Today’s teaching is far less about delivering content and more about facilitating and guiding discovery of information. This can only be done through effective communication skills, without which, education becomes a great punishment to students and an unrewarding job to the teachers.
Communication is inevitable for teachers. We communicate with students, parents, colleagues and administrators every day. Needless to mention, whether done face-to-face, on the phone, in print, electronically or through the public address system, the message must be constructed carefully and delivered clearly to be properly received.
Keep in mind that communication is a two-way street. Excellent teachers not only speak fluently about their subject area, they also listen carefully and understand student questions and student errors. A teacher who cannot do this might as well be a textbook: They present information, but cannot check to see if the information has been received, and adjust their presentation accordingly. Teachers who listen attentively to their students’ questions and complaints are better equipped to meet individual needs and adjust lessons where necessary. Students are also more likely to be receptive when the teacher’s body language and tone of voice indicate openness and encouragement.
Similarly, teachers need to be able to send out communication. This does not mean disseminating information, but rather guiding, scaffolding, and questioning their students’ thinking processes. They also need to be able to model all those processes! What this means is that teachers have to be the most metacognitive people around - having to think about how to demonstrate their own thinking in order to guide students in reflecting on their(students’) own thinking!
Although teachers spend most of their working day surrounded by 20 or more students, they often become flustered when speaking in front of their colleagues at staff meetings or conferences. Communication skills improve with practice, and preparing in advance what to say also helps. Taking a leadership role with other teachers in the school by chairing or co-chairing a committee provides the opportunity to enhance these skills. Communicating with colleagues in this way may be very rewarding and personally fulfilling. It also shows initiative, which can lead to advancement or promotion.
Teachers who are skillful communicators have a better chance of being heard by administrators when making a request, such as for a transfer, special leave or permission for a student event or field trip. Good communicators clearly state the reasons for their request, anticipate possible counter-arguments and are prepared to refute them. They control their emotions, don’t lose their tempers and always behave in a professional manner, even in disappointing or frustrating situations. Administrators who recognize such efforts are more receptive to granting a positive response to teacher requests.
Clearly, communication skills are paramount for every teacher. This then calls for an initiative by every teacher to cultivate these skills. It is important for us to remember that it is how we say what we say that affects learning. Mastery of the subject matter is of no essence if we can’t impart the knowledge.
The writer is a Language Consultant