There are many academic theories about communication but it is the intention of this article isn’t to itemize or discuss them. It is important for us to keep our thoughts about this subject as simple as possible. In broadcast parlance, we say, KISS or keep it short and simple.
Although communication is actually quite complicated, we need to break it down to its basics and for our purposes, recognize it as the transfer of information, ideas or feelings, from one person or sender, to another, in such a way that it is understandable enough by the receiver, to elicit feedback. The information or message could be conveyed via several channels including writing, speaking, signalling or some other technical medium.
This article seeks to address the growing communication gaps between just two critical groups of senders and receivers within the education sector. It is probable that that these two groups will utilise several channels of communication during the course of their relationship and that is one reason why existing critical gaps between teachers and children and teachers and school authorities is the focus.
TEACHERS AND SCHOOL AUTHORITIES
Teachers are ambassadors of their schools. Everything they do as representatives of their educational establishments, is monitored and measured by various constituencies. It is therefore vital, that they are not only respected but seen to be respected. This will be evident by the way they are spoken to by pupils, colleagues, school management, administrative staff and parents alike.
Management must establish and maintain communication channels that encourage teachers to discuss their challenges in the classroom or with difficult parents without fear of retribution. Assertive communication skills will be useful here. When they do share, management should provide feedback so that teachers know that their voice is being heard. It is very important that management does not create an “us and them” divide. You would be surprised at how easy and common this scenario is in many schools today, especially when it appears that management takes sides against them when dealing with parents. The wellbeing and “happy state” of the teachers directly impact how they relate with the children and their guardians and their commitment to their job.
The “us and them “syndrome also applies to disciplinary measures. I have heard teachers complain about their efforts to maintain discipline, being undermined by school authorities who, in their estimation, seem to be more interested in retaining pupils than maintaining order and equilibrium. The application of diplomacy and negotiation skills, would be a useful way for management to retain custom as well as appease teachers. This would undoubtedly bridge the gap between teachers, management and parents.
The Management and administrative staff should equally understand the needs of their teachers, to ensure that they have all they require at their disposal to carry out their functions properly. It goes without saying that more than physical aids, training and capacity building is key, however it is more important to invest in the right kind of training so that teachers stay relevant and current to deliver first class learning support to the children.
TEACHERS AND PUPILS/STUDENTS
The family unit has become a multi-dimensional entity which is now open to many different interpretations. New social and cultural constructs have re-defined what the family has become but however it is perceived, it still provides what children refer to as home.’ As educators, we know the importance of communication between children and parents but how many parents understand the need to keep connecting with their children?
Problems often occur when parents rush out in the mornings. While they are mentally planning their work schedule, they believe that a conversation has taken place, when they give last minute instructions to their children. Unfortunately, since there is no time for feedback, they don’t know if there has been any level of understanding. Furthermore, parents are sometimes deprived of the opportunity to follow-up, because by the time they return in the evening, they are either too tired to communicate or their children have already gone to sleep. For single parent families, the challenges are more evident, especially if the parent lives some distance from grandparents or other members of the family.
The result of these situations is that some children come to school with two major disadvantages. First they are either unable to express themselves fluently, due to lack of holding constructive conversations at home and secondly they are unable to speak correct English, because their scope of conversation is limited to the ability of those placed at home to look after them. Drivers and house keepers, are not usually likely to upgrade the communication skills of those in their care and as such something must be done to bridge the gap.
It is now left to teachers to step in to ensure that they compensate for these anomalies, if children are to receive the right foundation for their growth and development.
Teachers must ask themselves if they have the skills to deal with these changing social situations so that their primary assignment of facilitating learning is not compromised. It is not an ideal situation but as we say in broadcasting, if a presenter wants to be sure of a good performance, in addition to self-preparation, it is in his or her interest to check that the background work has been by producers and technical personnel, before going on air. Likewise, despite current workloads, it is becoming a necessity for teachers to embrace new communication skills, to enable them achieve the same objective.
From experience garnered over time, three skills are critical to bridging the communication gap.
The attention spans of children and students have reduced drastically and as such, teachers have to find ways to engage. The truth is that teachers need to learn presentation techniques and elements of public speaking, to enable them break through this existing barrier. Teachers may be gifted to be personable and lively but more is needed to make professional presentations. They may not see themselves as professional presenters but what more needs to be said when the majority of their time is spent presenting various subjects? How much more professional do they have to be?
The art of presentation is not inherent knowledge; it is a process that has to be learned, so that variety is built into the classroom and students consistently engaged. Visual stimulation in the form of artistic walls with charts, maps, graphs etc. are all well and good but now the personality of the teacher needs to be developed to bring children and students out of their shells. Granted, this may not be what teachers bargained for, neither is it their fault if children are restless or passive but if young people are not motivated to learn, then their being in school, becomes a waste of time. These skill sets should be incorporated into the curriculum of Teachers Training Colleges and where the opportunity has passed, teachers and school authorities should find ways of ensuring that their teaching personnel attain such skills.
Parents have complained for some time about the falling standards of their children’s written and spoken English. While some of the causes are not far-fetched (as mentioned in the introduction), the other main reason is that some teachers are not grammatically sound. In addition, their spoken English is also suspect. This of course cannot augur well for children who are relying on teachers for their education.
We can no longer say that because English is not our language we don’t have to conquer it. That excuse is not tenable. Nigeria decided that English would be its national language and as such our teachers must be well versed in its usage. Who else will give the children and students the right information? Again, if teachers miss the boat during their tertiary training, it is never too late to learn. The point is teachers and school authorities should see it as a sacred duty to ensure that those for whom they are responsible, are not only given correct grammatical guidelines but also taught how to pronounce words properly.
For those who own or work in private schools, it might interest you to know that some students struggle when they go abroad to further their education at secondary or tertiary levels. It is not because they are academically weak, it is because there is a communication gap. They have become so used to poorly pronounced English words, that they cannot understand the type of English they hear in other climes. If they have to learn other languages, we expect them to take the time to adjust, but when it is English, that said period of adjustment, is unreasonable.
The media is awash with drug abuse and sexual infringements against our children and the ages of victims are becoming younger and younger. These are the children which we sometimes have to teach and these are the same children that might once have been top contributors in class but for some reason, their voices have faded away.
Teachers need to become hands-on communicators to help their pupils and students, weather the socio-economic storms being faced by their parents. As communication is a two-way process, so is the link between teachers and parents. There needs to be a unified effort between both entities, to ensure the well-being of the child. This may not be the brief given to teachers, but this is the reality of our national existence.
Teachers will therefore have to be much more alert and observant about their wards. They will need to learn to observe body language by being able to decipher non-verbal communication signals. These could be tell-tale signals that something is wrong. Teachers will need to learn listening skills because being able to listen and read between the lines is not the same thing as hearing.
Teachers will need to learn conversational skills like small talk to determine their student’s level of comprehension. Current workloads are not likely to give teachers the time they need to have quality conversations with their pupils, yet it is crucial to make time when the need arises. The ability to change tone, is a skill that is also useful in the classroom, when private conversations are a necessity. Having knowledge of intonation will equally help to avoid personality clashes and overcome background/cultural differences, with parents.
Finally, we should regard the importance and integrity of feedback, as measurable evidence that our communication has been understood. The utilisation of various types of communication skills will ensure that the circle is complete. A problem between parents and teachers? What is the documented evidence that it has been resolved? An issue between colleagues or administrative staff? Can anyone attest to its amicable solution? A reprimand from management to teachers? Who follows up to ensure that business is no longer as usual?
From the onset, we referred to communication as the act of transferring information, ideas or feelings, from one person to another, so that it is understandable enough by the receiver, to elicit feedback. When all categories of stakeholders are actively involved in effective communication activities and processes, peace, progress and profitability is the likely outcome for everyone. We believe it is worth the effort. Don’t you?