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June 1, 2022

Say It in a Page – Communication for Leaders

As a new assistant principal, I worked for a very intelligent, well-read principal. He could devour mountains of research, cite it regularly, and use advanced vocabulary when espousing his vision and directions. Often, when planning for faculty meetings, professional developments, and follow-ups, I was tasked with communicating his direction to the rest of the staff. That meant I had to distill the principal’s often-complex ideas in a way that was approachable for our busy staff.

Hence, I frequently developed a “one-pager”—a way to simplify the message so that others could easily understand and internalize it.

Little did I know that this task was laying the foundation for how I would communicate to my staff once I became principal. Here are the benefits explaining why leaders should “say it in a page.”

Keep It Short

Any, and I mean ANY, information you want your staff to remember needs to be short! Few will read through mountains of information, and even fewer will try to dissect complicated material. Thus, all of your communications should be no longer than a page.

How do you keep it to a page? Follow these steps:

  1. Determine what’s most important. Even if “everything is important,” pick the two or three most important points for the sake of brevity. You can always do more follow-up later.
  2. Use bullet points so that the communication is easy to read and follow.
  3. Use straightforward language. Teachers don’t have time to sort through jargon and figure out ambiguous instructions. Make sure to use vocabulary and concepts they’re already familiar with.
  4. Keep information short and simple. Teachers should be able to internalize the information easily and reference the one-pager when needed.
  5. DON’T hand them a binder or cite a folder online! Binders usually end up collecting dust on shelves. If teachers want to organize their information in a binder, then let them. This goes for online folders too. Let teachers create and maintain their own online system. They’ll more readily access files if they manage their own.

Consider Your Audience and Timing

Teachers are bombarded with loads of information all day long. With all the multitasking of managing students, lesson plans, student work, assessments, district requirements, schedules, parents, colleagues, etc., teachers are truly short on time. When you hand them pages of information to read or send a lengthy e-mail, chances are, they are going to toss it aside or skim the e-mail and close it, never to be reopened.

As a result, leaders need to be sensitive to teachers’ time. There is never enough of it. When communicating important information, think about when and how you give it to them.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Send the one-pager, via e-mail or online drive, the day before a faculty meeting or professional learning. This allows those who like being prepared to read it prior to the event.
  • Give a hard copy after you deliver the information. Your one-pager might serve as a summary of the key points or things to follow up on. Giving out hard copies afterward ensures teachers won’t be distracted during your presentation.
  • Have a purpose. Never give information and do nothing with it. It’s important to understand why you are giving the information, what the information is, and the anticipated outcomes of providing the information.

Provide Weekly Communication

Once a week, I would e-mail a one-page celebration and information document. It included three sections:

Section 1: Information

The top section had only three or four bullet points of the most important things teachers and staff needed to know for the coming week. This may include reminders of a deadline or forewarning of upcoming events. If I had more than four things, I had to pick the top four and communicate anything else later.

Section 2: Applause

This was the biggest section and took up most of the page. I would highlight staff (teachers and support staff) who had done a good deed or deserved recognition for accomplishments or kindness, or I would simply thank people for their efforts.

I kept a spreadsheet of all of my employees’ names so that I made sure to highlight every person at least once a year. I sometimes applauded a whole team, a grade level, or individuals. My purpose was to show appreciation and hope that others got ideas to emulate. It became a “pay it forward” opportunity that helped build morale and support school culture.

Section 3: Instructional Snapshot

In this section, I highlighted an instructional or behavioral strategy demonstrated by a specific teacher or staff member during one of my formal or informal walkthroughs. I would describe what they did and the benefit of their strategy. I always related it to student outcomes and how it supported student learning and achievement. It was my teachable moment. I wanted everyone to learn from each other, with hope that they would replicate the strategy or seek out the person for additional information.

With these types of communications, it’s important never to use them to correct an undesirable action. Instead, focus on positive communication. As the success of this weekly communication grew, others began sending me applause moments to share as they celebrated their peers’ efforts. Some weeks, I had more than a page worth of applause. So what did I do? I shortened sentences, picked the most important information, and remembered my audience.

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