Building a High Performance School – Communication and Barriers

As long time readers of our blog will know I am working with a number of schools to support them in creating a culture of high performance learning. If you read back through the blogs you’ll find some of the earlier discussions we have had around becoming clearer about what was their actual vision for the school and what that would look like.

We are now moving from the WHAT to the HOW. This requires us to explore WHO we need to enrol in the new vision and also addressing some of the barriers that can slow down the building of the culture.

Just as a reference for this blog, the school is “deeply passionate about developing passionate, inspirational and exceptional people” and be best in the world at “Building Learning Teams” which for the leadership group means “Groups of people with a common goal / vision, working collaboratively (learning from and together), removing mediocrity, developing 21st century social competencies, inspiring passionate and exceptional people”.


1. What are the groups you need to enrol and what is the access?

The intention of this discussion was to highlight the accesses and people the school would need to address if it was going to create an environment where everyone was on board with developing passionate, inspired and exceptional people. Every communication with these groups would have to be designed with a clear message and from the intention of developing the school’s passion. Any inconsistency of message will slow the process down. The aim is to ingrain a “way of being” into all the stakeholders of the school.

People come to the school with their own mindset and point of view about learning, what education is and should be, how to do things, how to communicate with one another, expectations about the students and the staff, and hundreds of opinions and thoughts. There is nothing wrong with that but they may be inconsistent with what the school is building. We certainly don’t want everyone thinking the same way … what we want is that there is clarity in what the school is building and that there is disciplined thinking, action and practice inside of that framework. A Cathedral takes time and effort to build.

Group Access
Leadership Team & Year Level Leaders Leader meetings, emails
Teachers Staff meetings, Professional Learning Teams, emails, Professional Development (PD)
Aides Aide Meetings
Parents Information nights, parent-teacher meetings, newsletters, expo nights, open days, breakfasts, community events, Parents & Friends discussion groups
Students Assembly, daily bulletin, class meetings, curriculum, student leadership teams, Student School Council, in-school TV, class practices, Ultranet, staff practices, student restorative practices,
Community Work experience, Kindergarten newsletter, School newsletters, community radio station, newspaper, school website, local schools, word of mouth, School fete, school concerts, choir, excursions, Human Powered Vehicle, Aerobics / Dance Competitions, Out-of-School Care, Student Tours, Student Teachers
School Council Council Meetings, Minutes, Community Dinner
District Level
Word of mouth, PDs, workshops, Principal Coaching program



2. What will be the potential barriers and how will we overcome them?

The intention of this discussion was to highlight some of the barriers that normally exist to change in a school. Many of these barriers exist in all schools in one form or another. Quite often when we look at the barriers we have our opinions about why they are but the idea underlying this conversation was to actually look at what could be some of the possible causes to progress and explore what actions the leadership team could implement to address and overcome the barriers.

Issue Possible Causes Path Forward
Teacher Not Interested Don’t want to change


Loss of passion

Threatened by change

Don’t feel they are up to it (self-doubt)

Time Poor

Challenge them

Support the teachers to find their passion again

Educate them in the world of fixed vs growth mindset

Show them how (give them access to moving forward and changing)

Support them with a learning buddy

Educate them

Time Poor Work-life balance is poor

Don’t have effective habits

School structures (very little time outside of student contact)

Ineffective habits with corrections, planning, meetings, etc.

Train staff to work smarter not harder (look at the major challenges and support the staff to shift habits)

Share responsibility (perhaps with students and others?)

Shift teacher mindset

Training to have more effective meetings, planning, corrections (students self assessing more?, Feedback and Feed Forward strategies)

Workshops where teachers who have effective habits develop those who don’t

High Cost to Change Providing PD

Release for PD

Extra meetings
– people not listening or have opinions

-          Have no time to CHEW ideas therefore there is no transfer of practice

In-house PDs

Create developmental mindset

Have educational authorities come and work with the teachers in-house

Peer coaching to embed practice

Create learning resources

Intra-school videos: teachers make a video to share practice so teachers can look at in their own time or multiple times


Lack of Leadership Lack of planning

Lack of clarity in role description

Top-down driven (no what is in it for them)

Could also be a lack of trust

Sometimes teachers continue to do things that they no longer need to do


Clear planning

Clear strategy and thinking

Educating the staff about what we are NOW doing and what will NOT do now (and what will STOP doing)

-          Now, Later, Never, NOT

-          Each is an opportunity to explore what they will do now, what they will leave to later, what they will never do (and maybe will have to have someone else do it), what they will not do (and have it done another way … perhaps by someone else)

Communication There seems to be many ways that communication is done within the school because people have different “learning styles” or pay attention to different things. Thus if you want to make sure that everyone knows about something then you have to send it out in multiple ways … and even then you aren’t guaranteed that people know.

There is also no central hub for approved school wide communication


Need to develop simple habitual practices for communication – agree upon one form and have everyone do it

Hold people to account for reading material.

Develop a staff behavioural system (as you have in place for students). This will create accountability and habits. This is ultimately attached to their performance reviews.

Have clear lines of communication so there aren’t people dealing with communication that they don’t need to.

Give lots of positive feedback – acknowledge people!

Use 3 A’s to coach people

-          Awareness: listen first and uncover what the ACTUAL issue is

-          Access: give them access to changing their behaviour or taking action

-          Action: have them take an action in time and hold them to account for it.


When we began to explore all the potential barriers and what could be causing them it became apparent that there were many possible causes and also actions that could be implemented that would address many of the prime causes of the barrier.

One point I want to raise that I have found in a number of schools that we have worked with … many schools don’t appear to have a staff behavioural policy that holds staff to account for their jobs. Quite often they have a stepped behavioural plan for students when their behaviour is not acceptable but not for their staff. This is a big missing as most for-profit and not-for-profit organisations have these policies and they give the management a pathway for holding staff to account and for developing staff culture. People don’t always embrace change and you do need an accountability structure to ensure that staff are moving in the same direction as the school culture. The alternative is that when you are building a culture it will feel like you are herding cats!

Until next time!

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Comment by George Leo Shelton Jr on July 13, 2011 at 4:05pm

Question? Would it be possible to ask to interview you on "Building a High Performance School"? Here is my link to the radio show Thee interview would take place on any Tuesday from 11am-1pm & here is the hotline (714) 816-4782. Also, I spoke on your blog topic, click on the segment entitled 'Phone 2 da Streetz-Future of Education' July 5. -This site threw me in a loop cause, I searched this title and nothing appeared! Then, two weeks later another search, now I am a member.

Comment by Adrian Bertolini on July 12, 2011 at 6:16pm
Thanks George!
Comment by George Leo Shelton Jr on July 12, 2011 at 8:07am
I enjoyed bolg post!

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