Analyzing Issues in Teacher-Student Communication

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Communicating with students is something that teachers do all the time, sometimes without even thinking about it. In this lesson, you will get a chance to step back and analyze different issues that might arise in communications with students.

Why Analyze Teacher-Student Communication?

Mr. Fier is a principal at Wilkins Elementary School. Each year, he tells his teachers how much he respects and admires all the work they do. Teachers at Wilkins prepare their lessons carefully, reach out to families, and keep their classrooms organized and their instruction on target. Most of all, though, Mr. Fier admires the way his teachers communicate, or connect verbally and nonverbally, with their students. Mr. Fier brags to visitors that communication in the school happens on so many levels:

  • Teachers communicate rules and expectations;
  • Teachers communicate feedback about children's work;
  • Teachers communicate moral and emotional lessons that impact heavily on students' well-being.

One reason Mr. Fier knows how important communication is at Wilkins is that he has spent a great deal of time analyzing teacher-student communication, or documenting it, interpreting it, and figuring out how to improve it. Communication analysis is a way for Mr. Fier and his colleagues to gain a deep understanding of what happens in the classroom each day and help ameliorate problems that arise. By analyzing teacher-student communication, Mr. Fier can determine appropriate measures for supporting students and families as well as teachers.

Figuring Out What's Working Well

Mr. Fier believes strongly that the most important aspect of analyzing teacher-student communication is figuring out what's working. When he sits down with a teacher to analyze communication around rules and expectations, for example, he encourages the teacher to think through exactly how he or she communicates rules in the classroom. Teachers often describe the charts depicting rules that they leave hanging on their classroom walls, verbal repetition of rules and expectations over the course of the school week, verbal and nonverbal praise for students that are following rules, and nonverbal cues to redirect students who are not following rules as well. Teachers who are communicating in this many different ways are sure to be able to pinpoint some strengths in their communication. For instance, maybe the teacher feels that students really pay attention to nonverbal cues, or that students sitting in the back of the room respond especially well to loud verbal reminders. When a teacher is able to analyze successful communication, she is better primed to handle problems in communication as well.

Figuring Out Communication Breakdowns

Mr. Fier knows, however, that communication breakdowns between teachers and students can be alienating to everyone involved and have disastrous effects. When helping a teacher analyze a communication breakdown, he encourages her to follow the following steps:

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