How Can School Leaders Communicate to Address Current Obstacles?
The only thing that’s constant is change. Students and education employees face a disruptive, uncertain future. In this situation, individuals look to their leaders for strength, stability and understanding. To manage through change requires transformational leadership. Students and education employees need agile leadership that anticipates disruption. As obstacles in education arise, anxiety may increase for employees and other stakeholders. To relieve this anxiety, plan specific messages and touch points using the right communication approach. With a focus on personal wellbeing, transformational leaders can communicate to effectively manage change inside and outside the institution.
In a climate of uncertainty and fear, without strong and visionary leadership, people panic.” — Patrick Dodson
Plan Messages and Touch Points with the Institution’s Stakeholders
Effective change leadership requires a planned approach free of emotions. Stakeholders of education institutions (employees, students, communities), want to hear from the source. How will the institution address the obstacles and manage through change?
Start with Why
The safety of employees, students, and the community is always the priority of education leaders. Employees and community members need to hear what priorities decisions are based upon. As plans progress, express why decisions are made to help the organization remain agile. Include this information in messages about decisions and next steps. When people understand why a change is necessary, they are more likely to adopt the new practice or policy. Starting with why is critical as the education industry continues to respond to external changes and seeks to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students.
Honesty is critical in change management. Leaders are in the spotlight. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit uncertainty using phrases such as, “the team is working to get answers,” and “the institution is seeking a solution, we will release more information as we have it” for example. People appreciate leaders who are real and approachable. Craft messages true to your company’s values and culture.
Leaders lead. During times of disruption outcomes aren’t always clear, however individuals in education will look to those who role model transformational leadership. It is important to lead with agility to continuously improve and change institutions for the better. Help employees see how the situation will impact them individually. How will it benefit the team? How will it benefit each team member? Communicate plans with confidence and tell people to expect more communication as information becomes available. Stay calm, organized and ready to control what is possible. Effectively manage through change with clear expectations for people to achieve success.
Plan to Over-Communicate
Open, timely and consistent communication is a best practice in change leadership. While addressing obstacles, it’s imperative to get the right information to the right people as quickly as possible. Education institutions can span multiple buildings and campuses, including multiple geographies. To manage through change, plan to over-communicate. People often need more communication, not less to understand how an institution plans to navigate obstacles.
- Start with executive leadership and initiate a plan to cascade communication to employees through all leadership levels. Remember to always start with why and develop key words that should be used to frame messages and answer questions.
- Schedule virtual daily or weekly huddles with teams to check-in, connect and provide change leadership support. Keep the public informed about decisions and other relevant information before people can speculate or spread false information.
- Examine processes impacting educators and other employees who provide services to students. How prepared is the institution to provide service during disruption? Are additional tools or resources required?
Strive to provide information that is consistent and reliable. Communicate decisions to employees in schools and the external community. Connect with internal communication and human resources departments to verify policies and information referred to in messages are correct. The uncertainty that inevitably surrounds changes forces agile leadership to emerge. Information and policies change. Dates shift and new procedures becomes the norm. Institutions can proactively control communication by establishing an intranet page (internal) or webpage (external) devoted to keeping students, employees and the community informed.
Keep Educators and Employees Engaged
Some employees may be more successful than others while reacting to disruption and change. When possible, plan to meet with team members individually at least once per week. Be personal during these connections and ask about the individual’s ability to focus and feelings of isolation. Ask if there is anything that can be done to help them manage through change. Reach out to provide more connection and support to individuals while leading through change. Continue to assess team morale and engagement levels as changes continue to occur.
Put People First
Change within education institutions is not an option, it happens whether it’s welcomed or not. Transformational leaders impact teams by helping people understand the circumstances and how the institution will navigate those obstacles. Open, timely communication provides teams and students direction. Education leaders need to build confidence that people can come together to manage through change. Consistent leadership is needed to connect and empower teams and communities. Over communicate to keep students, families, communities and employees engaged and feeling connected despite disruption.