For any administrator, educator, or leader, here’s a question to consider:

When was the last time you watched yourself on video?

For many of us, it was during our student-teaching, or perhaps while we were trudging through those beginning teacher years with the extra-stringent lesson requirements.

I just completed a few simulations for administrators-to-be in which I was recorded in different kinds of scenarios. Going into the exercise, I thought this would be easy, because I knew that I was going to be recorded while interacting with others, carrying out the duties in a day in the life of a principal. In addition, I also had sixteen years of teaching experience, so what could possibly go wrong? Even as I finished, I was confident that I had done well.

And when I went back to watch myself perform in over an hour of footage?

Eye. Opening.

First of all, I was very happy with a few things that I did well, but didn’t know that I just did, naturally. When I was interrupted by others, I waited and gave proper pause time, striving to be an active listener and sensitive to others’ perspectives. I was very professional and tactful.

But there were so many other areas in need of improvement of which I was not aware.

Three Communication Challenges 

I think many leaders could identify with these:

What You Say

  • Speech Crutches: Do you ever say the words uh or um? How many times? It can be painful to hear on video playback. Even for the most talented of orators, somehow those unintended syllables creep into the nooks and crannies of our would-be, well-crafted clauses and phrases.
  • Sentence Breaks: Sometimes, we stop mid-sentence, only to start a new sentence with similar words. Choppy speech can be hard to understand, process, and engage.
  • Subject-Verb Disagreement: Does the administrator know what they’re saying?

What You Don’t Say

  • Getting the Words Out: Are you extra-passionate or knowledgeable about a certain topic? Who better to speak on it than you? When the topic comes up even multiple times in a meeting it can be easy for some to think a response or reflect upon a question, but do the words actually come out of your mouth? More importantly, do others hear it, and know your point-of-view and professional input?
  • Affirmation and Reaffirmation: Do you speak positively about others’ ideas? Do you demonstrate support verbally? Sometimes, it only takes a spark to get a fire going, to fan into flame the passion from which people shine.
  • Justify Your Rationale: How many times do we express an idea without connecting it back to the school’s mission, vision, improvement plan, curriculum, or initiatives?  This is what we’re doing, and this is why we’re doing it.

Non-Verbals

  • Eye Contact: Do you maintain eye contact when speaking and listening? How tempting it is to look at notes and screens without looking others in the eye.
  • Gestures: What do you do with your hands? Are you itching your face, picking your nose, or making movements that don’t match your expressions?
  • Appearance: How we dress in the workplace can inform expectations, albeit without saying a word. Even physical posture can let others know if we’re genuinely caring about our environment and those around us.

Three Communication Cliches to Consider

Diving deeper into my simulation video playbacks, these themes became apparent.

For communication to be effective, the sender’s intended message must be received, first.

Perception Is Reality

How often do we believe that what we’re saying is exactly what others are hearing? There is definitely a difference between auditory hearing and demonstrating active listening skills to understand. As complex as the workings of the inner ear, so much more complex can be our uncanny abilities to imply and infer the full spectrum of message meanings. It’s not hard to understand why there can be so many misunderstandings.

Inside our own minds, we know what we intend to communicate. Yet, it’s way more important that our message is received–as intended–inside our receiver’s mind.

Delivery Is 90%

How you say is even more important that what you say. Messages are better received and processed in short segments with intermittent breaks for reflection. Knowing this, senders can keep it short and simple.

I’m a huge fan of the sandwich technique. Trending the positive before and after suggesting needed improvement can go a long way in driving meaningful change while still sustaining and fortifying healthy relationships and positive school culture.

Over-Communicate

In the world of education, buzz words and phrases become caricatures of themselves frequently. Repeating exactly what’s intended can minimize chances for meaning to get lost in translation.

It’s not enough to say it one time, in one format, or in one platform. With the amount of stimuli striking our environment every day, it can be easy for anyone to miss important messages. Frequent, simple reminders can go a long way in keeping the peace.

Reflecting On Video Evidence Is Powerful

As uncomfortable as it may be, video can open your eyes to see exactly how you appear to others. This awareness alone is priceless, and that evidence can provide even more detail than what your closest friends may share with you as loyal observers.

Reflecting upon my simulation performances while playing back videos has been an incredible journey of professional growth, albeit eye-opening and potentially uncomfortable most of the time.