Everything Your School Needs to Know about Internal and External Communications
The term ‘communications’ is all-encompassing. Its coverage ranges from 30-second, one-to-one conversations to in-depth, heavily researched reports read by millions. Despite its diversity, many organisations take a uniform approach to communications, without carefully considering the intricacies of each message.
For any organisation, this is problematic. It can lead to an alienated workforce, apathetic consumers, and a damaged reputation. For those in the education sector, miscommunication can be even more disastrous. Though poor communications by smaller companies may fly under the radar, schools and trusts are under far more scrutiny, and even the most minor of mistakes can have significant consequences.
Though it would be near impossible to breakdown the complexities of every form of communication, we want to demonstrate the differences between the two major categories — internal communications and external communications — in the context of your school’s practices.
Referring to any messages you send to those working at your trust or school, internal communications are crucial to the strength, direction, and morale of your staff.
The purpose of an internal communication is to share information between people inside your organisation. They may contain details about an informal matter, such as the Christmas party, or a more formal message, like a review of your school’s pupil premium spending. No matter what the message is, you must always consider your audience and how best to interact with them.
For schools and trusts, forming a strong internal unit that is driven by a common goal will help to achieve the best outcomes for everyone involved. Understanding your staff’s motivations, drivers, and concerns will allow you to produce a communication in the right tone and with the right message.
Whenever possible, you should look to raise aspirations, encourage improvement, highlight achievements, and praise those who have excelled. Even if the communication is a negative announcement, be open and human, discuss the future ahead, and offer reassurance to everyone involved. This approach will improve the morale of your staff and sentiment toward senior leadership. Equally, through internal communications, you should regularly reaffirm your organisation’s vision, values, and ethos to ensure everyone is working together and feels part of something bigger than themselves.
Another important consideration is the channel through which to communicate. This decision is just as important as the tone of your message. For example, if you are discussing a member of your staff’s recent performance, communicating in person, on a one-to-one basis, demonstrates a willingness to approach difficult subjects and work directly with those involved to find a solution. Sending a group email, or worse, addressing the problem during a team meeting, will leave the member of staff feeling embarrassed and alienated, and no doubt cause harm to their relationship with your organisation.
Get your internal communications right, and you’ll be rewarded with a motivated and passionate team that are determined to make your school or trust the best it can be. Get your internal communications wrong, however, and you could be left with high staff turnover, a demoralised team, and a directionless organisation.
Any message addressing someone outside of your school or trust — be it parents, prospective staff, the press, or the local community — is an external communication.
The purpose of external communications varies more so than internal messages, in part due to the very different audiences they may be addressing. However, in general, external communications issued by schools and trusts aim to enhance their reputation, improve public sentiment toward them, and position them as the area’s first choice for both pupils and staff.
Due to the unstable nature of perception, sentiment, and reputation, achieving these aims is difficult and requires near faultless external communications. Transmitting the right message and using the most suitable tone are crucial, whether you are sending a press release or posting on a school social media account.
Two of the most important focuses of external communications are positivity and clarity. Every message should portray your school or trust in the best possible light, focusing on your successes, hard work, and commitment to meeting high standards. You should take any opportunity to spread the word about your organisation’s good work and your pupils’ successes — something that schools often struggle to do.
As for clarity, you should reaffirm with the audience what the message means for them. For example, if your school has recently been awarded the Values-based Education Quality Mark, your external communication should announce the achievement, then explain how this means pupils at your school learn about key human values and are nurtured to exhibit these positive attributes in all aspects of their life. This catches the eye of parents, who want their children to grow up as model citizens, and receives the approval of the community, who want to live in a peaceful and respected area.
As with internal communications, your external messaging must be distributed through the right channels — although it is important for different reasons. If you distribute an external communication through the wrong channel, it may simply never be seen by the target audience, making it a waste of time, money, and resources.
You should take the time to understand each external audience and determine the correct channel using this information. For example, research conducted in 2018 by GlobalWebIndex showed that UK mothers spend more than two hours a day using social media. As a result, if you are looking to communicate a short message to parents, posting on social media is the most productive channel to use.
With effective external communications, you can position your school or trust as a successful organisation that is committed to excellence, delivers a high standard of education, and is a great place to work. If you take a misguided approach, you may experience difficulty in recruiting the best staff, reduced admission applications, and negative media attention.
Become a Master of Communications
The first step to becoming proficient in the practice of communications is recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. You must carefully consider the purpose, audience, channel, and tone of each communication before, during, and after its production. This will help to transfer information smoothly and eliminate the risk and potential damage of miscommunication.
If you still aren’t sure how to tailor your communications accordingly, our team would love to help. Get in touch with the Eduprise team today to find out how we can refine your communications practices.