How can we improve our communication skills?
The ability to communicate effectively is possibly the most important characteristic of a successful teacher. Communication, however, goes far beyond what you say.
Communication is how you say it, when you say it, how often you say it, who you say it to and possibly most importantly what your actions are saying. Here are 4 things you can do with your class to create the best environment for learning.
1. I want to be here
I get it. Sometimes we don’t always want to be at work! We have other pressures and the job itself is hardly stress-free. But to show, in a small way every day, that you want to be here, in this room with these children is incredibly powerful.
It’s not necessary to shout it to every child in your presence but you can imply it with smiles, warm greetings and possibly comment about something that has gone well today. This will help the children in your care to see you are a safe and consistent adult who is worth listening to. It also shows them you will fight their corner and help them in the future. Consider this – if you had an excellent customer service experience and you thanked the server only to be greeted with “I have to do this – it’s my job”, it might take the shine off what was a positive interaction.
2. I want you to be here
The use of praise is hugely effective in this but also noticing when students are absent, encouraging children to discuss and offer opinion and informing students when they have exceeded your expectations or even taught you something new. Children, like adults, need a sense of belonging in order to thrive and starting each day fresh with a smile, a wave or whatever greeting your students are comfortable with will help them to realise they are expected, welcome and valued. It’s what great teachers do.
3. I have faith in you
Showing faith in your class is key. It can be explicit or implied, through continuous verbal reinforcement of a child’s self-esteem or through your own perseverance with a child over a period of time. When work is challenging, tell the class it is challenging but you have set it because you believe it is achievable.
This might be remembering and discussing a previously successful event or simply saying “We will get there in the end, it’s a journey”. Remember the power of ‘yet’. With academic pressures becoming ever more heightened, the young people in your care might be digging around for a confidence boost wherever they can find that.
At times you might need to explicitly step outside of your role as a teacher and say “I’m telling you this as a working adult/ as I would tell my younger sibling/children”. Children will respect the honesty when delivered not through the prism of a teacher having targets to meet. Use examples of positive work completed by the student previously and talk about the child’s times of success and of overcoming adversity.
4. We are in this together
The use of “we” in this statement is key and the subtle difference between that and “you” implies that you are here to support them through this process and learning is not being “done” to the child.
Pluralise first-person language such as “we”, “us” and “our” places you alongside the student in the learning process and for children for whom direct instruction can be challenging, it provides a more effective method of communication. Sitting alongside a child when supporting them or even having a go at the more creative work yourself can show a child the work is enjoyable, relevant and you are supporting them every step of the way.
Children learn from everything we do, in every lesson, everyday. Take control of the unsaid narrative in your classroom and let your actions do the teaching.