Ritch Hochstetler | September 23, 2022

Research suggests that successful teaching is based on a ratio of 50% knowledge and 50% communication skills. Teachers play many roles and wear many hats including behavior management specialist, counselor, social worker, tutor, evaluator, and court jester to name a few. Of the many hats that teachers wear that call upon their superpowers, skilled communicator ranks right at the top. The question is, what are the essential skills needed to communicate with students and how do you grow them?

First Essential Communication Skill: LISTENING

For all the focus on what it takes to be a dynamic, powerful, and engaging communicator, listening is often overlooked or is frequently seen as a secondary focus. Though it may be obvious that communication is vital for positive and engaging interactions with students, in order for a teacher to effectively communicate in the classroom context necessitates building strong relationships. And strong relationships are nurtured when students feel heard and understood.

Paul Gavoni frames it well in the June 2015 issue of Edutopia when he says, “Think about every interaction you have with a person (students and staff) as being a deposit or withdrawal into a relationship bank.” Our goal, then, is to make at least 4 positive “deposits” versus every 1 corrective. When listening is prioritized, it creates space for students to breath and contribute their ideas, thoughts, feelings, and wonderings. This space can be seen as a passageway that illuminates a sense of dignity and worth on each individual wherever they may be on the learning journey. It both invites curiosity and leads to an environment where questions are expected and valued. Rosalyn Sword from High Speed Training shares that active listening enables teachers to check for understanding, build on ideas shared, and challenge them toward continued growth. And when students feel heard, they become more comfortable expressing their ideas and thoughts in classroom discussions.

Second Essential Communication Skill: BODY LANGUAGE

We kid ourselves if we think students don’t pick up on our social-emotional state of being. Though their radar may not discern it through the content of our words, everything from our proximity to them in the classroom to our smallest facial expression or shift in tone of voice or body posture speaks volumes. The reality is, our body language is one powerful transmitter that is constantly sharing with others what’s going on inside of us.

Legendary cross-cultural researcher and educator, Edward T. Hall, has said that in order for others to “get us” we must present an authentic snapshot of who we are. In addition, to engage with others cross culturally (which can be argued is always the case with students) it is essential that our words and actions must “say welcome!” Two questions every educator must ask themselves is, “Are my words and actions congruent?” and “Do my words and actions invite students to be co-creators in learning?” To grow this skill, one must embrace vulnerability that comes when asking for feedback on how you are coming across. It also means having the courage and willingness to go beyond your comfort zones in order to “get proximate” with students where they are. It’s not unlike learning new dance moves, which always require practice, embracing failure, and iterating movements until some level of mastery can be embraced. Exploring gestures like open arms, smiles, nods, and thumbs up encourage participation and engagement. Moving around the classroom closes the proximity gap and communicates that you want and expect student’s involvement.

Third Essential Communication Skill: POSITIVE VERBAL ACUITY

Though it’s obvious that communication is vital for positive and engaging interactions with students, the classroom context is particularly tricky for presenting complex information and concepts that both grab student’s attention and break it down in ways that open the door to comprehension. A complicating factor is that students’ assumptions before entering the classroom are often centered on the expectation of being force-fed boring or irrelevant content through a one-way monologue. What if educators considered words as currency that must be spent wisely in order to “purchase” student’s attention and retention?

If words are currency, then we need to budget carefully how we use them. With attention spans currently being equated to that of a gold fish which is 8 seconds (thank you very much social media), one must also ask, “how can my words be condensed into short and sweet nuggets that spark curiosity and communicate concepts most efficiently?

Studies have shown that words, well spoken, have the power to not only influence but to change behavior. According to Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman in their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write: “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Positive words can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning. They propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and build resiliency.

As it turns out, we as humans are hardwired for worry in our primal brain. This is what protects us from threats to our survival. What are the implications for teachers? If the goal is to communicate in a way that allows for the transfer of learning to take place, we must use words that both increase clarity and that invite co-creative curiosity. Otherwise, students’ brains will be highjacked by the release of stress inducing hormones through neurotransmitters that interrupts the brain’s functioning. And as the research confirms, this derails a student’s ability to access logic, reason, and language essential for learning to take place.

ULEAD has developed three ULEAD Card activities that promote and build these essential communication skills. Each, two-minute card activity, is designed to be quick and simple.
Download and print them for free, here!

 

Ritch Hochstetler, Chief Ideation Trailblazer at ULEAD