Published 16 February 2022
Good communication is essential in any relationship, especially between a teacher and student. When teachers communicate effectively with their students, they can make a huge difference in how those students learn. Good communication will help them to understand what you want them to learn more easily. However, when communication breaks down, it can lead to frustration and misunderstandings on both sides that inhibit effective learning and teaching. In this blog post, we will discuss some ways that teachers can improve their communication with their students.
The first step to improving communication with students is for the teacher to understand their own communication style. In order for a teacher to communicate effectively, they must be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. A good way for a teacher to determine this is by conducting an inventory of all past interactions with students. It may be helpful if you write down any notable conversations so that you can refer back later when reviewing your findings. If possible, try not to limit yourself only to looking at certain types of interactions, instead consider both positive and negative experiences in order to get a more complete picture about how well or poorly communications have gone over time. Take note of your tone of voice in various interactions and how it may be perceived.
Once you have a good understanding of your own communication style, the next step is to adapt your teaching strategies accordingly. This will require some trial and error experimentation. If you are usually quite direct in your interactions with students, try using more open-ended questions instead. This will help to ensure that all students feel comfortable responding, regardless of their level of knowledge on the topic at hand. Additionally, be sure to give students enough time to respond before moving on to the next question or idea.
Regardless of your communication style, be clear, concise, and positive as possible. For example, when delivering feedback, avoid using vague terms such as "good job" or "nice try." Instead, provide specific examples of what the student did well and what could be improved upon. Remember that any interaction should be given in an uplifting way. How you say can be more important than what you actually said. The great writer Maya Angelou probably said it best, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Making sure students feel heard, supported, and understood can not be overstated.
For example, if a student perceived your tone to be stern or angry, they are likely to become defensive or shut down completely. However, if you use a softer voice and make eye contact with the student while speaking calmly, they will be more likely to listen and respond positively. Classroom audio systems can be helpful here, especially from a social-emotional learning perspective. With such sound systems, teachers do not need to use a "teacher's voice", which tends to seem like yelling and has a harsh tonality. They can instead use their natural voice, which is more conducive to building trust, affinity, and understanding between teacher and student. The sound system will make sure the teacher's voice is clear while the teacher maintains a normal tone. It is also important for teachers to be aware of their body language and nonverbal communication. Gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice can all convey a message that words alone may not.
In addition to adapting your teaching style and using positive body language, it is also helpful to set clear expectations for students from the beginning. This means stating what you expect from them both academically and behaviorally, as well as what they can expect from you as a teacher. Make sure that these expectations are realistic and achievable so students do not feel overwhelmed or discouraged by them. When these clear expectations have been established, be consistent in enforcing them throughout the year; otherwise, your students may become confused or even resentful if they see other classmates getting away with things while being held accountable themselves.
Lastly, be sure to work on improving your communication regularly. It's a skill and an art form that requires ongoing work to cultivate. There will always be different students or situations that will present a new challenge to your communication skills. Be sure to speak with colleagues about how they approach different situations or students, read books on teaching strategies and classroom management techniques, talk through scenarios with friends and family members who are not teachers but can offer outsider perspectives and feedback. Most importantly, be forgiving of yourself. Communication is rarely 100% perfect and there is always room for improvement. The key is to continuously self-examine, adapt, and try again.