Teacher Classroom Language


In my experience, the vast majority of teachers want to be the very best they can be in their roles and to reach every student to the best of their ability. In my experience, as a result, teachers spend lots of time exploring their subject and ideas on the best teaching methodologies in relation to the content of that subject. They pay lots of attention to classroom management, maybe also to child psychology, how to motivate students, effects of discipline methods and pedagogy.

But, in my experience, not much time or attention goes in to aspects related to the teacher as a communicator. To my mind this is a major shortcoming when we consider that teaching is so dependent upon communication, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes there is attention paid to the language of the subject, to aspects of correctness of use of the language that is the medium of instruction (e.g. English, especially when not the mother tongue of the teachers or students). However, not much professional development training goes in to aspects of body language, use of semiotics (use of signs and symbols), use of voice or how language is used.

In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) there is a well known pre supposition that states – “You cannot not communicate.” In other words, we’re all communicating, all the time. Even not communicating communicates. We’ve all seen that a teacher can often get a much quicker response from an unruly, noisy or excitable class of pupils by standing silently with a particular facial expression than by shouting, remonstrating, cajoling or even threatening.

Teachers want to impact students when they communicate with them. I remember years ago (I think the first time was when undergoing sales training) learning that when we communicate our impact is made up of:

  • 55% what we do with our body, physically (including the face)
  • 38% what we do with our voice (tone, speed, volume, timbre etc)
  • 7% the words we use

Seeing these figures it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking that as a result words don’t really matter very much. They’re not very significant. However, I believe this is a very grave mistake, especially when we take in to account that whilst using the right words we also have the opportunity to use our voice in the most effective ways for a combined 45% of the total impact.

So, for many teachers there’s an area here where they can bring about significant and valuable improvements, if they pay attention. However, one of the biggest challenges with language and communication is that most of what we do and say is automatic and unconscious. In order to question and challenge our own communication we have to bring it in to conscious awareness. This isn’t always a comfortable process, but i believe the benefits make it worthwhile.

The ASCD (the biggest US organisation for teacher and educator professional development) holds periodic webinars. Some of these are exclusively for members. However, today I want to share information on an excellent webinar that is free for all to see – you don’t need to be a member to log in to watch the replay of this one.

Mike Anderson is a US elementary teacher who has published a few books. I read his earlier book, “Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn” which was very good. This webinar was to introduce the core ideas behind his latest book, “What we say and how we say it matter: teacher talk that improves student learning and behavior.”

In the webinar he shares masses of really good material and I’m sure teachers will benefit from giving this a little time. To watch the replay of the webinar, click on the link below. When the page opens, click where it says “Watch now”.

ASCD – Professional Development – What We Say – Webinar

Enjoy, and please share your feedback and thoughts on the content here.


Why Do I Lead?

Why Do I Lead?

This is probably the single most important question that a school principal must ask themselves – and keep asking themselves. When the answers come back with clarity, then all is pointing in the right direction. When the answers are harder to come by, that’s when the leader needs to look inside to discover what’s out of alignment.

Questions are powerful and educators have long known this. Teachers spend a lot of time asking questions. Modern, effective teachers spend more time helping children to ask great questions, having recognised that this leads to greater quality learning. Likewise, the best school leaders know that asking themselves the right, best questions and reflecting on the answers is a key part of achieving and being successful.

So, this is why I’ve added a new book to my ‘To Read’ list. It’s a new book out through ASCD, from a New Jersey, USA school leader named Baruti Kafele entitled, “The Principal 50:Critical Leadership Questions For Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence”

Here’s a page that carries a brief overview about the book, a short video presentation by the author, and five visuals of the basic 50 questions which are elaborated on in the book. Personally, I don’t intend to wait to get and read the book, but intend to start challenging myself to reflect on some of these questions as I move forward in the coming weeks.

ASCD – Book Overview – The Principal 50

Already, as I studied the 50 questions, the strongest thought running through my mind is that as critical as reflection on the questions is, they are really worth very little and will bring scant benefits within schools unless they are followed up with time committed to communication with others and action. Without performance and action, these questions would be largely a self indulgent exercise in navel gazing.

If I Could Just …………..

‘Time Management’ has been around a long time. For almost as long, there have been people quite ready to point out that you can’t manage time – it just is. Instead, what we’re really about is the somewhat harder challenge of managing ourselves and our minds. The holy grail is ‘productivity.’

The abiding thought is always, “If I could just, ….. ” then I could achieve more, be more, succeed more, contribute more etc. The second thought that soon follows is a conviction that others are doing more, achieving more, succeeding more and I really ought to be doing so as well. And so, the rat race is perpetuated.

In the end, my view is that indeed we can’t manage time, but can get better at managing ourselves if we keep some focus on it, practice honest reflection about what we do with our time and whether we could be more effective and keep our big goals at the forefront to determine how wee should be spending our time. The latter point is vital if we are to spend enough time on things which are important, but perhaps not urgent.

The tougher part is that if we’re to make real progress, part of the solution lies in better management of other people. The richer/ higher title/ higher status of an individual enables the person to have much more power over how they use and allocate their time. The more others are determining what is important for us to do and the more others have the right to impose upon us what they perceive to be ‘urgent’, then the less we can really impact the effectiveness of how we allocate our time. It’s not altogether fair when writers and commentators hold up people like Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Elon Musk as examples of people who are able to achieve so much out of the same 24 hours a day available to us all.

Many organisations have instigated practices over the last 10-20 years that may have been right from a communication and collaboration perspective, but were really quite undesirable from a personal efficiency/ productivity perspective. Open offices, open doors etc. may mean that people have more access to each other, but it plays havoc with productivity. Worse, in my experience in different types of organisations, when some are imposing their time agenda on others, it’s not even particularly about work, meaningful quality communication or collaboration, but just some employees seeking company/ companionship. However, all the data on the impact of interruptions is pretty damning. Haven’t we all had those occasions when we were really in flow on some complex and involved task, got interrupted and spent the rest of the day anxiously aware that some of our best ideas we were holding in our heads whilst doing that task have been lost for good – they’re not coming back!

Here’s a Fast Company article to spark a few more ideas. it looks at seven myths that are commonly bandied around on the subject of time management, with suggestions for better ways of thinking;

Fast Company – 7 Popular Productivity Beliefs You Should Ignore

Stepping in to Another’s Shoes

98% of us have the mental ‘hard wiring’ to be empathic. So, the question becomes; Why have empathy levels been falling and what will need to happen to reverse the decline?

Here’s a great TedX presentation on the need for an empathy revolution, from Roman Krznaric;

The Power of Communication

Martin Pistorius, an extraordinary man who spent 13 years locked inside his body, in a coma and unable to communicate with anyone around him. This is a fascinating and powerful presentation he gave to a TedX event. An amazing show of human resilience and spirit.

Parents – Vital Education Partners

When I first moved in to school leadership it was before I experienced dealing with schools as a parent. I was shocked, at least in India, to see the frequency with which schools treated parents with little more than disdain. Parents joked about it, but the jokes were barbed with truth that hurt. Once the school had got the child admitted, parents were treated so often as though they were a hindrance and a nuisance. They were also often treated as if they knew nothing, understood nothing and should just accept as gospel whatever the school did or said.

I was looking at these things from the perspective of a former Private Banker. What’s more, our bank had been phenomenally successful by putting the client at the centre of all we did. A large part of meetings were spent talking about clients, much training was around clients and all staff were aware that communication and engagement with clients was always the most important priority. Being passionate about service to clients was job number one.

Once I got over my initial shock I came to see more and more WHY so many schools wanted to shut the parents out. So many educators sought to dress up what they did in their schools with a degree of mystique, whilst the reality was there was little magical or even very modern about what went on. In other cases it was simply that schools wanted to adopt the path of least effort, a form of laziness that wanted to simply deliver lessons, prepare children for exams by traditional and conventional methods (but take much higher fees than in the past on the basis of fancier premises and facilities!)

The result of all this has been that in any school I’ve lead I’ve always wanted to put strong emphasis on parent engagement. As time’s gone on, technology has enabled us to really enhance this. So, whether it’s stressing on really good quality written textual reports on children’s assessment and performance, this blog, parent workshops, parent orientations, the way school phones get answered or a multitude of other things, it’s always been my mission to bring the partner on board as a partner.

There’s another analogy from my banking days. Often clients were elderly and widows. I always made a particular point of giving them extra time in the early stages to help them to understand, in simple layman terms, what we did and how we did it. Some told me that they found this refreshing and respectful as peopl;e were often inclined to pass them off as silly old ladies who understood nothing. However, it also paid off as a couple told me that they rebuffed attempts to lure them away on the basis that nobody else would help them to understand in the same way. Again, I’ve taken a similar approach in education. As educators we don’t have the right to treat parents as outsiders, to wrap what we do in a cloak of jargon and mystery language so as to shut them out. I believe it’s vitally important that we open up the learning process in a transparent manner for the parent so that they can really understand what we’re doing, how and why.

In my experience, one of the times when all of this communication pays off is when/ if something goes wrong with the child – whether it be an issue of academic struggle, interpersonal or disciplinary issues. The time invested means that school and parents can meet from a position of high trust.

Keeping all this in mind, I was interested to read this article on the subject of parent engagement and communication from Education Week. It is the first of five pieces, so I’ll be interested to see the follow-ups;

Education Week – Keep Students Close, Parents Closer

Scary Statistic!!

Within the developed world (which includes the developed bits of the developing world!!), a child, on average, spends approximately 50 hours a year talking alone with his/ her parents and 1,500 hours a year in front of a screen (PC, TV, movies etc.)

And some of us wonder why media material has more impact on them than we do? The other thought that went through my mind was if our interaction with our children is really only 50 hours per year (barely an hour a week!) we had better make sure it’s good interaction! Because, if half of it is nagging, criticizing and battles then we need to be ready for all the consequences.