How can we communicate best?

Educators seeking institutional change are highly frustrated. Sets of stakeholder – students, faculty, administration, facilities, trustees, board members – have a diverse priorities, and there are competing interests that occasionally or often create friction between these stakeholders.  Competition for limited resources, established ideas around legacy, and limited time – combined with an inability to see personal benefit – can agitate and divide a great school. Adversarial relationships and controversial school politics limit progress.

Reframing “communication” as “engagement” can offer benefits and opportunities to all stakeholders. When specific populations are induced to participate and understand the benefits of working together in a new way, the priority of discipline- and departmental boundaries is diminished, collaboration can flourish, and everyone is rewarded.

Note: Communicating needs and making requests does not engage community. Instead a rich, safe, and multi-directional conversation needs to take place.


Listen Deeply

Employ empathy as a way to think differently

School populations, like students and facilities, often see sustainability as an increase in workload. Recognize and empathize with their concerns. By listening empathically, you can find a common ground upon which to connect and then work to develop an innovative manner to start to change perceptions. The act of listening empowers the concerned individual or population, who was previously unheard. Listening will inform your next actions and choice of words, and will soften the group for you to be heard when you are ready.


Open source and share

Transparency requires removing barriers to sharing and learning. Invite stakeholders to professional workshops, distribute curricula, publish successes and failures, share projects, examples, cases, and questions.

Create the culture

Nurture, not shock and awe

When a pre-existing, hierarchical culture does exist, consider taking small steps versus initiating a culture shock.

Allocate ample time, and make it easy for different departments to gather on both small and large scales. Focus on opportunities and use the language of opportunity in your written and oral communications.

Create a common vision that highlights community, not the individual. Work to include a sustainability statement in the school’s strategic plan and mission statement, so that there is a common starting place for everyone involved.

Help empower students to become ambassadors. Support groups that typically feel disenfranchised to take charge, and create their successes. Help the disempowered to become leaders by paying attention to their successes, not their limitations or failures.

Embrace new digital/social networking tools that encourage active, non-hierarchical participation and honest feedback.

Lead by example

And seek out great examples

Imagine what your school would ideally be, fearlessly and optimistically. Manifest that vision in your behavior and conduct.

Look for examples of what other schools are doing, and emulate successes.

Initiate conversations and projects that contribute to the well-being of the school. Promote efficiency and cost-savings, and emphasize the value of sustainability as it relates to ROI, retention, endowments, and marketing opportunities. Highlight the actions and achievements of role models.

Identify, Connect, Build

Don’t start from zero

Become a resource for connecting people. Understand how to connect people with compatible skill sets to accelerate intelligence around the topic of sustainability. Don’t start from zero, enable people to build on each other’s knowledge and experience.


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