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.


MOOC’s for Teachers

For teachers time is a precious commodity. Add to that the fact that teachers and school Heads (if they’re honest) admit that most professional development in schools is pretty ineffective and we must all be open to new ideas and to experimentation. There is a saying that states, “Learning hasn’t taken place until behaviour has changed.” When applied to teacher training, way too much of it consists of teachers engaged either in passive listening, or discussing issues within their comfort zones. The net result is that, even where regular time is committed in schools to teacher PD, it doesn’t bring enough benefit to justify the inputs.

I came across the following article a couple of years ago;

KGED News – Mindshift – MOOCs for Teachers.

For those not familiar, MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. These are learning programmes offered over the internet, usually for adults that have been seen to have the potential to revolutionise the way adults learn and how they acquire new qualifications. They haven’t been without their challenges. For example, very high attrition rates during programmes/ low completion rates – it seems generations bred on spoon-fed education where their role was inherently passive struggle to marshal the intrinsic motivation to see such courses through.

I personally don’t believe that MOOCs will ever replace face to face PD for teachers. However, I believe that when the two are combined there are some very interesting possibilities for teachers to demonstrate their credentials as lifelong learners.

Teachers within a school with a particular interest area can pursue a MOOC, either alone or in a small group. Then, they can be given opportunities to carry out action research in their school to test and practice the new knowledge coming out of the course. Then, they are likely to be highly motivated to want to share their findings and experiences with their peers. This takes the MOOC and makes its content relevant and applicable in whatever local environment the teachers are experiencing.

This has a number of advantages. It exposes teachers, wherever in the world they’re based, to the latest cutting edge thinking and the leading thinkers and experts in the field without restraints of geography or cost. It opens up teachers’ minds to what teachers elsewhere are doing and begins to set them on a path towards taking those ideas and bringing them in to action in their own schools.

Already, I’m finding that there are growing numbers of teachers ready to tap in to online resources such as webinars, podcasts, articles and book sale sites to broaden the material they’re exposing themselves to. This can only benefit students over time.

Small School Good, Big School Bad

There are many things in education that are taken as truisms, often because they’ve been done for a long time and nobody has questioned them. These include; the necessity of homework as a means to consolidate classroom learning and the need for academic testing to determine learning levels (and to keep students sincere about effort in their learning). There’s also one about class sizes (small good, big bad) and a similar one about school sizes.

The arguments in favour of small schools are usually about sensitivity, a sense of belonging, nurturing and caring etc. However, I believe the fundamental flaw here is that the starting assumption is that these things will be lost if the leader (Principal, Head) can’t touch all points personally daily, know and name every student etc.

These arguments are mirrored in this Guardian article about a UK announcement to move to larger schools in many areas:

The guardian – Education – Supersize Schools: How big is too big

These are not dissimilar to the kinds of arguments used by some people in the past to suggest that if a company wants to truly deliver high levels of customer service, then it has to remain small so that the promoter/ leader can handle interaction with every client/ customer personally. However, we’ve seen from the work of people like Tom Peters that it’s perfectly possible to have large companies that deliver excellence consistently and at ground breaking levels that raise the bar for their competitors.

So too, I believe that if the vision and mission are sufficiently inspiring and meaningful, if the leadership are high calibre, committed and dedicated and people development approaches are of the highest order then large schools can be very high quality educational environments.

The potential benefits are many. Students in higher classes can be offered more flexible combinations of subjects to suit their areas of interest. A far broader variety of extra curricular activities can be offered. For the professionals who work in the school growth opportunities are far more likely to be there that suit the career aspirations of educators, without them feeling the need to change schools. There are lots of opportunities for teachers and educators to get leadership accountability and coaching at all levels of their career development. this is highly motivating. Teachers have a broader variety of colleagues from whom to learn and there are far less risks of complacency or group think. I could go on.

In short, small or large, I don’t believe that the size will be a significant determining factor in the quality of a school.

Connected Educators

Are you a connected educator?

There are so many good and positive messages for educators in this short video. Educators as connectors (as the best were throughout history), educators as models of lifelong learning, the power of conversations, new approaches to teachers taking ownership for their own professional development in ways that respect the limits they have on available time.

Certainly worth seeing.

Sir Ken’s New Book

The educator’s educator has a new book out – another to go on to my ‘To Read’ list.

This is an informative interview with Sir Ken where, amongst other things he talks extensively about ‘standardisation’, favouring personalization and a move away from trying to treat pupils as data points and to get the rampant ‘testing’ machine under control.

Edweek – Q & A with Sir Ken Robinson

He also has some very interesting things to say about dismantling the hierarchy of subjects within education, particularly giving due importance to vocational learning. This was an ironic one for me to hear as it mirrored a conversation with a parent just yesterday.

In the interview, he also touches upon issues such as teacher selection and training.

Well worth a listen – and I’m sure will inspire some like me to look out for the new book.

Teachers – Professional Development

There is a strong recognition that if there is to be real change in education and a genuine improvement in overall quality/ learning experiences for pupils then the professional development of teachers is a critical element in the equation.

Edweek Article on Teacher Professional Development

There are plenty of examples to show that achieving effective professional development of teachers is not about just simply increasing investment. It is necessary to go about the professional development of teachers in very systematic ways, combining a judicious mix of off-the-job study and reflection with on-the-job support and mentoring. One of the most important factors is a culture in which peers are ready to share frank and open feedback in a spirit of mutual learning for continuous professional growth.

There has to be a willingness on the part of educators to engage in critical inquiry in to their own practice – acknowledging the importance of process alongside content, both for the teacher and the learner.

This article gives some other interesting observations on what it takes to ensure effective teacher professional development.

Assessing Teacher Performance – A Hornets’ Nest

The issue of assessing teachers’ performance is controversial enough. However, when you then take the leap on from that and use those assessments to determine bonuses and extra payments for some (and showing the door to others), then you really get in to one of the most disputed and controversial areas in education.

Of course, there are those in many other professional fields who would suggest that there is no logical reason why such methods, prevalent elsewhere for determining accountability and reward, shouldn’t also apply to teachers. However, there are no shortage of teachers who will tell you that the nature of their profession makes it impossible to reduce it down to so many measurable metrics in this way.

Here’s an interesting article from Texas, America that shows the current state of this debate in the US. Panicked about an education system that seems to be failing to maintain the country’s competitiveness in the world, Americans are clearly thrashing around for answers. So, in some places teachers are being assessed on actual performance of the children in their classes, in some places on the basis of ‘value-added’ data measurements (taking in to account starting and ‘finishing’ points), whilst some are advocating for the more subjective analysis through classroom observations.

Dallas News Article

Whilst I’ve got my own thoughts on these different approaches and on the overall issue, I am really very interested to gain a sense of other people’s feelings, especially on the potential applicability of any of these methods in India. It even brings up the question of the extent to which the school or the education system is responsible for the quality of a teacher’s work, balanced against their own individual accountability.

Are there lessons that we can learn from the American debate, that could ultimately enable us to produce a better quality education system that delivers high standards consistently?

The Teacher in the 21st Century

Here’s an interesting article exploring the changing role and increased importance of the teacher and the processes of teaching to bring about the changes required in education to make it adequately relevant in the 21st Century.

A changed world requires a changed perspective on what teachers do and how they do it – and this isn’t just about tweaking things a little here and there.

Teachers Net Gazette article
(Click on this link, read the article and then, please share your views on it here.)