Why does internal communication matter - even more than it used to - for schools? Here are 4 reasons...
1) The need for alignment on key issues and messages.
With the growth of social media (perhaps especially 'dark social' media such as WhatsApp) people have more connections than ever with school staff - and they're likely to use them for research before choosing to send their children to a school, or take a job there. It's hugely important that all staff can give a realistic impression of what is great about the school and also what is going to change in the near future for the better, reinforcing and adding real life experience to your marketing messages.
2) Confidence for the future.
There are many challenges facing schools in the near future - from the growth of academies to changes in demographics and the 'cost of living crisis' (see our video here for 6 of them!). That means there is a higher chance than normal for your staff to feel uncertain - which can make them more likely to seek other jobs if they rely on negative rumours and gossip.
3) Safeguarding and reputational issues.
Internal communication around safeguarding isn't just about informing staff about how to look after students (although of course this is important). Campaigns such as #MeToo have shown the importance of effective 2-way communication, where staff can highlight issues they are facing. Failure to do this can result in significant reputational damage, as seen recently at Holland Park School in London.
4) Better collaboration to improve every aspect of what you do.
As schools get bigger and join larger chains of schools, the potential for collaboration increases exponentially, but it's very difficult to get everyone into the same physical space for ongoing discussion. How can you bring experts in English, SEN or teacher training together to improve these areas?
Here are four ideas for improving internal communications...
1) Treat internal communications formally - as you would other stakeholder communications.
Schools can fall into the trap of doing the same things internally from year to year, perhaps because there's no pressing need to change them. But the same principles apply as with communication with parents, former students or prospective teachers.
Make sure someone is in charge of internal communication and then do some research - what do staff want to hear, how do they like to be communicated with and do they feel confident in giving feedback? (read my thoughts on research here). Then pilot-test new ideas and reflect on them, using surveys to see how perceptions are changing.
2) Make use of new technology - but only where it adds value.
There are huge benefits to bringing people together on Zoom, Teams or Google Meet when they work in different schools, sharing whole-school information on Slack or Google Spaces rather than sending lots of emails, or using Microsoft Sway for interactive newsletters. But many people are less comfortable with technology, so make sure there is effective training, not too much ongoing messaging (especially when teachers are teaching) - and the chance for face-to-face meetings as well!
3) Make the most of meetings when you have them
The journalist David Macfarlane suggested "Macfarlane's Law", “you can talk faster than you can type, but you can read faster than you can listen.” This excellent article in teachwire applies this concept to schools and concludes that a lot of meeting time is wasted.
What should happen?
Face-to-face meetings should be either short or interactive - there's no point in bringing people together to read out documents, or worse, to remind people to read emails that have already been sent. A short briefing before school can ensure that staff are focused on the key activities and challenges of that day or week, while an interactive staff forum might make real steps on improving feedback to students, with documents provided and questions sought beforehand to ensure maximum productivity.
4) Make sure everyone is involved
I've written before about the importance of being aware of introverts when marketing a school externally, but this also applies internally. Not everyone will feel comfortable speaking at a meeting of many staff (either online or face-to-face), so make sure there are channels for people to digest material and reply in writing. Equally, there are issues where people would prefer to contribute anonymously - do you have systems in place for this?
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