Communicating Effectively With Your Students

So, "What is effective communication?" At a bare minimum, this includes:

  • Responding promptly to emails.
  • Making yourself available for office hours.
  • Actively listening to students’ concerns and needs.
  • Communicating expectations clearly (grading policy, attendance, deadlines, etc.).
  • Providing a channel for students to provide feedback anonymously (e.g., using a message board that allows anonymous posting).

Sounds easy, right? Maybe. Turns out there is more to effective communication than what was just outlined above. Goldstein and Brooks (2005) offer the following "Ten Steps to Effective Communication."

Ten Steps to Effective Communication

1) Begin on the first day of school
"At the beginning of each school year, semester, or term, take the time to set in place guidelines and opportunities for students to communicate about a variety of situations, including those that are problematic. We must insure that students view us as approachable from the first day of school."

2) Be proactive.
"We must strive to move towards a proactive style as educators. In addition to taking advantage of spontaneous moments to communicate with our students, it also helps to schedule communication time (e.g. office hours, appointments, etc.).

3) Become an active listener
"To be an active listener suggests that we begin without assumptions. Active listening implies that we truly attempt to understand the verbal and non-verbal messages conveyed by our students, that we perceive the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that they are communicating and that we do not let our own agenda or our need to get our point across interfere with our ability to appreciate what our students are attempting to tell us. Active listeners also recognize that unspoken messages or meanings are often conveyed along with the spoken word."

4) Make sure you say, “I heard you.”
"You must validate what students are saying and confirm they have been heard…Validation does not imply that we agree with everything they think or believe but rather that we acknowledge their perspective. Validation helps students believe that teachers are listening to and respect their opinions. A validating comment such as, 'I’m glad you could share your point of view. I think I see where you are coming from. I’m not certain I agree with your perspective, but I want to hear more' creates a climate for ongoing communication."

5) Do unto others.
"We want and expect others to treat us with respect, communicate clearly, and to respond fairly…[be]empathic and engage in discussions with students that lessen defensiveness and allow them to feel comfortable listening to us."

6) Use non-judgmental and non-accusatory communication.
"If we want our students to learn from us rather than resent us we must minimize messages that can easily be interpreted as accusatory such as, “Try harder,” “You could do better if you wanted to.” “I just went over that, why don’t you listen more carefully?” Choosing an alternative to possible judgmental comments does not compromise our authority as teachers but rather increases the probability that our students will listen to what we have to say."

7) Communicate clearly and briefly."
"Many teachers attempt to communicate so much information at one time that any student on the receiving end would become overloaded. Routine communications with our students should be brief and focused. Not everything must be accomplished in one discussion. If too much information is offered at once, students may become overwhelmed and incapable of processing any of it."

8) Serve as a model of honesty and dignity."
"Students are very astute in perceiving how direct and honest we are. Honesty is displayed when we acknowledge we don’t know the answer to a particular question, but that we will attempt to find the answer before the next class. Mistakes are teachable moments. They are opportunities from which to learn."

9) Accept repetition.
"Communication is an ongoing process. Students may have to hear a message many times before they understand and incorporate it into their thinking."

10) Make humor an integral part of your communication.
"Playfulness and humor are important ingredients in the communication process. While some educators find it easier to “lighten up” than others, keep in mind that the better able we are to call on humor at appropriate times, the more our communication will be facilitated."

Useful Resources

USC Center for Excellence in Teaching on Effective Communication

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