The Art of Effectively Communicating With Students (and Staff!)
Effective communication is the easiest and quickest strategy for improving student behaviour (as well as staff performance), but it is also one of the most important strategies. Communication is a relatively complex process that can be used in a variety of ways to affect behaviour, including preventing behaviour, starting behaviour, stopping behaviour, increasing behaviour (performance), and decreasing behaviour. Even your proximity to another person, the slightest change in tone of voice, the tiniest of facial expressions, or the tiniest of gestural movements can communicate a wide variety of meanings.
One of the most important things to keep in mind if you want to successfully influence behaviour through communication is that it is not just “whatcha say,” but also “howya say it” (and when!). Has anyone ever tried to convince you to carry out a certain task by speaking to you in an arrogant or agitated manner? How did it make you feel? Have you followed their instructions to the letter? Have you grown closer to the person as a result, or do you find yourself wanting to avoid them more and more? Would you be more likely to work harder for them if they were your supervisor, or would you just get the work done when they were looking to avoid being reprimanded?
The Relationship Bank
Imagine that every time you interact with another person, whether they are students or staff, that you are making a deposit or a withdrawal into a “relationship bank.” Make an effort to make deposits in the bank with as many meaningful interactions as you possibly can, while simultaneously correcting behaviour in a way that requires only a small amount of money to be taken out. The ratio of positive interactions to corrective interactions should be at least 4 to 1, with the latter being presented in a way that upholds the dignity of the individual being corrected while also assisting them in improving their performance. This should be the goal. When you interact with someone in a controlling manner, it is analogous to making a significant cash withdrawal from the relationship bank. If you do not have enough money in your account that is positive, you will most likely be charged an overdraft fee. In point of fact, you risk filing for bankruptcy! Overdraft fees will likely result in more of the behaviour that you are trying to eliminate, which is ironic given that you are trying to eliminate it. In what follows, I’ll provide a quick overview of some strategies that can be applied in general to interactions with both students and adults.
Your personal life and your professional life can both benefit from you developing strong communication skills. Even though the ability to communicate verbally and in writing is essential, researchers continue to find that nonverbal behaviours account for a significant portion of the interpersonal communication we engage in on a daily basis. What are some ways that you can improve your ability to communicate nonverbally? The following are a few tips for nonverbal communication that will enhance your own ability to communicate effectively with your students as well as your colleagues.
Keep it Short and Sweet
It’s possible that I’m overgeneralizing my own thoughts to the other people, but when people talk for too long, I quickly lose interest in what they have to say! In point of fact, it won’t be too much longer before I start looking for the quickest way out of this situation. And if I get the impression that the person communicating with me is trying to be coercive or condescending in any way, I’m probably not going to pay attention to a word that they are saying because I’ll be too busy preparing my rebuttal, which will definitely be brief but probably won’t be particularly pleasant.
When trying to change someone’s behaviour, I’ve found that having brief but meaningful interactions with them is the most effective strategy. This is especially true when the purpose of the conversation is to offer some sort of reprimand.
The use of appropriate body language is also of the utmost significance. It is very similar to a transmitter that is constantly emitting signals into the environment. You have a responsibility to be aware of these signals and to comprehend the effect they have on the people in your immediate environment. When he was younger, my son once asked his father, “Daddy, why are you looking so angry?” When I looked at myself in the nearest mirror at that precise moment, I realised that he was absolutely correct. I did look angry! The issue is that I wasn’t being honest. I just emerged from a period of introspection. In actuality, all I was doing was thinking, but people may have misunderstood me and thought I was crazy as a result. I’ll never know. Crossing one’s arms and knitting one’s brows are two examples of behaviours that are commonly perceived as being coercive and can quickly put students or staff on the defensive.
When it comes to correcting behaviour, try to relax your body language and address inappropriate behaviours in a businesslike manner. This will help you be more effective. It’s possible that some students (and adults, can you believe it?) intentionally want to make you angry. This occurs quite frequently among students who are categorised as “defiant,” and I’ve seen it happen when some couples argue with one another. When they recognise even the tiniest behavioural cues that indicate you are getting upset, you can be sure that they will quickly “push those buttons” to evoke your reaction in the same way that they push buttons on the game controllers they use, and you can be sure that they will do so without hesitation. I just adore those little creatures; they are so perceptive. They are in fact being rewarded for their disobedience each time that your body language (even the slightest change) communicates that you are on the way to Incredible Hulk mode. Being objective and consistent throughout this conversation is typically a smart strategy. As in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” where the teacher repeatedly calls out “Bueller… Bueller…”
In this regard, it is important to note that one of the most effective interventions for preventing this is to place a strong emphasis on developing meaningful relationships with one’s students. Having meaningful relationships removes the opportunities that can lead to you becoming agitated. In point of fact, when you have a positive relationship with the student, even a moderate amount of disappointment on your part has the potential to have a significant effect on the student’s behaviour.