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Dear Principals,

Have you ever wondered why, with all your best intentions, that the work you are trying to lead at your site falls flat? Have you even wondered why, with all your best intentions, that once you explain your vision for your school, no one seems to remember what you said? Have you ever wondered why, with all your best intentions, that it feels like everyone is purposely ignoring you?

We have all been there.

So, how do we get our message out there? How do we get folks to listen? How do we get our staff to remember? How do we keep the excitement going?

As educators, we inherently know that clear communication is the cornerstone of learning. But, sometimes when it comes to communicating with our staff or peers, we can fall into so 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)

In other words, one of the most important aspects of instructional leadership is to continuously, purposefully, and intentionally share information with the staff. This is the notion of conceptual redundancy. “To succeed, leaders must carefully select, severely limit, and the persistently clarify (and clarify, and clarify, and clarify) the work to be done by those who lead.” (Schmoker, 2016, pg. 11)

Therefore, we are called to ensure clarity of our message with each and every diverse 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.

So think about your teachers…how would they answer the questions: What is the initiative? What are we focusing on? What are we doing?

If they answer like this…

“We have to learn about another new approach to reading.”

They are simply doing what you have asked them but are not owning their role in implementing the initiative. They are lacking the clarity of the value of the work—to both students and themselves. Therefore, you might need to clarify why they are being asked to implement this strategy, how this strategy will benefit students and increase achievement, and how this strategy will benefit teachers and their success. 

If they answer like this…

“We are learning about the reciprocal teaching strategy to help increase comprehension.”

They are understanding the initiative, its goals, and its purpose. But, again they are not owning their role in implementing the initiative. They are lacking the clarity of the different components of the work. Therefore, you might need to clarify the specific outcomes of the work, the skills they need to implement the strategy, how they will show mastery of these skills, and the individualized support they will receive to implement the strategy at the highest level.

If they answer like this…

“We are implementing the reciprocal teaching strategy to increase active reading and comprehension. This is a research-based instructional strategy that can be used in all content areas. This will allow our students to see the connections across subjects. It will allow us to have school-wide conversations about reading comprehension and engagement.”

They are owning their role in implementing the initiative. They are clear about the goals of the initiative and why it’s important for students, how it will integrate with other school-wide expectations, and the resources they will have to implement the initiative at the highest level. This is a teacher who will ensure student success because you have ensured clarity for this teacher. This is a teacher who will be able to listen, speak, read, and write about their understanding of the work with colleagues.

What’s the difference between all of these answers? The clarify of the message from you, the principal.

If you think you 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.

Want to know more about how to ensure clarity?

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The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • Clear communication is a must for the successful implementation of any initiative.
  • Conceptual redundancy is the key to effective communication.
  • If you want to know what teachers are hearing and understanding about what you said, ask them and listen to their answers.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

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