Lines of communication

Lines of communication are crucial within schools. While the message that is provided is important, it is also important to consider the practices, behaviours and systems that form part of effective communication methods.

Downward Communication

From leaders to staff

This is the most commonly discussed form of communication that takes place within schools. It sets the tone for the culture in the organisation, as well as dictates the pace and focus of the activities taking place.

The impact of downwards communication can affect the wellbeing of a workforce, their view of their own efficiency, efficacy and effectiveness, alongside their view of the leadership team.

Key considerations as part of downward communication include:

  • Know and be ourselves: know how messages from yourself are perceived by the staff you lead and be aware of this when constructing your message. Be aware that changes in your messaging style may cause disruptions with staff, who have adjusted and adapted to your expectations.
  • Send selective signals: the medium of communication selected can signal the importance of the message being delivered; consider when you would use a face-to-face meeting versus sending an email. Avoid sending signals of a “them vs us” mentality, which may give a feeling of things being out of your control.
  • Listen for signals: build upwards communication in at the end of downward communication to test to see if the messaging has landed as required.

Upward Communication

From staff to leaders

The amount of upward communication will vary from school to school. Where they are cultures of open doors of leaders offices, and where middle leaders feel they can safely share the thoughts of their teams, upward communication can form a key driver for school improvement.

Effective upward communication from staff to leaders can ensure that messages are landing as expected, staff feel they can shape the direction of the organisation and all staff have buy-in to any new initiatives that are being driven.

Key considerations as part of upward communication include:

  • Provide private lines: ensure staff have the facilities to be able to anonymously provide feedback on their thoughts and views on what is occurring within the school.
  • Part of organisational culture: by developing a culture of psychological safety, staff will feel free to say what is on their mind.
  • Visible results: ensure that any feedback that is received from staff is acted on, and this is then communicated to show the importance of effective upwards communication.

Horizontal Communication

Between staff at the same level

Ensuring communication between staff does not lead to uncertainty, competition or confusion is one of the goals of consistent messaging. Making sure that the same message is given between members of staff compared to upwards and downward communication is a key part of improving clarity of communication.

The impact effective horizontal messaging can have on collaboration, growing staff and teams within the organisation, and the development of a organizational identify makes it a key variable to be monitored.

Key considerations as part of horizontal communication include:

  • Limit territoriality/rivalry: ensure all staff have the same message, and the same access to the same information about the message; this avoids certain staff feeling they know more or less than others, or have “insider knowledge” which could lead to conflict.
  • Manage specialisation: messaging could highlight the knowledge, skills and experience that some people have, that others may not; this needs to be managed carefully through collaborative upward communication channels.
  • Manage sharing of information: allow horizontal conversations to be managed and supported by providing the time needed for staff to share their thoughts and views productively with each other.

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