The Teacher as The Communicator

December 24, 2007 at 5:11 am 1 comment

teacher at boardTeachers are communicators. In fact, communication is what teachers do! Successful teachers go hand in hand with good communicators. Effective teachers communicate in more than one way.

What is Communication?

Communication is the exchange of information between two humans.(Of course, in today’s world, computers communicate but that’s tough! Humans rule!- I hope!) Of the two communicators, one who will receive the information (listener) while the other provides the information (speaker). Standing in the middle of a forest explaining one’s personal philosophy of education is like the proverbial sound that no one hears. There are many teachers who suspect that they are standing in that forest each and every day! Communication is sensory; that is, it is based in the senses. Information can be exchanged through five dimensions: auditory, visual, tactile, aromatic and flavorful. Communication is the exchange between two people in one of these five ways.

How do Teachers Communicate?

Since at least two people are involved, social skills are required. Teachers are expert communicators because they have excellent social skills. Teachers convey academic information to students in a social environment. All teachers, by their nature, are teachers of social skills. Inexperienced teachers often fail to realize this and are doomed to frustration as a result. Sad to say, some veteran teachers still have not realized this basic idea. Primary level teachers have known all along and, as a result, children learn at a phenomenal rate. That first grader steps into the classroom on the first day of school barely knowing what a book is and by the time June rolls around, she is able to read it. Primary teachers more than any other teacher use many means of communicating. Learning is accomplished when communication occurs at several levels. The role of a teacher is to help a student learn. This is often accomplished through communication in several different dimensions. Each learner is different. Some learners are better at visual while others are better at auditory communication.

Although flavor and aroma are less familiar means of communication, they are forms of communication. If a class of high school teens return from a gym class, there is a communication transmitted. Most of these forms of communication are best left for the teacher’s lounge discussions. They do not play a major role in learning communication.

Tactile communication is vital in learning Braille. Tactile communication was important in the regular classroom at one time. A touch often emphasizes a point. A student unconsciously tapping a pencil can be stopped with a gentle tapping on the shoulder. Teachers, in the past few years, have moved away from tactile communication for obvious reasons. Touching is no longer an appropriate means of emphasis. A pat on the back or a handshake is still a strong enforcer of important feelings. Children still need hugs and kisses but in today’s world, the reality is that this needs be left to the parents only!

Visual communication is commonly used among humans. Artists communicate abstract thoughts in their paintings. Mona Lisa’s smile says a lot. A picture is worth a thousand words. The Internet began as a visual means of communication. The written word is potent, as in; the pen is mighty than the sword. Teachers use textbooks, handouts, worksheets, posters and bulletin boards to communicate. Teachers use hand signals and body language more often than realized. An incorrect answer often results in a facial expression in response from the teacher. A teacher’s hand in the air requests quiet or raise your hand to answer. Body language and hand signing are extremely effect means of communication. The teacher needs to be aware of this and use it to teach this form of social skill to the students.

Auditory communication is perhaps the most recognized form of communication. Sounds in the form of language or music convey information. The most common form of a teacher’s method is lecture/discussion. This involves speaking and listening. Teachers who use this method must teach listening and speaking social skills: look at the speaker, raise your hand before speaking, look at the person being addressed, listen, and speak clearly. Failure to teach students these social skills results in chaos during lecture/discussion sessions. The best way to teach this, and many other skills, is by modeling. Practice what you preach!

Effective teaching requires the use of more than one form of communication. Combining auditory and visual signals increases the opportunity to communicate with more students. It is the basic idea behind multimedia. The Internet has exploded in popularity with the addition of sound to the visual presentation. Teachers who use the overhead or chalkboard or PowerPoint presentation are increasing the scope of communication. Use of tactile communication emphasizes a visual or auditory expression. Effective teachers use more than one form of communication and these teachers often use them simultaneously.

Why do Teachers Communicate?

Teachers communicate to perform six necessary functions:

Set direction for the learning (goal setting)
Provide relevance for the learning (motivation)
Guide the learning activity (methodology)
Indicate when the learning is successfully accomplished (assessment & evaluation)
Manage classroom environment
Engage in social activity

First, teachers have to convey to students what the teacher expects the student to learn. Effective learning needs to provide a direction to the learning activity. Imagine the football coach who fails to tell his team that the goal of the game is to score more points than their opponents. Each set of plays is designed to result in a touchdown. Each play within that set has an objective to gain so many yards. Like the football team, the students need to have a grasp on what they are expected to learn. The teacher sets the learning goal and informs his students.

Next, in order to accomplish the learning, it is necessary to have some reason to learn. “If I was interested, I would try harder.” The teacher must provide the interest. Motivation is the key to successful learning. Effective teachers provide the motivation that will carry students toward learning goals. Motivation takes many forms and is not always the same for each student. The overriding motivation used by teachers is grades. You learn this and you get a good grade. That works well for many students. Many students ask how is this going to help me in life? Good question in many instances. This writer asked that question quite often in High School Geometry. The teacher never provided the answer. Years later the logic of proofs aided in understanding the contract bargaining issues. It is vital that teachers motivate in as many different forms as possible. This increases the chances of motivating many different students. Don’t overlook the easiest yet, in many cases, the most sought-after motivation- “Good work!

There are students who can learn on their own. Given a goal and a reason to strive for the goal, self-learners can be left on their own. However, most students require direction. These students need guidance to reach the planned goal. Teachers in most states are required to take the “methods course” as part of their preservice training. This is where the ideas learned in those courses should be applied. Methods used by teachers vary greatly. A future posting will deal specifically with methods. It is far too broad a subject to take up in this post. The most common method used by teachers to guide their students toward the learning goal is lecture/discussion. It is not always the best method but it is efficient.

Teachers must provide feedback as students are learning. This is a means of helping the student know that he is on track and when he has reached the goal. When the football team scores, the fans cheer wildly. Feedback can also be used to redirect the student toward the desired learning goal if the student has gotten off-track. Another old adage: Once learned it is very difficult to unlearn. The teacher will have to unteach the erroneously learned goal and then try to reteach the desired goal. Teacher monitoring of student learning and providing feedback will help keep the students on track. There are a variety of ways of monitoring feedback. The quiz is one commonly used method. Spending time going over errors with the class as a group or individually with a student provides feedback.

Teachers use communication to manage the classroom. Besides learning issues, teachers need to provide directions about movement or seating or behavior or other informational items. These are management issues. A common management communication example is redirection to different learning task. Redirection can use various communication styles. A look, hand signal or even a bell can cause a redirection. When the teacher wants students to close their textbooks, a hand sign is useful. When it is time to move to a routine to end class, a bell or light or hand in the air will signal the start of an established routine. Students are easily distracted during learning activities. Teachers need to continual watch to maintain the student’s focus. Teachers are ever vigilant for students who need refocusing. The proverbial “eye in the back of the head” is a reference to the need teachers must have to maintain the focus on learning activities. Management communication is necessary to keep the learning activities flowing in the direction desired.

Finally teachers use communication as a social tool. Teachers talk to students about non-curricular things. “How did you do in the volleyball game last night?” This type of communication demonstrates an interest in the student as an individual and not just a learning machine. Teachers need to listen to students. Far too many teachers hear but fail to listen. Listening is a social skill that is vital to survival as an effective and concerned teacher. Students are more than just sponges thrown into the classroom to absorb knowledge. They are real human beings with feelings, concern and abilities. Teachers who get to know their students have a better chance to find the best method or motivation for that student to learn. Social communication provides opportunities for students to develop social skills.

Communication is a skill that separates a mediocre teacher from the professional educator. Effective teachers are skilled at more than one plane of communication. Communication occurs at various planes as indicated in this article. Teachers use communication for everything that occurs in the classroom. The role of the teacher as communicator is vital to the success of that teacher.

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The Teacher Role: The Manager The Teacher as a Learner

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