Communication is an essential part of leadership and in this unit we will consider the concept of communication and different types of communication. We will also be looking at the importance of effective communications for staff meetings and negotiations.
Individual study time: 2 hours
After working through this unit you should be able to:
¨ define the process of communication
¨ identify different types and methods of communication
¨ list the key characteristics of effective communication
¨ appreciate the importance of listening to teachers, pupils and parents for the purposes of rational decision making and problem solving in the school
¨ apply communication principles and practices to running affairs at the school, particularly with regard to staff meetings and negotiations.
Communication in schools
Consider the following scenario:
A deputy Headteacher in a primary school saw an advertisement in a national newspaper for school heads. Part of the job specification is given below.
PERSON SPECIFICATION HEADTEACHER
An experienced, professionally trained and
qualified teacher with ten years teaching
experience, two of which must have been as a
Senior Master / Mistress, Head of Department or a
¨ able to communicate effectively with all levels of school management and staff
¨ should have substantial experience and/or training in oral and written presentations with proven writing skills
¨ able to prepare school‑based reports, records and development proposals and to negotiate and sell new ideas
¨ able to cultivate and maintain good working relations with pupils, teachers, parents, education officials and the public
¨ should have skills in gathering, analysing and interpreting data and information on school matters
¨ should have proven integrity and credibility in handling school‑based resources especially school funds
¨ able to steer meetings for decision making and problem solving on school matters, etc.
What do you think this told the teacher about the job and the required skills?
The lesson to be learnt from this case study is the importance of the head having good communication techniques. In fact communication skills can be considered as essential for career development and growth ‑ as the diagram depicted below suggests!
Achieving Headship Ladder to Headship
Ability to communicate
Ambition and drive
Making sound decisions
Capacity for hard work
What is communication?
Communication is the process by which information is exchanged in order to initiate action or solve a problem. In a school, this may involve giving notices about activities, events, decisions and tasks which affect individuals or groups ‑ pupils, teachers, parents, non‑teaching staff, visitors to the school and others. It also suggests the sharing of opinions and ideas openly and freely, being mindful of other's views and encouraging individuals to seek for information and advice.
Communication may be defined as the ability to express oneself through writing, through the spoken language and through body expressions in order to pass on a message and ensure
The process of communication
¨ source of the message ‑ the sender: writer, speaker.
¨ format of the message and media for transmitting the message ‑ letter, memo, report, speech, chart, etc.
¨ time factor ‑ messages may take time to reach their destination
¨ receiver of the message ‑ seeing, hearing, feeling, imagining, etc. by the recipient: reader, listener.
¨ feedback ‑ acknowledgement from receiver to indicate that there has been total communication.
At each of the steps in the communication process barriers occur, and problems may arise with the interpretation of messages. These arise from differing perceptions of reality, and the influence of attitudes, opinions and emotions. Feedback serves to show up misinterpretations of the communication. Negative reaction can result in the necessary corrective measures being taken.
Types of communication
Communication can take place through:
¨ speech, including loudspeaker systems, telephone, voicemail, cell phone, radio, TV, DVD etc
¨ written word including paper documents, books, fax, email, intranet, internet, instant messaging, texts or other visual displays or electronic devices
¨ body language, for example, non‑verbal forms, tone of voice, etc.
In fact there are so many different ways of communicating in the 21st Century in Guyana that, not only is communication made easier for most of us, it is also open to much more misunderstanding and misinterpretation because we comprehend what people want to communicate to us through a variety of clues. Only face to face communication gives us all of those clues and is the most efficient and, even then, we often get it wrong!
These may take place in different contexts, for example:
Informal communication: by word of mouth or by telephone through, for example, get‑together parties, recess discussions, personal or confidential talk, gestures, personal impressions and the tone of voice used to reinforce communication.
Formal communication: includes official circulars, internal memos, emails, letters and staff meetings.
Consider the advantages and disadvantages of speech and writing as a means of communicating with staff and pupils in your school. To what extent do you use the various types of communication in different contexts in your school?
You will probably have included under a list of advantages of speech such things as speed of communication, the fact that it is more personal, and that it gives the opportunity for immediate feedback. You may have noted that writing has advantages in providing a record of the communication and enabling communication with a large number of people. Clearly, much will depend on the purposes of the communication, whether or not you want feedback and so on.
The essentials of effective communication
Hints and guidelines for the school head
When communicating, that is, when passing on information or giving instructions or orders to the staff, the following guidelines should be taken into consideration:
¨ know your objective: what do you want to achieve? (inform, praise, discipline, etc.)
¨ know the receiver: (for example, the underperforming teacher / learner) and the reason for the communication (for example, poor examination results)
¨ formulate your message: be clear, specific and understandable by using short sentences in simple English
¨ be brief: do not include unnecessary information
¨ do not under communicate: the message must cover questions such as why, who, what, when and where?
¨ consider how the message is best communicated: this can be just as essential as the content
¨ be aware: also of your attitude, behaviour, non‑verbal communication, gestures and facial expressions in delivering the message
¨ keep in mind: that positive feelings and emotions inspire positive attitudes amongst the staff and learners
¨ be yourself: show through the message that you respect the staff, trust and accept them, are interested in them and are willing to help and listen to them
¨ be enthusiastic: and inspirational in your communication
¨ listen carefully: an effective communicator must be a good listener
¨ make use of effective feedback: communication is a two‑way process so always ask questions to determine whether the message has been understood.
Effective communication and staff meetings
Staff meetings provide means of communication between the head and teachers on matters concerning the running of the school. An essential feature of successful meetings is good communication. The school head who communicates effectively can create an environment of trust. This is very important so that the members of a school community can feel secure and confident enough to communicate freely and openly in staff meetings and other forums.
Let us now examine some of the important practical things to remember about staff meetings.
Staff meeting notice
This should show the date, time, venue and purpose/agenda of the meeting, who is to attend the meeting and the head's signature as the convenor.
The notice should be sent out in good time before the meeting so that teachers can prepare information for items on the agenda. However, impromptu and emergency staff meetings can take place any time. Scheduled staff meetings should not interfere with normal teaching time.
Minutes of the meeting
This is the brief record of things discussed, noted, adopted, agreed upon during the meeting. Some schools number items in the minutes of staff meetings for example, SM/2/09 means it was the second item discussed in 2009. Again, SM/52/09 means it was the 52nd item discussed in 2009.
Minutes of staff meetings usually include:
¨ title, date, time and venue of meeting
¨ attendance / absence with and without apology
¨ opening of the meeting / adoption of the agenda
¨ confirmation and matters arising from previous meeting(s)
¨ new business / agenda
¨ any other business.
Planning a staff meeting
It is important that you plan your meetings in order to reach agreements, resolve problems, receive reports on actions undertaken and formulate plans for action. The following activity on planning a staff meeting should help you to appreciate the range of tasks which need to be undertaken in preparation for a meeting.
Primary School staff meeting
Important matters need to be discussed at the next staff meeting at this Primary School. The school head contemplates the list below and begins to prepare a staff meeting notice...
¨ Cleaning of grounds and classrooms, especially as staff have been complaining of cleaning work poorly done.
¨ The staff tea fund is not managing and higher contributions may be necessary. At present membership is voluntary, but tea and coffee consumption is high.
¨ Use and control of the new photocopier.
¨ Results at the end of last year.
¨ Parents have complained at the cost of school uniforms. It would be possible to take advantage of a cheaper range of clothing offered by a large retail chain, but this would require some changes to the present school uniform.
¨ There have been errors in the register summary prepared each Friday..
¨ Ministry of Education promotion regulations, which were received and acted upon late last year, but which have not yet been discussed properly as there was little time.
¨ Exam results obtained by three staff members in their personal studies.
¨ Covering of pupils' exercise books.
¨ Secretary’s telephone answering techniques.
¨ Ways to improve English among the staff.
¨ Use of four additional covered parking bays which were completed over the holidays. (There are now 12 bays.)
There will be matters carried forward from the last meeting.
The school has 22 teachers. There is one secretary. There are three cleaners / ground staff / guard, one of whom has been at the school for 12 years and acts as Supervisor. The school runs no after school classes.
Prepare a staff meeting notice for this Primary School. You will need to draw up an agenda for the meeting, having put items in priority order and in categories. Give some indication of the time per item. Decide on attendance requirements. Set a time and date for the meeting.
Decide which items need to be on an agenda for the whole staff and which can be dealt with in other ways.
You will perhaps have found it difficult to prioritise some of these items and ensure that the agenda was a true reflection of the items which warrant attention at this imaginary school. Do you find this in your own situation? It may be that some items do not need to be brought to the attention of a full meeting and can be dealt with on a one‑to‑one basis.
Consultation with certain staff may well be appropriate in advance of the meeting, such preparation can help avoid time‑wasting discussion during the meeting, and sensitise you to potential difficulties. This again highlights the importance of maintaining a good communication flow at all times in the school: effective communication can certainly help ensure more successful staff meetings and it is a key feature of negotiations, which we briefly explore in the last section of this unit.
Communication and negotiation
Communications within a school or between a school and its local community unfortunately can, and sometimes do, break down. Careful negotiations can rectify the situation. Negotiation has been defined as back‑and‑forth communication designed to reach an agreement, when two sides have some common interests and other interests that are opposed.
People involved in any negotiation process require:
¨ up‑to‑date, accurate and reliable data and information
¨ proper and timely presentation of the data and information
¨ participation and involvement of the parties on issues which directly affect them
¨ opportunities allowing negotiating parties to present and argue their cases exhaustively
¨ possibilities for further consultations on doubtful data and information.
In schools where negotiation takes place effectively, there is order, self discipline and responsible behaviour amongst pupils, teachers, parents and all members of the school community.
Consider which steps you would take as school head to help ensure that there was
a supportive climate for management at all times? How do you think you might improve your success as a negotiator?
Many of the points made earlier in this unit concerning effective communication are pertinent here, particularly comments about the importance of building trust and being a good listener. To summarise, to be an effective communicator and negotiator as a school head, you should remember the following:
¨ See and talk to your pupils, teachers and parents often: make them aware of your positive attitudes and let them get to know you as a person.
¨ Establish a two‑way atmosphere of receiving as well as giving data and information to improve understanding and explain actions.
¨ Get your school community to talk to you and listen to them patiently and attentively: get to know them individually and in groups and be sure to praise when necessary.
The unit has looked at the communication process, noting the various types of communication used and the importance of good communications in a school. Attention has been focused on the need for the school head to be an effective communicator to enable more successful meetings and negotiation procedures as well as to be an effective leader. Leadership without good communication cannot exist. It is one of the first requirements.
Remember at all times that the headteacher is first and foremost a leader!