Teacher-Student Communication

Maximizing the Impact of Daily Interactions

What’s it like to be a celebrity?

"I owe it all to my adoring fans!"

“I owe it all to my adoring fans!”

To have every word you say and every move you make be scrutinized by a little band of paparazzi who report your daily actions to an attentive audience every night?

I’m talking about you, of course. The reality of teacher-student communication means that kids:

  • Notice what you are wearing
  • Listen to everything you say to the class or an individual
  • Mimic your mannerisms and favorite phrases
  • Report on you nightly to their parents

Every word you say and everything you do matters; you are a walking, talking billboard of communication in the classroom that is throwing off behavior and performance cues at all times.

This is simply human nature, with roots in our remote past: They are the tribe, you are the leader of the tribe.

Living with celebrity

If you stop to think about the reality of teacher-student communication, the thought is a little daunting. But experienced teachers know that the attention humans pay to a group leader can be used to great effect to make a point.

First…do no harm

I’m paraphrasing the physician’s creed, but it applies. You make an impression every day, so consider how not to undo your teacher-student communication goals. Think about:

  • Are you dressing at the appropriate professional level to inspire respect?
  • Are you projecting a positive, caring-yet-in-charge attitude, no matter how you feel?
  • Are you using appropriate tone of voice at all times? Not the same tone, but one that is appropriate to the message you are delivering?

Second…get on the child’s level

We can’t spend all day on our knees or perched on a stool, but there are times when we need to get down to a child’s level for effective communication in the classroom. A height difference of one to three feet, depending on your grade level, can sometimes be a barrier to getting an important message across, or to coming across as a mentor rather than an instructor when a child needs some individual attention.

Third…find the right tone for the message

How many tones of voice do I use in a day of teaching? Here my most common:

  • Welcoming…for greetings
  • Conspiratorial…for sharing “secrets” or insider info to engage a student
  • Firm…for reminding of expectations
  • Dramatic…to drive home a point
  • Soft…to show I care about a student or topic
  • Silly…to build community or relationships

Notice what is not included in that list: harsh (?), bland(?), checked-out(?) Tone of voice matters (remember your mother nagging on this? She was right!). Take care to match the voice to the message for maximum impact.

Fourth…remember non-verbal

teacher-student-communication-thumbs-upHow do we manage up to 30 students at time, especially when we are working one-on-one with different students? By multi-tasking our teacher-student communication. Using non-verbal communication allows us to transmit messages without speaking or interrupting what we are engaged in at the moment.

Remember, the kids are watching. They might be hoping for attention, checking to see if you are observing their misbehavior, or simply doing a frequent check on the leader of the pack (you), but be certain of one thing: they are watching. This provides ongoing opportunities to deliver:

  • Thumbs-up of encouragement
  • Winks of acknowledgment
  • “Air fives” of celebration
  • Stern looks of warning

I estimate that 50% of my classroom communication is non-verbal. Kids will quickly learn to give these non-verbal communications back to you, and to each other. This contributes tremendously to the supportive, caring classroom climate that you are hoping to achieve.