Am I Making Myself Clear?
Being able to communicate effectively is arguably our most important life skill. During COVID-19, this can be a real challenge. Whether you are teaching in person, in a hybrid setting, or online, effective communication is clearly necessary, but more difficult during this time. When discussing communication, we often see it examined in seven parts, as the seven Cs of Communication:
I think it is important to re-look at these seven Cs through the lens of COVID-19, and evaluate whether we need to change or enhance our methods of communication.
Clarity: For those who are teaching in an asynchronous environment, or responding to emails, tone in the written word can be tricky. When trying to be funny or lighthearted, our messages can come off as odd or clunky and leave our students confused. When communicating, we need to be clear about our goals and try to avoid sarcasm, or cryptic messages. We need to be explicit, and state exactly what we want our students to do or know. Wearing a mask can also make it hard for some students who are used to reading lips or taking in facial cues like smiling, frowning or pausing. While some people smile with their eyes, it may be helpful to express what is going on under your mask, i.e., “I’m thinking right now.”
We need to be concise. When we introduce an assignment in person, students can get overwhelmed in the details. While it may seem important to include every detail at once, often students need time to sit with, or start the assignment before actually knowing what questions they may have. Breaking down the assignment into parts can help students get a handle on what you are asking them to do. Try to eliminate unnecessary information at the outset, and allow questions you receive to guide your instructions, once students have been provided with a hard or soft copy of the assignment.
Complete: While this may seem like the opposite of the advice just offered, having all relevant information in writing, makes the information available to check and recheck as a student works through their assignments. Have all the relevant information such as the due date, the expected length of the assignment, a rubric, and a clear, consistent place for students to be able to ask questions. Whether this is your email address, a Google Document a Zoom meeting, etc. Students need to be able to clarify instructions and have the ability to ask and have their questions answered. Communication is a two way street, and allowing a public place to ask questions can not only help that student, but allow others to benefit from their questions and your responses.
Correct: Double check your information before sending it out, as having the wrong dates on assignments, can cause a lot of confusion. Check your written assignments and messages for grammatical and spelling mistakes, and especially for the correct spelling of student names. Some students are used to teachers spelling, or pronouncing their names wrong. Make a real effort to get it right. My name is Leah, but people often pronounce my name as Leia (like Princess Leia). I usually just ignore it or roll with it, but it can go along way to building a positive atmosphere with your students if you make an effort to get the spelling and pronunciation right.
Courteous: During this uncertain time, having all students logging on to your class at the correct time, or wearing their masks properly when they arrive can seem like the only priority to worry about, but focusing on being courteous can go a long way in reducing stressful situations. Being friendly, and emphatic can allow your classes to run more smoothly and it allows you to model respectful communication even when under pressure.
Coherent: If you are new to online teaching or speaking through a mask, you may want to practice by video taping yourself to check for proper pacing, enunciation, and to see how many filler words you use. When becoming a teacher, we were constantly being taped to see what what we actually looked like or sounded like. My filler word was, and often still is, “okay.” Filler words are often unavoidable, but students may get caught up in these filler words and it may make focusing more difficult. My Grade 10 Social Studies teacher would clear his throat if we got an answer wrong. I can still hear him making the “er-h-r-m,” noise, even today!
Concrete: Providing students with a clear picture of what you are asking of them may need examples, like student work from a previous year, a photo, or a video to allow them to know what to expect. When proving an image, a story or example, this may make this abstract idea come to life.
Connected: Having reviewed the seven Cs and discussed the importance of effective communication, my focus for this year is to make it eight Cs and add “Connected ” to this list. Feeling connected is so important right now. Like many of you, I am feeling disconnected from friends, from family, from students and my way of life in general. Making students feel connected by checking in, offering remote collaborative experiences, and going beyond the course content to ensure everyone feels connected is what is needed right now.
“Humans are social creatures and have a deep biological and neurological need for interaction, so it follows that research has found that positive relationships in children’s lives play an important role in students’ ability to learn and cope” (Prothero, 2020).
“We know that kids learn best when they feel safe and secure; when they feel anxious and aroused and uncomfortable, learning stops,” said Laura Phillips, a neuropsychologist with the Child Mind Institute. “If we want to maximize the school year, we need to help kids start out feeling safe and connected to the people with whom they are interacting (Prothero, 2020).
There have always been differing views on the purpose of education, but in my view, feeling connected in a time where that is scarce, is my top priority. Everyone will remember 2020, but hopefully we can create opportunities for students to feel connected in an uncertain and unprecedented time.
Image Source: Open.edu
Prothero, 2020. How to Build Relationships With Students During COVID-19. Education week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/09/03/how-to-build-relationships-with-students-during.html?intc=eml-contshr-shr-desk.