When former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach died in 2006, he was well remembered for coaching the Celtics to nine championship titles. However, a transcript from an old interview on NPR reveals that Auerbach was also quite the communication expert. While explaining his coaching strategy in that interview, he summarized the crux of human communication in a pithy but memorable statement: “It’s not what you tell them . . . it’s what they hear.”
On a client visit this week to conduct focus groups on teacher engagement, Auerbach’s words about effective communication rang so true. During discussions with teachers, I observed a clear disconnect between what district administrators earnestly thought they were communicating to teachers and what teachers were actually hearing. These focus groups were prompted by the results of a Teacher Engagement Survey, designed and administered by K12 Insight, which revealed obvious opportunities for improvement in teacher engagement despite various efforts by district leadership to create a fulfilling work environment for its teachers.
K12 Insight’s systemic and systematic approach to initiate dialogue between a district’s leadership and key stakeholders ensures that a district speaks the same language as its stakeholders and reduces the confusion and lack of trust that miscommunication brings. In my client’s case, the Teacher Engagement Survey and the ensuing focus group discussions were the first steps to a policy of transparency and trust building. Understanding teachers’ motivations and frustrations will help the district leadership communicate and promote engagement in a manner that will be well understood and appreciated by teachers.