Blame the messenger

teemu-paananen-376238-unsplashPhoto by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash

You have heard the phrase before. Someone brings you some bad news, and, as you begin to get upset, he says, “Hey, don’t blame the messenger!” In a school I worked at, our team leader said it often. He went to all the meetings and came back with reports of all the new things we had to do: new initiatives we had to implement, new tech tools the school purchased that we were supposed to put into play, new [math/science/bullyproofing/grammar/insert your own idea] program we had to use. As we got agitated and began to complain, he always used the phrase on us. It certainly seemed fair. Why vent at him when it was the new things we hated? Don’t blame the messenger.

Lately, I have come to think a bit differently. There are cases where we should blame the messenger. Let me give an example. I attended a talk about making more effective use of technology in instruction. I think the message is an important one. Many teachers put their students in the position of being time travelers: the students are in 2019 outside of school, but when they come into the classroom, it looks like 1980. Few have expertise in the effectively using digital tools, and many are still hesitant or resistant. We can kid ourselves, but change is difficult, and teachers are generally buried. Planning, grading, parent meetings, school meetings, and shifting requirements are all-consuming. The tech teacher may have the time and interest to explore all the new tools, but the average teacher doesn’t, so someone has to be the messenger to bring the new information to the teachers. And that messenger had better be good.

Which brings me back to the talk at the conference. What was really needed there was a high-powered communicator with excellent oral communication skills. First, the speaker had to make sure the presentation was designed for the audience: teachers giving up their time and paying for a couple days of sessions who are not really looking for complicated jargon or some glitzy new tool. I was stunned that the presenter seemed to have no idea what the audience was thinking. The speaker should have well designed visual aids that engage the audience, but instead we saw the typical PowerPoint slides with bullet points and a massive list of “apps you must have.” Who wants to see that?  The speaker should have content that is understandable, but instead we were buried with a quick explanation of the 25 tools we should be using. Way too much, way too fast, way inappropriate for those who aren’t tech savvy. Before the speaker ever opened his mouth, the presentation was doomed. It was poorly constructed.

Of course, after a presentation is created, it has to be delivered. Speakers presenting new ideas need to be really good. Selling change requires exceptional skills. A speaker has to be lively, engaging, animated, powerful, and maybe humorous. These are necessary to sell any new idea. Unfortunately, the conference speaker was none of those. Most attendees left the session before it was over. Blame the messenger. He ruined the presentation and poisoned the idea of using valuable tech tools.

The cost of ineffective oral communication is high. I was at Curtis School in Los Angeles because they know that. They realized that an effective school requires great verbal skills for all adults: teachers in class, in parent conferences, and at back to school nights; leaders presenting new initiatives to teachers and parents; support staff (the first people parents see when they enter the school); staff members who present at workshops and conferences. Education is a verbal business, but not all educators are comfortable or competent speakers. They realized that all of their staff needed to be better communicators. Is that true at your school, too?

Most adults would benefit by improving their speaking skills. We are the messengers. How many great ideas in your school died because they were presented poorly?  How many teachers got upset because an administrator communicated poorly?  How many times have you looked around at a staff meeting and seen glazed eyes and clear disinterest?  If these have happened, blame the messenger. Or better yet, get them some help. Check out Own Any Occasion. (Find it here: https://www.td.org/books/own-any-occasion) I’ll buy it back from you if it doesn’t help.

 

 

 

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