Last week, we spent time in our Teaching Seminar class with first year Education students discussing the importance of communication in the classroom. When communicating with students, parents, colleagues, administration and the community, what is important to know and reflect upon? Through the conversations, scenarios and discussion, the following themes and thoughts emerged that are valuable to record and share:
1. Be Proactive – so many of the communication pitfalls and problems that emerged in our scenario discussion had a common question that was asked: what could have been done proactively so that communication “melt-downs” never reached that point? Share what the homework practices in the class will be with parents. Use agendas to support regular home and school communication. Call home to report the celebrations, not just the concerns. Use technology and social media (YouTube, Twitter, webpages, email) to enhance and improve your communication. Give your principal the “heads-up” when communication breakdowns start to develop. The more information we can provide and the stronger systems we establish to foster two-way communication, the fewer opportunities there are to become fodder for a scenario in future years 🙂
2. Remember your manners – we need to model what we want from students. The tone and “edge” from directions and commands can always be put in a more respective tone with an attached please or thank you. “Put that away” carries a much different message than “Put that away please”, even if the same tone of voice is used. Even when upset, we ensure respectful communication with students when remembering our please and thank yous.
3. Take Time to Listen – when we meet with parents, students and colleagues, do we listen? Do we ask the question “share with me your thoughts” and then allow the person to share their thoughts without using the time to formulate our own defense? Taking the time to listen and ensuring that others see you as someone willing to listen can make a huge difference in communication.
4. Consider the medium – there are times when a note in an agenda to respond to a parent’s critical note in the agenda is not the best route to take. When does a face to face meeting need to occur? When would a phone call help to correct misconceptions and miscommunication that cannot always be conveyed in notes or emails? As teachers, we often have to take the first step to correct communication breakdowns and the importance of non-verbal communication when meeting face to face cannot be overlooked. Having a parent, student or colleague hear your tone of voice or see a smile can send the communication into an entirely different space, not often approached when communicating solely through notes, letters and email.
5. Don’t be afraid to apologize – sometimes communication can breakdown with a student, parent or colleague. Taking time to reflect and then making the steps to apologize can make a huge difference in repairing communication breaches and rebuilding relationships. We can all have bad days and our communication with a student may come off harsher than intended. Taking the time (at an appropriate time and place) to share an apology and beginning rebuilding communication can make a huge difference in relationships and future communication.
6. Take a moment to pause – in the middle of heated communication? Frustrated and upset about communication you’ve received? It is always good practice to take some time to cool down and think rationally. Excuse yourself from heated conversations with the promise to initiate discussion again at a later date. Press “save” on that email and wait a day or two before sending. Sometimes looking at communication through new eyes (often with a night’s sleep) can be a proactive measure that can lead to reducing the escalation often associated with tense situations.
7. Don’t sweat the small stuff – as teachers, we sometimes need to develop a bit of a thick skin and know which battles to engage in. Think about which messages need to be addressed and which are better to just let go. Often, a response can only lead communication down the wrong road, even further from resolution. As a principal, I needed to learn which comments, emails and letters I just needed to let go and its an important thought for teachers to reflect upon as well.
Communicating with others is a huge component of what teachers do on a daily basis and with some careful thought, practice and proactive measures, we can ensure that communication is positive and focused on what is most important for students, parents, staff and communities.