I held a webinar today for leaders of Canadian Independent Schools along with my colleague Ron Lalonde, who was the Middle East Director of the Institute of Positive Education. We explored the topic of leadership through the lens of Positive Psychology, or as I like to think of it, the science of living a good life.
This summary will explore the communication methods that work best during a crisis. It begins with including all voices to promote agency and buy-in.
Who Needs to be at the Table
Begin by thinking of all the voices to include. Students, parents, teachers, non-teaching staff and community are all stakeholders. Then take a moment to remind yourself that you have 2 ears and 1 mouth- this is also the ratio of speaking to listening you want to go for.
Assumptions are frequently made about what is best for student wellbeing, with little input from the students themselves. Stakeholder engagement happens when you connect meaningfully with, learn from and communicate with parents, teachers, students and staff. Engagement must be deliberate, structured and systematic, and stakeholders should have an influence throughout the decision-making process, not just at the end. The engagement cycle happens best if it includes an opportunity for communication in the planning, participation, analysis and sharing stages.
When leaders are in crisis mode the knee-jerk reaction is often believing that decision making lies firmly on the leader’s shoulders. Crisis makes it even more important to include stakeholder voice to hear great ideas, to address fears and to foster stronger buy-in across all stages. It is essential to keep in mind that the goal of communication isn’t only answers to your problems, it’s touching the lives of others in your community.
We recommend Charles Feltham’s model that requires
- You mean what you say
- You keep your promises
- You take on what you can perform well
- You have people’s backs
Watch this clip of BC’s Dr. Bonnie Henry who is a textbook example of exceptional crisis communication thanks to her tone, her timing, the language she uses and her ability to create a sense of common humanity by an authentic sharing of emotions.
The Platform Hierarchy
When you are asking for input from stakeholders, there is a continuum of poor to effective communication.
Any time you can have an in-person conversation it is the most effective choice since you get the nuances of eye contact, body language and vocal tones. The next best is on a Zoom or Facetime call where you can see most of these things. A third choice would be having a phone conversation. And the least effective methods would be via survey or by email since so much is lost when using these limited methods.
If the structure does not permit
dialogue the structure must be
changed. Paulo Freire
Over the next few weeks, I will be featuring content that helps leaders and educators use the science of living a good life in school and at work. If you want to stay in the loop. please join the mailing list.