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One of the most important aspects of instructional leadership is to continuously, purposefully, and intentionally share information with your staff. This is the notion of conceptual redundancy.

To succeed, leaders must carefully select, severely limit, and then persistently clarify (and clarify, and clarify, and clarify) the work to be done by those who lead. (Schmoker, 2016, p. 11)

In other words, if you think your staff needs to hear the information again, you’re right and they do. If you think your staff does not need to hear the information again, you’re wrong and they do.

This article is not focused on how to communicate but on how to overcommunicate. In his book on organizational health, Patrick Lencioni (2012) conveys the importance of overcommunication this way:

Once a leadership team has become cohesive and worked to establish clarity and alignment around the answers to the…critical questions, then, and only then, can they effectively move on to the next step: communicating those answers. Or better yet, overcommunicating those answers—over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

That’s right, seven times. I’ve heard claims that employees won’t believe what leaders are communicating to them until they heard it seven times. Whether the real number is five, seven, or seventy-seven, the point is that people are skeptical about what they’re being told unless they hear it consistently over time. (p. 141)

The real number is dependent on the listener. You will need to convey the information as many times as needed for each specific listener to hear it and then to be able to articulate it. Remember, what you say and how you say it is less important than what they hear and how they hear it.

Create a Clear Message for Diverse Listeners

If what they hear is more important than what you say, let’s take a look at our listeners. What are they listening for?

  • Some teachers are listening for the dataWhat is the success of this initiative? What numbers can we expect after we have implemented? These teachers won’t be able to hear the entire message until they hear the data.
  • Some teachers are listening for the effect on people—Who will this concern? How will this help our students? How will this help us? These teachers won’t be able to hear the entire message until they hear the effect on people.
  • Some teachers are listening for the big picture—Why are we doing this? How does this connect to what we are already doing? These teachers won’t be able to hear the entire message until they hear the context of the initiative.
  • Some teachers are listening for the actions—What am I going to be asked to do? What is the timeline? What is the deadline? How will I know I am doing it perfectly? These teachers won’t be able to hear the entire message until they hear the details.

When you are communicating with your audience you must take into account the variety of listeners and address the diverse—and sometimes competing—needs of the group.

Again, this article is not about how to communicate—you already have that skill or you would not be in your role as principal. You know that being as authentic as possible and being honest to yourself and your personality will take you far. However, in order to effectively and efficiently utilize the skills of instructional leadership, you must overcommunicate.

Let’s take a look at how other principals have done just that—overcommunicated their decisions in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and climate.

Three Examples of Overcommunication

Principal Thompson is leading an initiative on the development of a scope and sequence at a junior high school. To ensure that his message regarding the initiative was clearly articulated and understood, he had to determine:

How will the information be shared in as many distinct ways as possible?

Principal Thompson:  “I have been working hard on being more effective with communication over the last couple of years. I learned the hard way that what I say is not always what people hear. I knew that I needed to be super redundant in my communication on every level of this initiative. This meant that things needed to be repeated over and over. And not just in one manner but in lots of ways. I also make certain I put our message in writing. This allows people to read it in their voice and gives them the time to reflect on the message and the space to generate questions they may have.”

“In addition, I make sure to work with the leadership team. First, we all have to be on the same page about how to discuss the initiative. We decide what to say and how we will share in the delivery of the message. This way, it is stated by many and heard by many.”

Principal Washington is leading an initiative on the implementation of a schoolwide reading strategy—reciprocal teaching. To ensure that her message regarding the initiative was clearly articulated and understood, she had to determine:

How will the information be shared in as many distinct ways as possible?

Principal Washington:  “Sharing the information regarding support for reciprocal teaching was actually quite easy. Because we had developed the support plan together, my task was to remind them of our decisions. Before every session, I ask the group two questions: ‘What are the goals of the initiative?’ ‘How will today’s session support the implementation of the initiative?’ We discuss and make sure we are all on the same page. I do this before each session—even those I don’t participate in. At the end of those days, I send the teachers who participated an email and ask them to reflect on the work: What did you learn? How will this help you implement the initiative? What are your next steps? I always end the emails with a reminder that they can request any support they feel they need. And I try my hardest to provide it for them.”

Principal Sanchez is leading an initiative on developing student ownership at her high school. To ensure that her message regarding the instruction of the initiative was clearly articulated and understood, she had to determine:

How will the information be shared in as many distinct ways as possible?

Principal Sanchez:  “I shared earlier how I realized that we internalize information differently. Knowing this, I could not just share the plan and hope that everyone would hear it the same way. Codifying our initiative and success criteria helped us tremendously to ensure that we were in agreement. I have shared a copy of it with every teacher and I bring this out in every feedback session. We always start our conversation by reviewing it. I know it is important that we always keep the context and goal in mind.”

The Notion of Conceptual Redundancy

Again, this article is not about how to communicate. You will have noticed that this article is focused on how to overcommunicate to diverse listeners so that you don’t fall into the trap that many business leaders do.

Leaders inadvertently do the same thing when they walk away from an annual all hands-meeting and think that they’ve done their job of communicating by giving a speech outlining the organization’s strategy or priorities. And they think they’ve been especially thorough when they announce that the slides for the presentation can be found on the company’s intranet site. But then they seem surprised when they learn a few weeks later that employees aren’t acting on what they were told and that most of those employees can’t even repeat the organization’s new strategy accurately.

The problem is the leaders confuse the mere transfer of information to an audience with the audience’s ability to understand, internalize, and embrace the message that is being communicated. (Lencioni, 2012, p. 142)

As educators, we inherently know that clear communication is the cornerstone of learning. Therefore, we are called to utilize this aspect of instructional leadership continuously, purposefully, and intentionally as we share information with each and every listener—the one listening for the data, the one listening for the people, the one listening for the big picture, the one listening for the actionable items. And if you want to know if your teachers have heard your message clearly and accurately, just ask them. Their answers will tell you.

This is the notion of conceptual redundancy. This ensures collective clarity and ultimately success.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • What the notion of conceptual redundancy is and why it one of is the most important aspects of instructional leadership.
  • How to overcommunicate with your audience by taking into account the variety of listeners and addressing the diverse—and sometimes competing—needs of the group.
  • What conceptual redundancy looks like and sounds like from three principals who have utilized it as they implemented their own school-wide initiatives.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

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