Often community relations largely focuses on relationships with external stakeholders. As educational leaders it is important to recognize that communications and relations with internal stakeholders are just as important.
Required Reading Materials
Warner, C. (2009). Promoting Your School (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc. (US).
Chapter 3: Internal Communication
Chapter 6: Building Your Team
Chapter 7: Involving Parents in School
Chapter 8: Community Outreach
Chapter 3: Internal Communication
“Before you can sell the customers, you have to sell the sales force.”
You’ve heard the saying, “Bricks and mortar don’t make a school; people do.” The way your
school or school district is perceived by the community is due primarily to the image presented
by the people in it—your faculty, staff, and students. Unless you plan to put all the students in
the gym or cafeteria and teach them yourself and personally communicate with every parent
and patron, you need to have a plan for making each person in your school an active member of
the school team.
Each member of the school staff, from the custodian to the principal, is a key
communicator with the community. Even substitute teachers are involved in carrying the image
of your school back to the community.
Where do people most often go when they want the “inside story” on an issue or an
organization? They seek out someone they know and trust who is directly involved with the
source of information in which they are interested. All the favorable newspaper or radio or
television coverage in the world will not overturn the negative or inaccurate report given
firsthand by one of your employees to a neighbor.
Building good communication with your staff is vitally important. It is your best insurance
against negative and divisive talk that originates in-house. Positive attitudes about your school
are generated by the ripple effect created by good programs, good people, and good
management. Staff members feel these effects first and pass these feelings on to students, who
share them with parents, who transmit them to the community at large.
In order for all your school team members to be effective communicators and people
who willingly promote an affirmative message about their school, they need to have a clear
sense of the school’s mission and goals and be fully informed about the school’s program and
the issues that affect it. This includes all staff, not just teachers. Instructional support staff, bus
drivers, crossing guards, food service workers, secretaries, and custodians are all frontline
communicators and are just as much a part of the school team as you and the teachers.
Today’s leading superintendents recognize the connection between an effective
communication program and student success. They understand the need to demonstrate
accountability by delivering key messages about their schools and model good communication
Here are some wise words and tips, with a focus on internal communication, from some
What does communication look like in a “world class” system?
“It has to be tailored to your school district/system. Communication is everyone’s
responsibility—from food service director to the board president. It has to be strategic, planned,
flexible and it also has to be responsive.”
“It’s not just print or electronic; it must be mobile and multifaceted to reach out to diverse
“Nothing will set back a district faster than poor communication.”
“Everything the district does needs to be mission related, mission driven.”
“Recognize you have to invest in good communication if you want it to truly be a world-class
system, appropriately budget for it. Your school community must value communication and
“Good internal communication is essential. Whether it is the kindergarten teacher, the cafeteria
worker or the bus driver—build on open and honest communication with internal stakeholders
as well as having those conversations within your organization. Think of all those folks [district
employees] as ‘navigators’ or ‘key communicators’—everyone has a circle of influence outside
of their job.”
“We as educators need to be listening to our stakeholders as well—embrace what they are
saying about our school and our district, and determine where we need to move with our
“We need to make sure that the communication staff are helping us get an accurate database of
key communicators. Listen to their suggestions and input about where we need to go with our
mission. Sometimes, the folks who have the most influence are not necessarily the most
high-profile in your community—but they have credibility and others respect their opinions.”
“The cabinet [or executive council] needs to recognize that communication must be a major
function of everything the district does.”
If everyone is responsible for communication, how do you hold your staff responsible?
“Through the motivation and building capacity for people to see the power of good
communication; creating a culture of encouraging people. You have to be encouraged to start
small. Have the communication staff do a ‘mini audit’ at building level. By starting small with
some great successes, your efforts pay off in the long run.”
“If the administrative team understands the importance of great communication, then the culture
of the district will reflect that.”
“Practice good customer service. For example, talk to the secretaries about how they answer
the phone with positive messages, or receive visitors with smiles.”
“Ask, ‘How do we serve our customers?’ Look at the messages we’re sending.”
Source: National School Public Relations teleconference, Dec. 2007; panelists: Dr. Ken Bird Superintendent of Westside Community Schools, Omaha, NE; Dr. Sandra Husk, Superintendent of Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Salem, OR; and Dr. Rodney Lafon, Superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public Schools, Luling, LA.
TECHNIQUES FOR IMPROVING STAFF COMMUNICATION
Staff Meetings. Here are some suggestions that will assist you in transmitting information at staff
meetings, as well as make the experience more pleasant for busy staff.
● Post agendas for your regular staff meetings. When the staff know the topics in advance,
they come better prepared, and two-way communication is upgraded.
● Encourage participation and input from everyone.
● Stick to specific topics of interest to all. If you have subjects to discuss that involve only
one or two teachers, meet with them privately.
● If it is necessary to review materials, send the information out with the meeting agenda
so that pertinent questions can be asked during the meeting, which eliminates the need
for additional time on the subject later.
● Don’t waste staff time by calling a meeting to pass out information that could have been
distributed through mailboxes or e-mail. Whenever possible, chair the meeting
yourself—but have others actually present the material or the agenda. This gives you a
certain objectivity in observing how the staff relate to an issue. It also involves more
participants in the meeting.
● Limit the length of the meeting! By respecting everyone’s time, you create an
environment that allows you to deal productively with important issues. (Some
educational leaders limit staff meetings to an hour—and always serve beverages.)
It is critical to lay the foundation of trust and two-way communication with all staff so
issues can be dealt with before they are blown out of proportion. Although it takes time, the time
spent creating relationships and dealing with issues while they are small saves much more time
in the long run.
The system that has led educational leaders to several successful nonconfrontational
contract negotiations in the past decade follows:
● Every building has a representative from each grade who meets monthly with the
building principal to discuss any issues, concerns, or ideas that need to be addressed.
These are referred to as building chitchats. An agenda is created 3 days before the
meeting, with items from the staff and principal so each group may obtain the information
needed to discuss the items. In nearly every case, issues are resolved at this level.
● If an item continues to be an unresolved issue, it is taken to the district-level chit-chat,
which is also held on a monthly basis. This meeting is held in the superintendent’s office
with union leadership and others who may help resolve the issue. The building
representatives may contact their union representative, who will contact the
superintendent and have unresolved building issues added to the agenda. The
superintendent may add issues to the agenda, which is determined three days in
advance of the meeting so each group may obtain information and those involved may
be invited to attend.
b. District Council
● Once a month, a more formal meeting is held at the Central Office, facilitated by the
superintendent. Participants include one representative from each grade, principals, and
a school board member. The union or administration may place items on the agenda that
need to be discussed and communicated to the rest of the staff. This has served as an
excellent way to obtain information about items and assures that nothing is overlooked
by any constituent group.
c. Working Conditions Committee
● Once a month, a formal meeting is held at the Central Office with the support staff
representatives. The superintendent facilitates this meeting. Support staff, union leaders,
administrators, and a school board member all attend. The union or administration may
place items on the agenda that need to be discussed and communicated to the rest of
the support staff.
d. Learning Leadership Teams
● The Building Learning Leadership Team (BLLT) meets once a month. School is
dismissed early and the staff meets to work on Critical Building Issues (CBIs). The CBIs
must be linked to the School Improvement Plan and focus on student achievement.
● The District Learning Leadership Team (DLLT) also meets once a month. Members on
the DLLT include parents, community leaders, teachers, support staff, a board member,
and administrators. The DLLT starts with a luncheon and meets for an entire afternoon.
One of the agenda topics is a review from each building about how they are progressing
with their CBIs. This important topic assures that each building and the community
leaders know what the other buildings are focusing on. The DLLT uses group processing
techniques to determine Critical District Issues (CDIs), which they research and report
back to the school board in the late spring each year.
At North High School in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, most staff meetings are by affinity
groups— that is, secretaries, custodial staff, teacher’s aides, department chairs, and so
forth—so that the information shared can be as need-specific as possible. In this way, full-staff
meetings can focus on topics of general interest and concern, thus saving time for everybody.
Staff Relations Team. A good way of communicating in schools with large staffs is to develop a
staff relations team made up of teachers from each grade or subject level, several classified
employees, and building administrators. The team meets often (once a week, or every other
week) to discuss issues concerning the school and the district. Team members represent their
colleagues by bringing questions and concerns to the table for discussion. The team members
then pass on discussion results to their colleagues via grade-level and subject-area meetings.
Another way of communicating in schools with large staffs is to follow the lead of Gary
Phillips of Fayette County High School in Fayetteville, Georgia. He divides his staff into four
cluster groups. Each of the four assistant principals then presides over a cluster. This
smaller-group approach allows for greater interaction and more effective communication.
Open Door Policy. Administrators who are available at all times to staff, parents, and students
set the tone for a positive, caring attitude throughout the school. An open door sends a powerful
message that you are there to help—or just to listen. But attitude is important as well. “The key,”
says Bob Kenison of Wauconda Grade School in Wauconda, Illinois, “is to be approachable.”
Deborah Binder-Lavender’s twist on an open door policy is to be available to both students and
faculty in the student commons. Every Monday at Thornton High School in Thornton, Colorado,
Dr. Lavender sits at a table from 1 to 3 p.m. and allows people to stop by without an
appointment and visit.
Be a Good Listener. Take time to get to know individual staff members. Ask about their families
and their hobbies. Be visible around the campus and pay attention to the feedback you receive
from staff. Eat lunch at different times and spend a few minutes visiting with staff members. Chat
with them about how the year is going, what their classes are like this year, how they like the
new math curriculum, and so on. Their answers will give you an idea of the image they are
presenting to parents and community members, and provide you with a valuable tool to target
areas needing improved communication.
Address Professional Needs of Staff. Do a “mini survey” at a staff meeting to determine what
needs the school should address to increase staff effectiveness. When planning staff
development programs, be attuned to staff suggestions and formulate programs that reflect
these recommendations. Encourage teachers and staff to participate in schooling, training,
workshops, inservice programs, and other activities that facilitate and improve their
effectiveness. Grace King High School in Metairie, Louisiana, brings in outside speakers to talk
on topics of current interest during teachers’ lunchtime. Off-campus school retreats afford an
excellent opportunity in a relaxed setting to share new teaching methods, to discuss the latest
trends in education, and to develop a closer relationship among peers.
Staff Recognition. Recognition for special efforts can take many different forms. It is important
that your staff feel they are valuable members of the team and that their efforts and input count.
The most powerful recognition is daily acknowledgment of each individual’s contributions to the
success of the school team. This can be as simple as a welcoming greeting in the morning or
verbal approval of a job well done. This personal touch is important whether you are from a
small rural area or a large urban setting. Principals Ken Griffith (Guernsey, Wyoming) and Ben
Grebinski (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada) both attest to the effectiveness of this one-on-one
with staff. As Grebinski states, “The personal contact takes time, but it is more productive.” And
Griffith says, “We are a small rural high school, so the individual phone or personal contact is
still the most effective.”
Successful teams do not generally single out individuals for special recognition. By
rewarding one individual for being the best at something, you isolate him or her from the team
and send the message that the rest of the team is not as important. Focus on recognizing staff
through appreciation of efforts that promote teamwork.
Think about your personal leadership style. Do you offer praise freely, or is it given
grudgingly and on an infrequent basis? As an educational leader, whichever style you model will
be followed by your staff. The following are ideas for staff recognition:
● Write personal notes of appreciation.
● Take time to thank someone in person.
● Create a floating monthly award with an amusing theme.
● Hold drawings for free dinners or movie tickets donated by local businesses.
● Provide a special treat in the lounge such as doughnuts or ice cream sundaes.
● At full faculty meetings, recognize special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, births,
and so on.
● Hold a barbecue at the completion of a successful project or event.
● Give posters with a theme promoting teamwork that can be displayed in work areas and
● Sponsor an afterschool holiday get-together (and not necessarily on the last afternoon
prior to Christmas break).
● Provide special buttons or pins.
● Create a staff committee to organize recognitions. After all, it’s a team effort.
● Host an end-of-the-year party; you can enlist others to help you. But if this is the only full
faculty or staff social gathering of the year, you’ve waited too long to get everyone
Address Personal Needs of Staff. An awareness and willingness to find out and meet the
personal needs of staff members are greatly appreciated. Exhibiting this kind of caring attitude
encourages the staff to become involved in supporting each other as well. Here are some
suggestions for meeting personal needs:
● Sponsor a wellness clinic through the local hospital.
● Start a Weight Watchers at Work chapter.
● Organize an afterschool aerobics class.
● Create a cooperative child care group for staff taking evening classes.
● Hold a stress management workshop.
● Create a social activities club for single staff members.
● Develop a peer support network.
● Start a “sunshine fund” to provide flowers or small gifts for birthdays, weddings, births,
funerals, and achievements.
● Arrange for coverage of a teacher’s classes in case of emergency.
Staff Publications. Use your staff newsletter or e-mail to communicate information that does not
need to be covered in a staff meeting. Many principals feel the need for a written bulletin (for
faculty and students)—issued daily so that news doesn’t become old news. The school bulletin
from Dodgeville High School in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, is always printed on bright orange paper
to draw attention to it and to distinguish it from other printed material.
Use E-Communication. Send announcements and important need-to-know information through
all-staff electronic mailing lists. Create an all-staff E-Newsletter with current news and
announcements at the district or school and distribute weekly. Post alerts and crisis information
hotlines on the school or district’s home page. Post crisis response letters (communication to
parents and the school community informing them how an issue is being handled/addressed,
with the safety of children/students at the school(s) being the top concern); post information on
the school’s Web site, or distribute it through the staff electronic mailing list and to your key
communicators before you send it to the media, to keep staff in the know and rumors under
Intranet for Staff. Create an intranet for all personnel with updates and employee surveys. Post
staff responsibilities during a crisis, the staff E-Newsletter, and daily or weekly announcements.
Consider posting monthly podcast messages for employees.
Telephone Messaging Systems. Broadcast important crisis information updates or district
reminders from the superintendent or principal through the district’s phone messaging system.
Caution: Verify facts and send only need-to-know information before transmitting crisis
Encourage teachers to contribute monthly grade-level or department reports for a
newsletter to update the rest of the staff on curriculum items and to pass on successful teaching
Faculty/staff handbooks should include information about school and district policies,
insurance and disability, absences and leaves, school philosophy, curriculum, staff conduct,
retirement, grievances and complaints, evaluations, records, professional growth, and salaries.
Consider a school supplement to the district’s handbook that will cover any relevant local school
issues or policies. The teachers at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Arizona, have
prepared such a supplement. To help teachers find strategies to enhance their teaching in block
scheduling, teachers devised a handbook about teaching in the block that is full of helpful hints,
answers questions, and addresses the concerns that are most likely to arise.
Staff Business Cards. Solicit local business funds to provide all employees at your
school—faculty and staff—with their own business cards. This builds a sense of pride,
self-worth, and ownership in your school. It says, “I am a professional, and I’m proud to let
people know where I work.”
Staff Crisis Updates. All staff members should be familiar with your crisis plan (see Chapter 11)
and have a clear understanding of their roles. For them to function effectively in a crisis,
however, they must have current information about the situation. Don’t wait for regularly
scheduled staff meetings to share crisis updates. If staff members are to effectively
communicate the true status of a situation to concerned parents and community members, they
must be apprised of current information as soon and as often as feasible. They need to get their
information from you directly and not through the grapevine. When people are aware of
situations but don’t have accurate information, they begin to speculate. Speculation turns into
rumor, which turns into misinformation that can be damaging to the school and difficult to undo.
With proper information, your staff can assist in diffusing the impact of crisis situations on
New Staff Orientation Program. Involve your veteran staff members in creating an orientation
program for new staff. You could develop a special kit of “survival” materials to help them
become acclimated. Establish a mentor or buddy system to pair newcomers with veterans
teaching at their grade level or in their department. Hold monthly meetings for newcomers and
their veteran partners so they might share their experiences.
Welcome Substitutes and Volunteers. People who spend time in your school as substitutes,
student teachers, or volunteers become a part of your school team as well. Get to know them
and encourage their participation in school activities. Include them in staff meetings when
appropriate. Remember that they, too, are important sources of information to the community
about your school.
Assemble welcome packets that include important information about your school:
demographics, a map of the campus, a list of staff members, and so forth. Include a name tag
that identifies each newcomer as a substitute, volunteer, or student teacher.
Make a sign in the lounge welcoming substitutes. Take a photo of each sub and place it
on the sign, along with the sub’s name and the class in which he or she is subbing. This makes
substitutes feel welcome and serves as an icebreaker with other staff members. Do the same
for volunteers and student teachers.
Be a Cheerleader. As an educational leader, you set the tone for your school, so don’t be afraid
to lead the parade. Look for things to celebrate, large and small, and when you can’t find any,
invent some. Positive attitudes are contagious, so spread yours around!
TECHNIQUES FOR IMPROVING STUDENT COMMUNICATION
The very best ambassadors for education are students. If students are not excited about
learning and proud of their school, then school has failed them by not providing the kind of
environment that nurtures success. This environment does not require the newest building or
latest technological equipment. It does mean that educators must create, within whatever limited
resources are available, a warm and caring climate that fosters self-esteem and a desire to
Society places an enormous burden on schools. Today, educators must be all things to
all children—and then some. Amazingly, educators continue to be up to the task, by willingly
accepting the challenges and overcoming great odds on a daily basis. But as mentioned in
Chapter 1, educators are often reluctant to toot their own horns. Students will do it for you if you
include them in your communication network.
Be Enthusiastic. When you are excited about something, your students will be, too. Let the kid
inside you show and children will respond tenfold. For many children, the enthusiasm shown for
them and for their school is the only positive reinforcement they receive—and enthusiasm is
Be Visible. Every child on campus should be able to identify you as the principal, no matter how
big your school. Join in student activities. Jump rope. Shoot a f
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