Communication is a skill that you can learn. It's like riding a bicycle or typing. If you're willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life. ~ Brian Tracy
Having what you said be understood and understanding what is said to you in the classroom is essential to creating a harmonious environment. How can this be accomplished? Here are some of our favorite suggestions for effectively communicating.
- Use brief, specific language so students clearly understand what you are asking. A teacher tells her students, "Before you decide whether or not the main character stole the book, you need to think about, consider, and reflect on the motivations and the experiences he has had in his life."The students don't understand. Rephrasing her directions could eliminate part of the confusion. "Before you decide if Joe is guilty or innocent, consider how his life experiences have influenced him."
- Be aware of your tone of voice. It should be firm but always respectful and never sarcastic. If you want to quiet your class, you might say "During this part of the lesson I need you to be silent so you don't interrupt your learning or that of the others in the class." Telling students the expectation and why you have it reinforces a positive climate. Also, helping students maintain their dignity keeps the lines of communication open. Sarcasm has been said to be like taking a glass figurine and smashing it with a hammer. The teacher is the hammer and the glass figurine is the student.
- Avoid long explanations or justifications. Most listeners only want to know a brief "why". Consider which of the following phrases are most effective:
The former says what is expected and why. The latter gives too much unnecessary information.
- "One of the skills you have to master is finding the main idea. Doing this enables you, as a reader, to better understand the text."
- "On the test at the end of the year, you have to know the main idea of every passage you read. There are about 10. We have to start working on it now, or you won't be ready. We'll be doing these from now on."
- Allow students a short but reasonable amount of time to comply with additional teacher comments or directives. We may want students to complete everything as soon as we say it, but the reality is they won't always do it that way. Tell them what to do and give them a time limit for it to be completed if needed. Saying, "In one minute you need to have finished sharpening your pencil and rejoined your group. I'll check back with you then." is a reasonable and specific way of setting clear expectations.
"How do you make it to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." Although meant to be funny, this punch line is accurate. How do we become better at anything but practice, practice, practice? So to become an effective communicator we must…practice!