Unintentional Communication and Moral Purpose

What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

That old truth that actions speak louder than words. It is an idea I am considering again within the leadership unit of my TL course. In the case of leadership within a school, stakeholders will react more to the leader’s behaviours than they will to what that leader has to say. This is very important to understand in the communication within a school. Parents often complain about the lack of communication or the quality of communication from schools. Yet you can publish pages of reports and updates in the school newsletter and they don’t read them. This has always perplexed me. Perhaps without being able to express it, what parents are looking for is the behavioural communication not the written words.

We’ve been asked to read an article by W. Savage entitled “Communication: Process and problems” from Human Resource Management in Education. There was a paragraph that caught my eye in particular.

A school administrator’s demonstrated concern for the welfare of his staff and the pupils enrolled in a school will communicate his beliefs far more eloquently than any written or oral statement that he may provide concerning his belief in the dignity and worth of the individual. As a matter of fact, many persons express the conviction that effective human relationships improve communication far more than communication improves relationships. (Savage, 1989, p. 109)

I’m thinking this means then that a leader’s moral purpose is communicated through his actions far better than through speeches, articles or documents. It is of ultimate importance to ‘walk the talk’ and to constantly monitor one’s behaviour for consistency in communication.

The second important message within that quote is that of effective relationships building communication not the other way around. This may go a long way to answering why so many communication strategies (including a very detailed one developed at our school) never get off the ground. Without the relationships, it just can’t happen. So the question then is how to develop the relationships with school stakeholders — obviously it will involve some self-reflection on current behaviours on the part of the leaders (principal, TL, teachers).

I want to stop and think about my moral purpose and my relationship-building behaviours right now. I blogged about my moral purpose here — and looking back, strangely enough, I said I didn’t communicate this directly but hoped it would show through my actions. I was on the right track without knowing it, but conscious effort will, obviously, be more effective.

At this point my relationship-building behaviours are:

  • I consciously stop and speak to parents I pass at school. I try to make a positive comment about their child’s use of the library or their reading habits. I want the parents to know that their child’s reading and use of information is important and important to me.
  • I sometimes go out to the car-park and speak to parents about upcoming events or pass on information I think they might appreciate
  • I quickly follow through on any requests for information/books from parents and also follow through on anything I say I will do in the school newsletter. I want to be seen as highly reliable.
  • author events that invite and include parents

Are there other opportunities for the TL to build effective relationships with the parents?

  • some computer tutoring sessions showing  parents how to use and access ICT’s the children are using
  • sessions involving the children showing the parents how to use the ICTs!
  • Reading challenges that involve adults as well as children
  • attending some of the home group class meetings especially the lower primary groups

Parents do not habitually seek out school leaders (teachers, principals, TLs) to communicate with them unless they are dissatisfied. It is up to us to go beyond half-way, to get in amongst the parents, demonstrate our concerns and moral purpose and build some better relationships.



Savage, W. (1989). Communication: Process and problems. In C. Riches & C. Morgan (Eds.), Human resource management in education (pp. 103-119). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.


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