How to Lead Through Digital Communication

digital communication
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The challenge of leadership has always existed, but it seems more critical now. In an always-on world, with misinformation swirling around, leading for the benefit of students in schools has become more complicated. For school community leaders, ensuring that we embody what helps move student success and achievement in the right direction warrants commitment, and a sensible dose of social media awareness.

Let us examine ways educational leaders can deliberately manage the chaos, steering their community with the kind of conscious leadership necessary to foster positive exchanges online. Armed with the resilience and drive to disrupt inequity, true leaders can optimize their digital communication in ways that enable children to cross over bridges to success.

Lead Through Digital Communication: Be A Multiplier, Not A Diminisher 

Consider first the way we communicate, especially online, via email, school newsletters, messaging apps, and on our school websites. Ensure that as you do, the multiplier leader comes through, not the diminisher

The difference between multiplier and diminisher leaders in schools matters online. Here’s why: We have all gotten messages that seemed to stifle the motivation from a boss or coach or teacher. We felt apprehensive about risking an inquiry and retreated, rather than pushing forward. The authority figure made us feel quite simply, incompetent. This kind of diminished leader operates by belittling others and is quick to stifle other ideas. This has a direct impact on children. They lose.

Authority figures are prone to face intensely challenging and negative communications online, and this makes them feel defensive. When the focus is on self-justifying before you know it, you are baited into responding as the diminisher leader. Think about it, how often have you felt inclined to snap back at an antagonizing email? Yet this represents the exact opposite approach multiplier leaders must apply. 

Multiplier leaders communicate regularly and supportively that the end goal is a better outcome for students, not anyone’s ego, least of all, the leader. 

Control Negative Feedback Loops 

This brings us to our next topic: How to respond in ways that puts you back in control of negative online feedback loops.

Leaders can set the tone for how language is conveyed in their school, ensuring that individuals are treated with trust, respect, and a willingness. Always refrain from stifling feedback in online communications because everyone is watching and people assume these interactions do not reveal what their leader really needs to know about the problems and, more significantly, how to fix anything. That is dangerous for children.

Unfortunately, there are times when multipliers leaders are forced into a response online, facing hostility. Nearly 100% of us have, or will, face online trolls, flamers, and saboteurs. These people seem to get a high off of putting others down, and especially those in more highly exposed positions, such as leadership. 

Author and leadership consultant Jay Baer offers a brilliant approach to managing these inevitable provocateurs online.

Reply Only Twice 

Baer’s strategy allows an out that enables the leader to model good behavior and leave conversations, when necessary and with convincing esteem. 

The premise: When amplified attacks take place online, reply only twice to present a prescriptive response technique that addresses ongoing and counterproductive online back-and-forth exchanges, redirecting energy to where it counts, students.

How it works: a person reaches out, loudly expressing that they are unsatisfied with something or someone. The responding leader attempts to remedy the situation. The other person pushes back with an increasingly antagonistic response. How is the leader to respond?

Always acknowledge and apologize, even if their reaction is disproportionate to the issue, even wrong. This often settles an unsatisfied individual, but when it doesn’t, respond a second time and offer a solution or alternative communication means (phone call, video meeting, etc.). Get them offline and provide options.

If they reply a third time, continuing to antagonize, do not get consumed in this negativity feedback loop. You seek resolution, but the more important element of online communications are the bystanders, those on the sidelines witnessing, hearing about, or affected by these exchanges.

Once you are on record attempting resolution, you have documented that you are reasonable and caring. Engaging in an eye-for-an-eye approach anywhere online is always counterproductive for everyone. This is especially true for school leaders, as such exchanges only pull them away from more important matters.

Always assume that every message you write will be posted everywhere. If all your energy is focused on offering solutions and the person on the other end remains unreasonable, cease correspondence. By implementing “reply only twice,” the educator has delivered the expectation and willingness that the conversation goes offline for resolution with civil and clear standards.

Michael Gaskell was recently honored with a Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Award for Best Example of Teacher & Student Wellbeing Programs.

Nominate someone for an Innovate Leader Award here.

Dr. Michael Gaskell is Principal at Central Elementary School in East Brunswick, NJ, has been published in more than four dozen articles, and is author of three books: Radical Principals, Leading Schools Through Trauma (September, 2021) and Microstrategy Magic (October, 2020). Mike presents at national conferences, including ISTE (June 2023) The Learning and the Brain (November, 2021), and FETC (January 2023, and 2022); and works to find refreshing solutions to the persistent problems educators and families face. Read more at LinkedIn