Anyone who has played a game of telephone knows effective communication is crucial to an organization’s success. According to a study by Economic Intelligence Unit, poor communication resulted in:

  • added stress (52% of the cases)
  • failure to complete projects (44% of the cases)
  • low staff morale – (31% of the cases)
  • barrier to innovation (20% of the cases)

Good communication between teachers and school administration can eliminate these problems and create a win-win environment where everyone feels their efforts, needs, and ideas are taken seriously. You can create this kind of school culture by using the following principles:

Listen with Empathy

Stephen Covey said in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that too often people listen with the intent to reply rather than listening to understand. If you try to first be understood, you may miss parts, or all of the needs, wants and goals of the other party.

“Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with,” Covey said. “Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart.”

To start listening with empathy:

  • Give a speaker undeniable attention with your body language, open posture, and eye contact. Non-verbal communication plays a big role in dialogue and can ease tension when discussing problematic issues.
  • Give feedback during dialogue by reflecting on what has been said by paraphrasing.
    • “What I’m hearing is…”
    • “Sounds like you are saying…”
    • “So you think that…”
  • Avoid judgmental thoughts and do not argue or interrupt before the speaker finishes their point.

empathetic listening


Mastering the skill of empathetic listening is tough and requires a lot of practice, but the fruits are well worth the effort.

Make Meetings Short and Concise

Educators have a lot on their plate, so treating time as a commodity is necessary. By following some of these tips, you can eliminate unnecessary stress and increase effective communication:

  • Always have an agenda. Without it, it is very easy to lose track of time.
  • Don’t use a default setting on Google or Outlook calendar. According to Steven Rogelberg, this makes the majority of meetings longer than they need to be. Ideally, the person in charge will know how long the meeting needs to be.
  • Cut the meeting time down by 5-10 minutes. So if you need 40 minutes, schedule it for 30 or 35. Rogelberg said this added pressure helps people focus and stay on topic.
  • Limit attendance to “seven, plus or minus two.” Research by Stanford University shows this number of attendees produces the best collaboration and contribution. To decrease meeting time and attendance, try scheduling some meetings every other week instead of weekly and switch groups of school staff who will attend.
  • Apply the 80/20 rule. This strategy by Brian Tracy suggests organizing the agenda so the most important items are listed first (in the top 20%). If time runs out, you’ll have covered the items that represent 80% of the meeting’s value.
  • Use paper for brainstorming sessions. Brainstorming sessions can get long and might not reach a desired outcome. Research suggests to use paper during brainstorming sessions. Benefits include improved memory, creativity and ability of participants to process information more critically at the time of writing.

“If you actually have people brainstorm ideas on paper, as opposed to verbally, and then collect those ideas, you will get nearly twice as many ideas. They will be higher quality, and they’ll be more creative,” Rogelberg said in the interview. “Brainstorming in silence allows people to be more honest. They don’t filter based on what the boss just said. And it allows for everyone to speak at once because you’re not waiting for that one person to finish their idea.”

Be Clear About Your Needs

While working as a teacher, Crystal Frommert’s principal encouraged field trips and other kinds of experiential learning. Each time she had a conversation with him, she made sure it resonated with his passion for experiential learning.

“I told the principal, ‘There is a social and emotional learning conference coming up that will give me ideas for team-building activities for our upcoming grade-level trips. I would be happy to present what I learn at a faculty meeting when I return. Could I get approval to attend?’” Frommert said. “If I had started with, ‘I’d like to go to a conference that doesn’t quite align with the subject I teach, and it’s five states away,’ I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far with my request.”

Be clear about your school or district’s goals, and make sure they resonate with your teachers, so they can better align their ideas and plans with them. That empowers them, and creates a win-win for all.

How you communicate also impacts how well you grab the listener’s attention and maintain clarity. Choose a mode of communication that the listener prefers — email, scheduled meetings, face-to-face chats, or texts.

Give Specific Feedback

“When I was in the classroom, my principal used to tell me all the time that I was a great teacher. It was nice to hear, but it didn’t mean much because he almost never saw me teach,” Jennifer Gonzalez shared. “It would have meant so much if he actually knew what I was doing in my classroom.”

Specific feedback means a lot; it can motivate, improve performance and be an effective tool for continued learning. Instead of saying generalities, try watching how a teacher instructs their class for a few minutes, then finding something specific to compliment them on. For example, you could comment on a subject-related poster made by a teacher to help students understand a difficult concept, or the questions they asked that made students think and produce very deep answers.

This small change in feedback can make an incredible impact, and help teachers feel appreciated and valued.

Effective communication is a complex skill, but by implementing these tips little by little every day, you will see big changes. You help foster a collaborative culture at your school.

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