3 Keys to Effective Communication in Education
Many people believe educators automatically possess effective communication skills. However, if you're an educator, you know this isn't necessarily true. You've probably met colleagues who demonstrate poor communication skills. You might even label yourself as having less-than-effective communication skills.
No matter where you fall on the effectiveness scale, all educators and educational leaders can agree on the importance of good communication skills in teaching. With that in mind, here are three keys to effective communication in education that you can use immediately in your interactions with colleagues and students.
It's More About "Being" Than "Doing"
Be a listener. Effective communication in education, as in any field, starts with good listening. This might come as a surprise since the most fundamental activity in education is teaching. However, if you are to effectively teach others, you must first learn to listen well. Stephen Covey said it best in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." This statement by Covey does not mean that educators are to put listening above teaching; it simply means the best teaching doesn't start with the act of teaching. Instead, the best teaching start with the act of listening. In education, listening allows you to gain a better understanding of your students' perspective. As you gain insight into their understanding of a given subject, you are in a better position to teach in a way that allows them to think more deeply and learn more thoroughly.
Be an echo. You can be an even better listener by practicing a communication skill called active listening. Active listening is when you occasionally repeat, or echo, key phrases said by the other party. By doing this, you demonstrate that you are engaged in the conversation. This practice also helps both parties track the main points of the discussion. One word of caution: when you overuse active listening, your echo loses effectiveness and becomes irritating. The key to using active listening skills is to repeat "key phrases" and only do so "occasionally."
Be a mirror. In To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink explains how the chameleon effect is another excellent strategy for effective communication in education. Basically, this is a way to connect with people by mirroring some of what they do. Most people naturally do this without realizing it, but the best communicators tap into this strategy to facilitate more effective communication. Just like with echoing, the key is not to overdo it, or else you'll end up playing a game of "monkey see, monkey do." That's manipulation. Instead, use mirroring to simply demonstrate that you are engaged and interested.
Action Step: Try using these three simple communication skills with colleagues and students this week. As you do, not only will your communication skills improve, you'll likely see your relationships deepen as well as your effectiveness in teaching improve.