Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 2 – 2020-21


Inclusive Communication
It’s Not Just What You Say or How You Say It, But Where You Say It
David Morrill
Communications Director, AWSP
I hate email. There, I said it. Say it with me. Doesn’t it feel good?
Many of you hate email too, but other than the sheer volume and the “reply all” chains that don’t need to be “reply all” chains, it’s hard to put our finger on it exactly. Don’t worry, I’m here to help.
You might be wondering why I’m talking about email in my column and what in the world it has to do with inclusion. Before I go too far into why email sucks and how to be a more inclusive communicator, let me give you a little more context. As I hope you know, AWSP has been deep in inclusion work for the past two years. We’re also about expanding access and opportunity for everyone in education (from our members to our state’s students). If you’re familiar with our School Leader Paradigm, you also know we’re about culture, systems, and learning. This all came to a head when we reevaluated how we were using a software program called Basecamp, which we use for communication, collaboration, and project management.
You see, the problem with email is often one of access and opportunity. Who’s on the email? Who’s not on the email? Did someone not reply all when they should have? If you send something important via email, like maybe a new policy or procedure, what happens when new people come on board?
Email is decentralized and there is no single source of shared truth. That's where software like Basecamp, intranets, message boards, or whatever else you choose to use can help.
When something is posted to one of those kinds of platforms, we now have a single source of shared truth – as long as everyone has access to those platforms.
Since the pandemic, our AWSP team has checked in nearly every single day via video chat to start the morning. What we learned is even when we’re “all in the room” and give updates in person, we’re still never all in the room. Inevitably, someone is out or has a conflict with another meeting. I’ve been guilty of giving updates only to forget the person who really needed that information was on vacation that day. Here’s another tidbit about inclusive communication. Speaking only helps whoever is in the room; written communication helps everyone. That’s true of course if it’s in a centralized platform everyone has access to.
I can just imagine what many of you are thinking right now. Take a deep breath, I’m not suggesting you write everything down and never have face-to-face meetings or conversations. What I am suggesting is to be thoughtful about your communication. If it’s important enough that everyone needs to know, it’s probably worth speaking about and writing it down. How many of us remember everything the first time we see/read/hear about it? How many of us remember everything the first time we see/read/hear about it? See, repetition can be helpful.
While I’m a huge advocate for Basecamp as a tool*, whatever you use, make sure everyone is on the same page about how you’re using it (that’s systems). When people have clear expectations, the culture around communication improves. After all, clear communication in a centralized location helps promote inclusion and teamwork. It also provides more transparency and accountability.
Remember, whatever tool or communication method you use, ask yourself some important questions about your messaging. Who’s “in the room” or has access to this knowledge or message? Is it centralized or decentralized? Will people be able to access this later, or does it fade away as soon as it’s given? The next time you find yourself frustrated by an email thread gone astray, or someone feels left out or in the dark because they missed a conversation or meeting, ask yourself, “Am I an inclusive communicator?” It might mean posting or saying something in more than one spot, but as the old saying goes, you can never over-communicate.
*Basecamp has a great internal communications guide they make public. This guide caused us to reexamine our communication and how we use Basecamp. Whether you ever decide to use Basecamp or a similar tool, there’s some great ideas you can borrow from them. 5 stars. Would recommend reading.
David Morrill is the AWSP Communications Director. He serves as Managing Editor for Washington Principal.
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Washington Principal | Volume 2 – 2020-21