In many ways, education is essentially an on-going conversation. Therefore, effective communication is often a staple of good teaching and learning. Unfortunately, this skill does not com easy for some of us. It takes practice, the desire to learn from each conversation/lesson, and the willingness to apply what you learn to your next interaction.
It is also important to remember that communication is both verbal and non-verbal. What you do is often more powerful than what you say.
For example, Teacher ‘X’ tells a student that she would like to help him, but she cannot because he didn’t sign up for the help session in advance. The student notices that there is plenty of room for him, but is denied the session anyway. The result – even though the teacher said she wanted to help, the decision to value the sign up procedure over the student’s initiative to seek help sends the message that the student is not worthy of consideration over a seemingly benign procedural issue.
Navigating the complex path to clear communication can be difficult. Here are a few tips for staying on course.
- In schools, unless you are dealing with an non-negotiable issue (drug use on campus, fighting, etc.) put the needs of the student before your desire to follow procedure. Policies worth having are designed to put students first anyway!
- Communication is less a two-way street than it is a multi-lane highway. Make sure as many necessary parties are involved as possible. Avoid inadvertently excluding those who need to contribute.
- Take time at the start to make sure the reason for the communication or conversation is clear and understood by all involved.
- Listen, clarify, summarize, work to understand.
- It is acceptable to not have all the answers right away. Ask for time if needed.
- When you respond, speak about what you CAN and WILL do. Avoid speaking about what you CAN’T or WON’T do.
- Summarize at the end where the conversation stands. What was accomplished? What are the next steps (if any)? What follow up is expected?
Here is are some bonus tips for email:
- Answer them promptly! This usually translates into within 24 hours of receiving them.
- If you cannot fully address an email at within the acceptable response time (see #1), then send a response stating that you have received the message, the message is important to you, and you will be back in touch within 24-48 hours with a response.
- Email conversations that involve more than 3 responses likely need a phone call or a face-to-face meeting.
- Shorter emails that respect everyone’s time and are to the point are better than long-winded essays about the virtues of every decision. If you need a forum to be more verbose, call a meeting or hold a conference.
Do you have any communication tips? If so, feel free to leave a comment, email me, or contribute to the Communication Tips for Educators Google Doc.