PTC

Monday Musings #18 – Effective Communication

Originally Posted January 2011

For the past few summers, I’ve been attending week long workshops in Miami at the Principal’s Training Center.

Communication

Each workshop has been incredibly rewarding, interesting, and enriching.  I also find myself making new friends and building a list of colleagues I hope to have the opportunity of working with at some point in the future.

Dan Kerr, the Middle School Vice-Principal at the Shanghai Community International School, is one of these great leaders.  Throughout the year, Dan has graciously included me in “Monday Musings”, a weekly email to his colleagues relating to a variety of educational thoughts, ideas, articles, or podcasts.  In Saudi Arabia, Monday marks the middle of the work week, and I find myself looking forward to hearing what Dan has to share.  As a teacher, leader, collaborator, and community member, Dan’s message on communication is essential reading.  Here’s what Dan shared with his faculty this week ….

After spending the last few weeks reflecting on the mistakes that I’ve made over the last few months, and the many “do-over” moments that I wish I had back, I have come to an interesting conclusion. Almost every single issue, problem, regret, and misstep that I can think of could have easily been avoided had I communicated more effectively. So this week I want to talk about the benefits and beauty of…………….. Effective Communication.

    The truly interesting part of this realization is that in many instances I actually thought I had communicated effectively. The problem was that I was making assumptions and taking things for granted, which in a large school like ours, having to deal with students, faculty, parents and the surrounding community, becomes problematic. Just having said the words, or sent an E-mail, or relied on someone else to deliver some news isn’t enough………..the magic lies in the follow up and the feedback! 

    The other part to this that is often overlooked, is that effective communication is a two way street. Not only is it important to say what we really need to say clearly and concisely, we also need to speak up when we don’t understand or feel confused. Listening is very underrated in my opinion and a skill that needs to be taken seriously. I know of a few schools that have spent a large portion of their PD budget on Active Listening consultants, or workshops that focus on pausing, paraphrasing, presuming positive intent, and strategies that allow you to really HEAR what someone is saying.
    
     Miscommunication has many facets and can strike in a number of different ways. Think of the messages we send out with our body language or the tone of our voice. Communicating effectively is a full time job that encompasses all that we do, in every aspect of our lives. Just think of the problems and stress that we all could have avoided had we been a little bit better at communicating with each other. 

    There’s another part to this as well, that for me is the most essential. The old adage, “It’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it!” I read a wonderful quote the other day by Carl Buechner that says, “they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” A goal of mine for second semester is to become a better communicator and I am challenging you all to take a good look at how well you communicate with your students, your colleagues or the parent community. I think if we look deeply enough we can all find ways to improve, and together we can make our school a better place for everyone. Have a fantastic week and remember to be great for your students and to effectively communicate with each other!

    Quote of the Week………..

The problem with communication is the illusion that is has occurred.   – George Bernard Shaw

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Pearls

Original Posted September 2nd, 2010

I must confess, I am finding that my educational leadership journey is a lot like having children.  I have been around kids and teachers or principals all of my life.  I have had great and not so great moments with each.  They feel familiar.   Comfortable.  However, not until I had children of my own, did I truly understand how little I actually knew about kids and how much I had left to learn.  Labour, delivery, lactation, episiotomies, Apgar scores  … the learning curve was steep.  I can say the exact same thing about my growth as an educational leader.  Missions, visions, difficult conversations, instructional supervision, school improvement processes …. there is always something new to understand.  Although the learning curves are steep, they are incredibly rewarding.

For the past nine years at the International School Bangkok, I have been fortunate to work with many exceptionally talented formal and informal educational leaders.  They have been incredible colleagues, leaders, role models, and mentors.  They have generously shared many pearls of wisdom.  I admire and respect each of them for their unique strengths and leadership qualities.  There is one particular quality that they have in common.  Each possesses an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge.  They exemplify the idea that “If you want to lead, you’ve got to read!”.   And read I have.  Reading is an essential element of my professional development plan. Fullan, Hargreaves, Marzano, DuFour and other gurus provided excellent starting points.  However, I soon realized that there were other authors and sources for inspirational ideas.  So I filled my RSS reader and set up a netvibes account.  I started to read Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, the Harvard Business Review, and Chip and Dan Heath.  Malcolm Gladwell was viewed through an entirely new lens.  I am always on the lookout for a good recommendation.  Do you have any?

Dr. Atul Gawande has perhaps been the most influential author of late.  Better is a book he wrote about how the medical profession improved itself.  It inspired this blog.  While reading, I kept thinking about applying the lessons he shared from the world of medicine, to the world of education.  It’s from his story of Dr. Apgar and the development of the Apgar scale that I gleaned a second pearl of wisdom.  “If you want to make any change, big or small, simply start counting”.  It seems so simple.  If you want to loose weight, start counting calories.  If you want your New Year’s resolution to get to the gym to become a reality, write it down in a log.  I quickly adapted this to my classroom practice and now regularly track essential instructional practices like the types of sharing that close a readers’ or writers’ workshop.  It has made a difference.  Dr. Apgar transformed the world of medicine simply by counting.  A complex procedure, additional resources or time were unnecessary.  She simply collected the information already at hand and used it in a different way to influence change.  Have something that you would like to change? Try counting.

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