How can school leaders communicate to address current obstacles?

Events and social gatherings are being canceled. Schools are moving to virtual instruction and businesses to virtual work environments. Our students and teams are facing disruptive, uncertain times. In this situation, individuals are looking to their leaders for strength, stability and understanding. Relieve anxiety with your teams and communities by planning specific messages and touch points, using the right communication tools and focusing on personal wellbeing. These are 9 tips you may find useful when communicating to your teams and communities in the coming days and weeks.

“In a climate of uncertainty and fear, without strong and visionary leadership, people panic.”


Plan your messages and touch points

1. Start with Why

The safety of employees, students, and the community is the first priority of education leaders especially during COVID-19. Include this in your messages about decisions and next steps to your teams and community. Help individuals understand why decisions are made and continually as plans progress. We are more likely to implement changes when we understand why.

2. Be Authentic

Honesty during uncertain times is critical for those in leadership. Leaders are in the spotlight. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit uncertainty using phrases such as, “we are working to get answers,” and “we don’t know everything right now, we will release more information as we have it” for example. People appreciate leaders who are real and approachable. Craft messages true to your company’s values and culture.

3. Instill Confidence

Leaders lead. During times of disruption we may not know what the future holds, however individuals will look to the leaders in their organizations and community for role models. It is important for leaders to model the way when it comes to disruption and change. Help teams see how the situation will impact them individually. How will it benefit the team? How will it benefit each team member? Communicate plans with confidence and let people know you will be delivering more messages as information becomes available. Stay calm, organized and ready to control what is possible. Set clear expectations for people to achieve success.

4. Plan to Over-Communicate

It’s a best practice to communicate openly, timely and consistently as leaders. While handling a situation such as COVID-19, it is imperative to get information to the right people as quickly as possible. As teams across the country implement social distancing and begin working virtually, leaders should plan to over-communicate with their teams.

    • Executive leadership initiates plans to cascade communication to employees through all leadership levels. Always start with why and develop key words to be used during messages and to answer questions.
    • For those leading a team of individuals, schedule virtual daily or weekly huddles with the team to check-in, connect and provide support.
    • Keep the public informed about decisions, closures and other information before people can speculate or spread rumors.
    • Examine processes for employees who provide service to the community. Are they prepared to provide service from a virtual environment? Do they need additional tools or resources?

Communication tools

5. Use Technology

As we practice social distancing, there are tools available to enhance communication in virtual environments. Think beyond email to contact students, parents, colleagues or partners. Consider picking up the phone or scheduling a video call through Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, or another application or program. Research shows that video engages people quickly, improves their understanding, and helps reach dispersed workforces. Voice and video help people feel more connected while apart.

6. Be Reliable

While making decisions and communicating with teams and communities, we strive to provide information that is consistent and reliable. Connect with the internal communication and human resources department for your organization to verify policies, benefits, etc. referred to in messages are correct. Establish a place employees and/or parents and students can visit to stay up to date on the organization’s messages.

The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 forces us to be agile when it comes to what is next. We aren’t sure how long schools will be closed and faculty/employees and students will be working remote. As updates are made, dates are adjusted, and procedures are implemented, organizations should control their communication by creating an intranet page (internal) or webpage (external) devoted to keeping people informed.

For COVID-19 the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control are reliable and credible resources to use.

Personal Wellbeing

7. Keep Employees Engaged

Some employees may be more successful than others while working virtually. When possible, plan to meet with team members individually at least once per week. Be personal during these connections and ask about their ability to focus and feelings of isolation. Ask if there is anything you can do as their leader to be helpful to them. Reaching out to provide more connection and support can help us get through times of disruption. Continue to assess team morale and engagement levels as social distancing continues.

8. Create “Fun” Virtual Team Connections

Try to keep your team engaged and motivated by incorporating fun virtual connection points into the work day. Schedule a 10 minute virtual water cooler video call to take a break from work and chat for a few minutes. Use workspaces like yammer to share pictures of at-home offices or workspaces, pets, children, or come up with a virtual game to play for a few minutes. Humans are social creatures, although it’s necessary for us to remain productive, taking a few minutes from the day to connect with one another can go a long way.

9. Be Flexible

Understand that employees may need to work during hours outside of the normal 9a.m. to 5p.m. workday. There are challenges and distractions at home including children and spouses that can make it difficult for some to work their usual day. Trust that your teams will do whatever it takes to get their jobs done, and let them know they are supported. Acknowledge this new reality with your team. You may even want to offer an optional team meeting for members to come together and discuss how they are overcoming the obstacle of working with spouses and children in their home.

Put People First

We are still looking for answers to how COVID-19 will impact our daily lives in the weeks to come. As leaders in our organizations, we can be most impactful to our teams by helping them understand the circumstances we are in, and what our plans are. Open, timely communication provides our community direction and helps build their confidence that we can together overcome these obstacles. During times like this, consistent leaders are needed to connect and empower their teams and communities. Reach out and over communicate to keep students, families, communities, and employees engaged and feeling connected.

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