards communicating successfully with all your stakeholders. And when you’re a school principal everyone is a stakeholder – from kids to parents, from office staff to teachers.  If you want people to see what kind of leader you are, ‘showing’ is going to trump ‘telling’ every time.

 If you’re wondering why showing up and being visible is important, take this example from one of our earliest blog posts asking parents to tell us how school principals had made a difference in their lives.

“Our school principal was out in the playground everyday at lunchtime and pick up. He knew every single kids’ name and, somehow, all us parents too! It doesn’t sound like much, but it really meant a lot and the kids were so stoked that he knew their names.”

Say goodbye to jargon

The advice for leaders (in all sectors) to abandon jargon when communicating with their teams remains eternal and is especially relevant as we are all inundated with increasing amounts of information that makes it challenging to hold – and keep – our attention. This is not to say all jargon is bad, with communication experts saying there is a place for it in some situations. For example a shared language creates community, a stronger culture, can provide shortcuts to complex concepts and allows professionals who understand the terminology to communicate quickly. It’s not dissimilar to having an inside joke with a group of friends. 

However, Nobel prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman posits that “If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do.” He goes on to argue that persuasive writers and speakers work to reduce “cognitive strain” – also understood as the effort it takes to understand a message. We’re all competing in the Attention Olympics and if school leaders want their messages to resonate, framing sophisticated arguments and messages in a way that is clear, concise and conversational is the way forward.

It will be interesting to see what trends emerge in the coming years, and which of those we have explored today are here for the long haul.

Do you want to communicate seamlessly with your school community? Let’s get started.