Donovan Group Insights

Internal Communication: Create a Top-Down Flow of Information

As a school leader, you’re no stranger to incidents that require prompt communication. When an incident arises, it brings up many questions: who should you communicate with? How often? What do they need to know?

School leaders often communicate with the public first. However, communication should always start at the top—namely, with your teachers, administrators and support staff. Strong internal communication will allow accurate information to trickle down through the rest of your school community.

Communication starts at the top

When you communicate, you have to decide who will receive the message first. You can’t communicate with everyone all at once, and as a result, stakeholder groups are categorized into separate tiers of communication. Depending on the situation, certain groups will need to hear the message before others. In almost every case, your internal team members should be the first to hear that message.

There should never be a time where the public knows something your team does not. Teachers, administrators and other staff members should be informed about the situation before news reaches the stakeholders beyond school walls. Good internal communication gets staff members on the same page so that your district can present a unified, consistent story to the public.

Consistent communication helps you build strong internal relationships, too. It’s very important to control how your district looks in the eyes of the public. What’s equally important is how people view your district from the inside. By communicating frequently with teachers and staff, you show that they’re a top priority. Your team will feel valued, and they’ll trust that when a situation arises, they’ll be the first to hear about it.

Communication keeps your team in the loop

When an incident occurs, it affects internal stakeholders one way or another. Teachers and staff should be informed about school incidents, whether they were directly involved or simply work in the building where it happened. School leaders need to keep teachers and staff in the loop so that the school can move forward from the situation as a team.

Think of something that occurred at one of your schools, and try looking at it from a staff member’s perspective. Even if you weren’t directly involved, wouldn’t you want to know about the incident? Would you rather hear the news secondhand, or would you rather hear it straight from the superintendent? Putting yourself in the shoes of a staff member can help you realize just how much they depend on you for information.

Consistent, ongoing communication strengthens the core of your school community. By keeping your whole team in the loop, you foster a workplace culture of teamwork and connectivity. You show that everyone is in this together, and the district will offer support to whoever needs it. Frequent communication also encourages staff members to become more invested in school-related matters, regardless of their position or level of involvement. Teachers, administrators and support staff are part of the community—they should know what’s happening in it!

Communication should be early and often

School leaders need to communicate—but more importantly, they need to communicate early and often. Some situations require urgent messaging, especially if the safety of students and staff comes into question. Even if the situation isn’t an emergency, internal team members need to be notified in a timely manner. The public will eventually learn about what happened, and by the time they do, your internal team should have all the information they need to field any questions from parents and community members.

It’s important for school leaders to maintain frequent communication as well. When you regularly touch base with the team, you establish the district as a trustworthy, reliable source of information. Teachers and staff can count on you to keep them informed about topics that are relevant to them. Plus, you don’t have to worry about overcommunicating with your team. It’s almost always better to communicate too much than too little!

Teachers and staff may feel overwhelmed by certain incidents. Communicating early and often lets them know they can always lean on the district for support. Through good times and bad, the district is a constant presence that’s ready to step in and help at any time. This can help put team members’ minds at ease, giving them confidence in your ability to get any situation under control.

Communication cultivates informed storytellers

As a school leader, you understand how important it is to tell your district’s story. When something happens in your district, the public should hear about it from your district—not an outside source. You’ve been through your fair share of media interviews, news releases, television segments and school board meetings. Oftentimes, it feels as though telling the district’s story falls squarely on your shoulders.

But that’s not the case! Anyone in your school community can be a storyteller, including the teachers, administrators and other staff members who frequent the halls every single day. You can’t control what they say, but you can control what information they receive. Good internal communication ensures your team presents a cohesive narrative and brand image to the public. You’re a community of storytellers—make sure everyone is telling the same story.

In addition to having all the facts, teachers and staff would benefit greatly from media relations training. Your team should be educated about how to properly answer questions from external stakeholders. Even if they’re not speaking directly with the media, teachers and staff must understand how to effectively respond to concerned parents and community members. Internal communication involves not just information sharing, but media relations training as well.

Communication guards against misinformation

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. As a school leader, you’re tasked with making sure none of that misinformation is about your district. Thankfully, there are clearcut ways to prevent misinformation from circulating in your community. It all starts with communicating the facts to teachers and staff. The more you communicate with your team, the less misinformation there will be.

When an incident occurs, a communication vacuum opens up. And it doesn’t stay empty for long. Vacuums quickly fill up with information, whether it’s accurate or not. School leaders need to fill the communication vacuum before other people do. By communicating quickly and effectively, you ensure that accurate information reaches the public. Be the first to speak, and you retain control over the story.

Teachers and staff are some of the first people to fill the vacuum. They’re heavily involved in your schools, so if something happens, they’ll be the first to hear about it—and to fill in the blanks if they don’t receive proper communication. Internal team members are the spokespeople for your schools, which means external stakeholders often rely on them for information. Your internal team should receive the right facts and details before anyone else.

Better communication starts with you

When something happens, a school leader’s first thought is, “How will the public receive the news?” But before you communicate with the public, you have to communicate with your team. Internal communication should be timely, consistent and ongoing, even if there are no incidents to report. By establishing strong communication, teachers and staff can feel confident that you’ll always be there to step in and lead the way.

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