COMMUNICATING WITH CHILDREN: FOR TEACHERS
Shady Oak believes in preparing children for adulthood by building on “6 Pillars”: Connection, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and [Capable] Problem Solving. Tune in over the next several weeks as we explore each Pillar in practical detail.
Once upon a time, “cheating in school” meant peeking over someone’s shoulder or smuggling in a paper answer key. Now, the only sure insurance against unauthorized answer-checking is to confiscate all personal electronic devices—which can trigger complaints of, “But I need my note-taking/calculator/fact-checking app to finish this the way you said it should be finished!” There are even reports of family-vs.-school lawsuits along the lines of, “The teacher said it was fine to use calculators for the test, and he never came out and told us we couldn’t store extra formulas in the calculator’s memory.”
Deliberate dishonesty aside, most teachers learn early on the value of clearly describing what they expect from their students regarding:
- Assignment completion
- Classroom behavior
- Learning goals
Some teacher–student communications issues that typically get less attention:
Hopefully, you know better than to deliver a direct insult: “Why are you so lazy/uncooperative/sloppy?” But an impatient tone or rolled eyes can send the same message—especially if a student is emotionally sensitive, or comes from a household where such actions typically precede worse criticism. Pay attention to how individual students respond to certain gestures or speaking patterns.
Watch your own “autopilot” reactions, too: consider students’ behavior objectively before responding to it as deliberate rudeness. Remember, you’re the adult and the example-setter.
Individual Learning Styles
Some people need to see things written out before their brains can grasp anything. Others just naturally learn by doing. Remember that students who struggle with your preferred approach aren’t necessarily “slow” or deliberately uncooperative, and things will only get worse if you treat them as such. If you just can’t seem to get a point across—even after phrasing and demonstrating it multiple ways—ask directly: “How much do you already understand about this lesson? How could I make it easier for you to understand the rest?”
Also, encourage students to work in groups and otherwise help each other whenever possible. You’ll not only free yourself from sole responsibility for mastering every communications style in the room, you’ll be helping the kids learn early on that people who do things “differently” are to be valued for their unique contributions. (If you possibly can, expand this further by providing opportunities to work with students from other classes, schools, and/or neighborhoods.)
Communication as a Two-Way Street
Regardless of age or circumstances, no learner wants to feel like a machine whose sole purpose is to record lectures. Always leave space for students to ask questions, request clarifications, and share their own ideas. Everyone learns better (and cooperates better) when they feel heard and understood!
Earlier “Six Pillars” Articles:
Connecting With Kids: For Parents
P. S. March is Music in Our Schools Month. Visit the National Association for Music Education website for ideas on using this art in communication and learning!