Talking the Talk: Common Communication Mistakes School Leaders Make

School communication is the basis for a healthy school culture. More specifically, communication by the leaders. And it’s something that many leaders struggle with on a day-to-day basis.

Here they are eight common communication mistakes educators make:

  1. Using Jargon: School leaders have a special language based on their training, experience and educational relationships. However, students, parents and other members of the school community aren’t necessarily part of this language. When you overuse this type of language, you risk leaving people out.
  2. Being too PC: We appreciate that leaders are taking measures to avoid offending people, but in some cases, you can be too politically correct and actually end up not really saying anything. Be strong in your statements with respect and grace, but address what needs to be addressed.
  3. Speaking in Sermon: Teach, don’t preach. Students especially will recognize and ignore pontification. Effective school leaders help people discover information, answers and solutions, instead of “what is right” at them.
  4. Patronizing: Talking down to students, staff, parents, or community members is an absolute way to silence your message. Students, in particular, may not know precisely what patronizing is, but they know they don’t like it and they won’t respond to it.
  5. Ungood Writing/Speak: Leaders talk and write – people are supposed to listen. But when there are mistakes and errors, that’s what people will focus on. And it will affect your credibility. Don’t let people focus on the mistakes, let them focus on the message.
  6. Communication Overload: There is a limit to what people can absorb and understand; recognize that. Bite-size bits of information, short reminders, precise updates – this is what your audience wants and needs from you. Too much can be worse than too little.
  7. Too Familiar: What your school community needs are mentors and leaders, not friends or buddies. So that means that your communication needs to remain professional. No slang (kids-speak moves far too fast to keep up), no profanity (even in today’s permissive society), avoid being “cute” (it’s not a good way to build rapport), and don’t make the mistake of becoming too casual. Though you may feel that it makes you appear accessible and approachable, you may come off as foolish or dishonest. People expect school leaders to talk like adults. So, do.
  8. Vague: Generalities don’t sit well with school communities – you are better to provide specific facts and address things head-on. When people want to pin you down, let them. That’s when real communication takes place.

When school leaders fail to communicate, it is usually related to one of the above. In most cases, all it takes to avoid these is paying attention, being honest, using plain talk, exercising common sense, showing empathy and practicing a little humility. Saying the right thing in all situations isn’t always easy, but it is always possible.

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