Introducing: ‘Is Anyone Listening? A Communication toolbox for teachers’

06 Jan 2022


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” 

George Bernard Shaw 

Teaching is communication. How we speak, how we act, how we express ourselves in the classroom is absolutely vital.

It can be the difference between building positive relationships and inspiring a deep love of learning, to a complete breakdown in how our classrooms and learning function.

What we say, and how we say it, as teachers deeply matters.

This year, I am starting a new writing project with the tentative title of ‘Is Anyone Listening: A communication toolkit for teachers’.

I didn’t write much at all last year, with a new baby and a three year joyfully absorbing lots of time, alongside completing an intensive six-month coaching course with Growth Coaching.

Immersing myself (with a deeply sleep deprived mind) in the world of coaching was a fascinating process, and has made me reflect further on how we employ language and the impact it can have. The centrality of genuine listening, curiosity and authenticity in coaching has also made me consider how we can better demonstrate these qualities in our work with young people in the classroom.

As an English teacher, I also have a natural curiosity and passion for the power and impact of both the spoken and written word. Certainly for me, as the epitome of an introvert, it is one of the most exhausting part of our roles in school: we talk endlessly – each interpersonal interaction being as complex and varied as the next.

We are also expected to shift that communication easefully – depending on who we might find in front of us. What is superfluous in those interactions and perhaps more importantly: what could be honed to result in more learning impact and more positive relationships?

Actors 

As teachers we are, to embrace a cliché, actors who are on stage all day, every day. We, however, have no lines to fall back on – we only have our toolbox of verbal and non-verbal skills. Our success in the classroom often lies in our capacity to skillfully judge a moment and use our communication skills to their best effect.

Despite this endless classroom dialogue, there seems to be never enough time for us teachers to really consider how we speak, and what impact it can have on the young people in front of us.

Instead, our lives are dictated by school bells – by communication that exists on autopilot. By the nature of our jobs, our communication is often mindless, rather than as reflective, considered and as impactful as we can hope for it to be.

The experience of education throughout the pandemic has convinced me further to the necessity of this book. The movement to online learning showed just how vital our classroom spaces, with their rich and complex interpersonal communication, are for young people – with it resulting in a complete breakdown in learning for so many.

The transition into teachers and pupils in masks has further hampered communication. Masks have undoubtedly resulted in an increased form of passivity for so many young people, and classroom conversations and debates that would usually be central have been reduced.

Their presence in our classrooms is a powerful reminder of just how important facial expressions are, how much a smile matters, and how much what we say can positively impact those in front of us.

The fundamental aim of the book is to give a space to focus on teacher communication: to give busy teachers the opportunity to pause and break down all the layers of teacher communication, and to consider how we can use it to its full potential.

In doing so, its intention is to leave readers with a range of tools, phrases and strategies that will drive forward relationships, learning and our impact in the classroom. With short reflective pieces on each particular area of communication, I am aiming for the book to be a practical one that teachers can frequently come back to.

Collaboration 

One of the aspects of writing I thoroughly enjoy is the connections and relationships it can forge – and how it doesn’t have to be a solitary late-night endeavour. I have been so lucky that in both ‘A Quiet Education’ and ‘Teacher Resilience,’ I have had so many other teachers and writers willing to contribute their voices – all in the shared aim of creating something useful for teachers.

In ‘A Quiet Education’ so many other more introverted young people, teachers and leaders came forward to share their thinking on how to thrive in education as a quieter person. For me, that was so powerful in enabling more self-acceptance and confidence that you don’t have to fit into the extrovert ideal to thrive in our profession.

In ‘Teacher Resilience’, I found so many teachers and leaders willing to open up about their own struggles to manage some of the stress and anxiety that teaching can create. While there is never a neat and easy solution to individual wellbeing, there is so much we can learn from the ways that others have managed to secure some ease and perseverance in their work in schools.

My aim for this book on communication is to include a similarly diverse and wide range of voices. If you would be interested in contributing, I would love to hear from you. The book will evolve throughout the year, but I am likely to explore each of the following areas:

Non-verbal communication – everything from positioning, to eye contact, to posture.
Explanations
Questioning
Subject-knowledge
Listening
Motivation
Feedback
Expectations
Behaviour
Assertiveness
Relationships
Securing Attention
Coaching
Well-being
A glossary of teacher phrases

The contributions can be anything from a few lines, to a longer more blog style piece. They can be anything from sharing tips on how you approach a particular area of communication in the classroom, to sharing some thinking on reading you might have done on some form of teacher talk. It might be you want to focus on a particular area for a few weeks, and then write about how you found this process – a kind of mini practitioner enquiry. In short: anything that you think might be useful for teachers!

It seems fitting to me that a book on teacher communication should hopefully open up rich dialogue with many teachers about the nature of our speech and interactions in the school environment. If you would like to be a part of that dialogue, please contact me on Twitter at @teachgratitude1, or send me an email at jamiethom123@aol.com.

Thank you so much for reading!

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Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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