By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Being able to communicate is vital to being an effective educator. Communication not only conveys information, but it encourages effort, modifies attitudes, and stimulates thinking. Without it, stereotypes develop, messages become distorted, and learning is stifled.
Communication is the process of understanding and sharing information where listening plays an important role. Intrapersonal or internal communication includes planning, problem solving, self-talk, and evaluation of self and others. It is a continuous process that prepares the speaker to proceed in a clear and concise manner. Interpersonal communication is sharing meaning between oneself and at least one other person. The goal of interpersonal communication is to send relevant and objective messages.
We communicate with others, not only verbally, but by how we act. Since we are constantly sending messages, we need to be aware of our appearance, gestures, posture, eye contact, use of space, body movement, what we carry with us, how close we stand or sit to others, and our facial expressions. When what we say contradicts our nonverbal behavior, mistrust and confusion results because listeners believe what they see.
Examples of incongruence between our nonverbal communication and what we say are:
- A teacher frowns and says to a student: “I am pleased you are in my class.”
- An administrator says as he/she looks at a clock: “My door is always open.”
- A teacher scowls and says to a parent: “Johnny is such a delight!”
We must be honest as we attempt to be effective communicators.
Listening is the process of receiving and interpreting a message. It occupies more of our time than talking, reading, or writing. We often forget or misinterpret more than half of what we hear. The reasons human beings are inefficient listeners are because:
- We think more rapidly than someone else can talk, so we spend time daydreaming or thinking of what we are going to say next.
- We do not want to grapple with difficult material.
- We are close-minded to the message.
- We jump to conclusions before we hear the entire message.
- We let things distract us.
Listening requires active participation and energy. It is the responsibility of both the speaker and the listener make sure that the message was understood. There are five phases of the listening process.
- Give attention.
- Physically hear the message.
- Assign meaning to it.
- Evaluate it against past experience.
- Remember it.
If the process goes amiss at any point, communication has not taken place.
Effective communication skills that build a positive school environment are self-awareness; sending direct, complete, relevant, congruent messages; listening; using feedback and being aware of what we are communicating nonverbally. Communication is not only understanding and acknowledgement, it is agreement and commitment. As educational leaders, we know we are effective communicators if those with whom we work have a positive attitude toward each other, their students and their school.