The Open Door

Upward: Our Head of School's Blog
Every organization, whether non-profit or for-profit, educational or industrial, forms patterns of communication that, over time, become part of the fabric of its culture. Vail Mountain School is no exception to this process. To be very clear, I’m referring to interactions among and between all of our constituencies: students, faculty, administration, Board of Trustees, and parents. It is my firm belief that truly great organizations operate at the highest levels of proactive, transparent, and collaborative communication practices. Further, truly great schools flourish when exchanges are positive, diplomatic, mindful, and always in the best interest of the students.

Since my arrival in 2013, I have observed a variety of communication patterns within our school community, most of which are highly effective and professional, while a small fraction of others appear less than functional with the potential to stymie the positive momentum we’ve developed. 

I recently came across an article that speaks directly to my core beliefs regarding effective communication patterns within organizations. Throughout my career as a teacher and administrator, one of the following three issues is typically the culprit of communication breakdowns.

Kibbie Simmons Ruth and Karen A. McClintock published “Cleaning Up Bad Communication Habits” for the Alban Institute. They highlighted three types of problematic patterns that frequently plague organizations: triangulation, pass-through, and anonymous feedback.

Triangulation is talking about issues, concerns, or opinions regarding a person or group with a third party instead of with the person or group directly involved with the issue. This type of rumination frequently becomes negative or toxic to the process. The only way to stop triangulation is for each person to communicate openly and honestly with the person or group directly involved with the issue.

Pass-through communication involves using a middle person to pass on a message to someone else. This can lead to misunderstandings, distortions, and confusion, much like the children’s game “Telephone.”

Anonymous feedback or messaging allows people to avoid accountability and maintain an appearance of being in a harmonious relationship. I believe this behavior is duplicitous at best and rarely, if ever, resolves the issues at hand.

The common elements among these three modes of communication are that they are indirect and typically fail to achieve the intended outcome. I’m delighted to report that VMS parents and employees generally interact in a healthy, positive and productive manner and it is my goal that, as an administration, we are transparent and accessible. Toward this end, my door is always open both literally and figuratively. It is also why we focus significant resources on a robust website, weekly Tuesday News, Haiku, timely e-mail, and frequent face to face interactions.

I’m grateful to the many people who have taken the time to share their opinions, ideas, and concerns with me. If you’ve got something on your mind, let’s talk.

--Mike

About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.