Lead Communicator

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At some point during my time as principal at Cantiague, I stopped calling myself the principal and instead referred to myself as a lead learner. The term, which I was introduced to on social media (thank you Joe Mazza) and learned more about from Michael Fullan, resonated with me because I always felt the most central part of my work was being a learner first. 

As my journey as a lead learner unfolded at Cantiague, I realized that one of the most important aspects of my work as a leader, and learner, was being an effective, intentional and thoughtful communicator. In fact, during my last 3 years at Cantiague I made it a mission to be as transparent as possible with all key stakeholders. I started by communicating internally with our staff through the Friday Focus newsletter (here is an example of that newsletter), where I shared great things happening in our space, provided access to resources beyond our space and offered a review of general odds and ends. Then I started communicating with our students & families using email, social media and video (here is an example of our weekly video update – Cantiague Video Update) to spotlight our students and engage our families in a different kind of way. Even during my short time as a superintendent I blogged throughout the year to engage the community; again, in an effort to be transparent.   

In fact, transparency has been a goal of mine ever since I did my dissertation research in 2012 when I began to really understand the connections between transparency, relational trust and the development of social capital. In order to be a successful leader one needs social capital, which only comes after one gains the trust of those around them; and one of the keys to building trust is frequent, open and honest communication… transparency. This is what shifted my practice as a principal; I began communicating with greater frequency, across multiple platforms and with much intentionality. Whether sending a newsletter to faculty and staff, sharing highlights with families or offering feedback to a colleague, open and clear communication has always been my goal. Actually, over the last several years I have prided myself on being a transparent leader by communicating as much as possible (maybe even being over communicative at times). 

I thought I was doing a good job with communicating until I was recently questioned by a couple of colleagues. We were in the midst of a process in our district and I received an email from a group of colleagues asking some questions and sharing concerns about the process. Fortunately, I was able to answer most of the questions and address a majority of the concerns but what I quickly realized, with their help, was the questions and concerns never would have come up had I done a better job communicating in the first place. This exchange made me pause, reflect and refine my practice. I knew I had to do a better job communicating and sharing information with our staff because without the information, there was confusion, frustration and no trust. 

This recent situation was a critical reminder about how important transparent communication is to my work as an educational leader. When I reflect on the professional challenges I experienced as a leader (there have been many), or experienced under the leadership of others, more often than not, a communication breakdown was a critical error in the process. Either information wasn’t shared in a timely fashion or information wasn’t shared at all; and the people within the school or district were left to fill that communication void with rumors, half truths and misinformation. And we all know what happens when rumors start flying… people feel destabilized, unsettled and uncertain about the future; and nothing good comes from feeling unsettled or uncertain. 

So this is what brings me to this idea of being a Lead Communicator because in the end, whether leading a classroom, leading a school or leading a district, we must all be lead communicators before we can be lead learners, lead teachers or leaders period. To that end, I offer the following acronym to frame the link between leadership and communication and to offer a guide for engaging in open, honest and transparent communication…  

T. Sinanis, 2018

My challenge to my fellow educators, especially those of us in educational leadership positions, is to think about how we communicate from our leadership positions each and every day. Are you engaging the following communication process in an effort to be a lead communicator? 

Discussing and/or Disseminating 

***This is the first post in a series to follow about communication and leadership. I have finally found the entry ramp back onto the blogging highway and I am looking  forward to sharing more in the coming weeks!***