Communication Behaviors of Principals at High Performing Title I Elementary Schools in Virginia: School Leaders, Communication, and Transformative Efforts
Tyler, Dawn E
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Principals of modern Title I elementary schools, where at least half of the student population lives in poverty, must possess a broader set of leadership skills than has been historically necessary. The ability to motivate teachers utilizing effective communication is one such skill set. This qualitative research proposes a division-level training program designed to improve communication skills of principals and aspiring principals based on the self-reported communication strategies of principals at high-performing Title I elementary schools. High performing Title I schools represented just 8% of all Title I schools in Virginia during 2014. This qualitative data was derived from semi-structured interviews with 8 of these principals, surveys of principals, and publicly available data about these schools. Analysis of the self-reported information resulted in 11 specific communication strategies practiced by most or all of the principals in the participating high performing Title I elementary schools. Further uncovered were 5 themes of communication in leadership which include: a student-centered approach to decision-making; transparency of decision-making; shared decision-making with principal and teachers; the role of faculty trust; and principal preparation. Specific principal communication behaviors with teachers were implemented in motivating teachers toward earning high-performing status. These included frequent face-to-face and personal communications, minimal use of whole-school meetings, and weekly principal participation in grade level meetings. Additionally, principal certification programs were found to have had little impact on the participants in the area of communication. Finally, the critical importance of mentoring, together with school-division level training in the area of communication development, was revealed. This research concluded that communication skills are necessary for building trust between school principals and teachers, with trusting relationships vital for leading teachers toward effective instruction. More structured leadership training is essential in the area of communication skills in preparing school leaders and is most effective at the school division level.