KEY COMMUNICATION SKILLS – MODEL, PRACTICE AND TEACH

With the emphasis so much oriented toward communication via technology, face-to-face first person skills can be overlooked. They ought to be practiced.

EYE CONTACT

* Look at people. Don’t look over them, under them or around them.
* Engage people individually and collectively through eye contact. Rest on individuals and cover the audience.
* Make your eyes friendly, encouraging and inviting.
* Avoid flat or hostile eyes.
* Eyes are the most important parts of the anatomy when it comes to gesture.

GESTURE

* Compatible with the presenter and magnifying of speech.

* Gesture is a tool that can help emphasise and reinforce points.

* Overdoing gesture can undermine conversation because recipients are studying aspects of body language rather than listening to what is being said.

I recommend personal practive of these attributes and their encouragement by others.

NEVER LOSE PRIME CONTACT WITH STUDENTS

School Principals and leaders should NEVER lose contact with students.

I was a regular in classrooms and programmed teaching until the last three years of my principalship years. It then became more incidental but was maintained. Principals need to know their students and the best way to achieve that is by teaching them. I most certainly read all reports to parents written by teachers and wrote my own comments to the child on each report. As a principal I found children valued knowing I valued them. Part of this was possible because I engaged my leadership group fulsomely in the business of school operations. Sharing in this way enabled me to share time with children.

Things CAN become busy from an adminstrative viewpoint but we neglect establishing and maintaining meaningful connnections with students at our peril.

ORAL COMMUNICATION – SO OFTEN OVERLOOKED.

Oral Communication is so important. These days the skills associated with oral expression are too often overlooked. Consider the following as elements that need to become ingrained into practice.

ELEMENTS OF VOICE, SPEECH AND SPEAKING

VOICE

* Vocal qualities. VOICE IS YOUR MAJOR WORKING TOOL

* Speech flow, including pitch, rhythm and speed.

* ‘Ah’s’, ‘um’s’, ‘er’s’, ‘aw’s’, and other speech fillers.

* ‘okay’ at start or end of sentences.
* ‘guys’ as a word of address to a mixed audience.
* ‘gonna’ rather than ‘going to’.
* Don’t overdo ‘so’, particularly as a never ending joining word.
* ‘could, could’ (double clutching)
* ‘I was, I was’ (double clutching)
* ‘Wh, when’ and similar double vocal movements.
* ‘and, um’; ‘um and so’; ‘you know’ ad infinitum.
* ‘um and or” ‘um it’s it’s …’.
* ‘aaaand’; ‘o n e’ (word stretching).

* Recognising and using punctuation.

* PRONUNCIATION and word usage

* A CONVERSATIONAL VOICE is engaging. A listening audience is reassured to hear program presenters speaking in a relaxed manner. Many listeners are working through the hassles of the day. A calm and relaxed manner coming at them over the airwaves is relaxing and reassuring.

* Using pause, allowing your audience time to digest and reflect on what you have said.
* Projection and outreach, avoiding ear burst and fade-out, which imposes ear strain.
* Use words to paint pictures, stimulating the listener’s imagination. Successful radio and media communications are those which, by their appeal, draw listeners to programs.
* If working on a presentation from within the broadcast studio, IMAGINE you have people with you as guests. Work as a radio presenter in the same way you would if others were there.



EYE CONTACT

* Look at people. Don’t look over them, under them or around them.
* Engage people individually and collectively through eye contact. Rest on individuals and cover the audience.
* Make your eyes friendly, encouraging and inviting.
* Avoid flat or hostile eyes.
* Eyes are the most important parts of the anatomy when it comes to gesture.

GESTURE

* Compatible with the presenter and magnifying of speech.
* Gesture is a tool that can help emphasise and reinforce points.
* Overdoing gesture can undermine conversation because recipients are studying aspects of body language rather than listening to what is being said.

Avoid accidental gesture which is off-putting. These might include the following:

* Wagging a cordless microphone while speaking.
* Rocking from one foot to the other or swaying from the waist.
* Neck movement which is out of sync with general movement
* Eye contact which has you speaking in one direction, looking in another.
* Randomly putting on and taking off spectacles.
* Holding and wagging or twirling glasses while speaking.
* Doing similar with a pen, lazar pointer or some other prop.
* Pulling at collar, sleeves or any other aspect of apparel.

INTERVIEWING

* Plan your interview so it flows logically. How do you want it to begin, develop and conclude.
* Be aware of time and ‘Commanding’ the program; don’t be usurped and don’t allow your agenda to be hijacked. Time awareness is essential.

COLLABORATE.

* Collaboration with like minded professionals is valuable and enriching.
* From collaboration grows synergy, the collective energy that is enhancing. It uplifts those who are working together in occupational fields.

* Those working in isolation can be left behind because collaboration is increasingly a strategy whereby we work to develop our professional ethos.

DISTANCE

It is both sad and worrisome that at times we Balkanise ourselves. That may be unintentional, being an outcome or product of unintentional attitude. Distance grows from being remote or aloof when associating with colleagues and students.

One’s identity is important, but any siloing of oneself, is distancing from fellow staff and students. That does nothing for effectiveness as a teacher because it is essential that close collegiate links are in place. It is the professional personality in relations that validates efforts, for this builds respect.

I am not for one minute suggesting fraternisation. This of itself can lead to a diminishment of professional character. However, effectiveness as a teacher means that knowing and working with students (and colleagues) in respectful professional (and teaching/learning) togetherness, is a winning strategy.

Know and respect colleagues and students.

BE PART OF THE TEAM

t is absolutely awful that school principals are being increasingly pulled away from their schools and locked into their offices, in order to forward administrative issues. It is not right that advice should be given to principals that they leave their schools to assistant principals while the focus on heart matters of system politics and development.

Trust in and sharing school processes within the leadership team and among staff is important. However, abrogating responsibility and taking a less than direct interest in one’s school of appointment is not what should be happening.

I have heard from students who tell you that the ‘principal’ is one of the assistants. Awful when students do not know who their principal is. Or if they do, rarely see or hear from that person.

SAY ‘THANK YOU’ AND MEAN IT

Saying ‘thank you’ and meaning it in this day and age has become a sad rarity. When I first commenced teaching in the 1970’s and in the years that followed, appreciation was common. This helped teachers feel good about what they were doing.

Don’t get me wrong. There was counselling, sometimes pointed, for mistakes and things that could have been better done. However, thanks given helped people keep a balance and perspective on what they were doing.

In our modern times, thanks is a lot scarcer. It seems that calls to accountable I litany are fare more common than used to be the cases. It is small wonder that teaching to many becomes a burden and they opt out.

System and school leaders need to take stock and consider returning to being people who show their appreciation for jobs done well. That extends to teachers in classrooms recognising student efforts and appreciating pupils.

LIVING THE LIFE

May all young people olf the world be blessed and given the wisdom to discern the right pathways in life’s world. May those of us who are senior do the right thing by the example we set to following generations. This is one of the very important elements of awareness and need that should be part of the motivation and the psyche of all teachers. I include teachers in our schools and staff in our universities.

Teaching is an important part of the role we fill. Of equal importance has to be the example we set. What we do and the way we live validates or discredits the teaching messages we espouse.

My hope and wish is that all educators be remembered with appreciation and respect.

SPEAK CLEARLY AND CONVERSATIONALLY

SPEAK CLEARLY AND CONVERSATIONALLY

Speaking with children is a skill that needs to be understood . It can be easy as parents and teachers to converse in ways that children find off-putting. The way in which adults speak with children should build their confidence.

When talking with each other in staff rooms, school staff speak in a conversational manner. However when returning to classrooms, staff often change their speech idioms. They tend to talk ‘at’ children rather than ‘with’ them. This places adults in a position of dominance and causes young people to feel a degree of discomfort. Changing the quality of vocalisation often occurs as soon as staff and children enter or re-enter the teaching environment.
Speech should be conversational rather than commanding in nature. This helps develop confidence in children, adding to their comfort when talking with their teachers and classroom helpers. This builds rapport and helps develop a positive classroom atmosphere.

Parental Role

It is equally important that parents share conversation with their children. Girls and boys need to feel part of the family circle sharing opinions and ideas that are heard and respected. It is through conversation that parents get to know and understand their own young people. Sharing time also helps children gain confidence in their parents. Strengthening of educational partnerships occurs if this approach carries over to the way in which teachers speak with children at school. Adults working with children need to adopt similar conversational styles.

Adults, both parents and teachers should model correct speech. Children need to grow up learning and copying accurate speech and enunciation. Correct speech and speaking is essential if we are to be clearly understood. It is also important that adults model elements of speech to young people, who observe and copy.

Talking down or talking up to children should be avoided. The practice of ‘baby talk’ toward younger children is unhelpful. It sends wrong messages about speech and speaking. Conversation that is overly sophisticated and incomprehensible to children is also disrespectful. Asking children to seek further explanation when something is not understood is a wise strategy.

Clear conversational speech between adults and children, whether at home or school, develops confidence and builds rapport. It is essential that young people are not made to feel uncomfortable in speech and speaking situations. Listening skills also need to be nurtured and developed. Applying these skills can promote a spirit of partnership between children, their parents and teachers.

SPEAK TO BE REMEMBERED

It is important that presenters deliver in a way that evokes appreciation from the audience. Good work can be enhanced or undone by presentation
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Many educators are required to present in public. That may be in every environment from staff meetings to convention centres. delivery may be to a few people or to hundreds attending conferences. Delivery at workshops comes into the equation. Included are interviews that may be on radio, television or on you tube and similar.

The way in which presenters deliver their messages often reveals alarming shortfalls in methodology. The way in which presenters speak often reveals shortfalls in their capacities. Gesture, body language, word choice, speech hesitations, and awareness of time are a few areas requiring education. There are many others.

It is said that beyond a presentation, 7% of audience recipients remember the speech content and often for short periods of time. On the other hand 42% of audience groups remember the manner and method of delivery and for substantial periods. It is the way in which presenters present, rather that what they say which makes key impact.

I believe that educators, from teachers through to principals and departmental CEO’S should consider speech and message delivery training. This might be through formal coursework, or through joining an organisation that promotes speaking and listening skills. Toastmasters and Rostrum comes to mind but there are other organisations including Zonta.

It is easy to discount the importance of speech delivery. This is an area that needs our attention.

COLLEGIALITY AND CARE Essences of Passing the Leadership Baton

This was shared with readers of ACEL’s e-Leading in 2015. I wrote from my heart and with appreciation for those who helped me in developing along my career pathway.

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Collegiality and Care

Essences of Passing the Leadership Baton

When reflecting upon one’s professional life, the remembrance of significant people who helped make a difference, reflects upon the consciousness. One remembers people who cared enough to care. Looking back on my years in education, I recall five people who helped me along the way and at various stages of my career. Their collegiality, empathy, advice and care made them great mentors, coaches and example setters. They motivated me to become an educator who endeavoured to support others in the same way.

John Lockley, Head Teacher Wannamal School: 1971

In my second year of teaching, I was lucky enough to earn an appointment to Gillingarra, a one teacher school in the central west coastal area of WA. I was head teacher on probation. At that time, in the early 1970’s, school inspections were an annual event and were a quite rigorous exercise. This was particularly the case for probationers.

John Lockley was an experienced head teacher at Wannamal, a slightly larger school 50 kilometres down the road. His school was due for inspection around the same time as mine. He knew I was the new kid on the block and correctly anticipated my nervous apprehension about the pending exercise.

John phoned and offered to come up to Gillingarra to familiarise me with what was involved. He spent an afternoon stepping me through the processes the Inspector would follow. He explained what documentation I needed to complete and why particular records were necessary. This was an exercise in familiarisation and demystification, an experience that built my self confidence.

Thereafter, John kept in touch, periodically guiding me in a supportive and collegiate manner. His interest, pastoral care and concern were instrumental in helping give me a good start to my educational career. That help was an important stepping stone towards my future.

Jim Eedle (Dr Jim) our First NT Education Secretary: 1979

The Northern Territory Government took responsibility for Territory Education in January 1979. Until that time education had been administered by various State Departments including NSW and SA. Until 1979, staffing had been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Teaching Service in Canberra.

Becoming an entity in our own right provided us with a serious opportunity to consider how education in the Northern Territory might be shaped.

In March 1979, Dr Eedle met with school education leaders in Katherine, a regional town 300 kilometres south of Darwin. He welcomed us all to the ‘new’ NT educational system and offered words of meaning, advice and caution.

Dr Eedle metaphorically described our system’s emancipation as being like unto a rising sun. He offered two pieces of advice I have always regarded as being statements of infinite wisdom.

He told us that as leaders, we should always remember that “schools are for children”.
His further advice was that educational structure should always serve function”.

Dr Eedle suggested system priorities for us. He placed an emphasis on education which I always endeavoured to follow. With the passing of years, education everywhere has become structured to the point of where educational operations seem massively over-built.
Structural magnification can defocus us from the prime purpose of education – to develop and enrich children and students moving up the grades and through the years.

I always tried to underpin my practice, with Eedle’s advice about priorities firmly in mind. What he had to say, focussed on the prime purpose of education as a process to develop the young, preparing them to take control of the future. This became part of my ingrained educational practice.

Geoff Spring Education Secretary NT: 1983

In the mid 1980’s I was appointed Principal of Nhulunbuy Primary School at Nhulunbuy, a mining town of 4,000 people in East Arnhem (NT). Nhulunbuy was a school of 800 students and over 50 staff. The consensus was that our school would benefit from an appraisal that examined operational process and helped with the establishment of educational priorities.

At the time, school appraisals were flavour of the month. I was keen to make sure the model fitted to identifying teaching, learning and student development needs. My newness to urban education in the NT made this an untried area.

I wrote to Mr Spring, explaining what we intended doing and asked for his advice in shaping our appraisal process. He telexed me back (in the days before facsimile machines and email opportunities) with a very detailed, three page reply. I learned from him that valid school appraisals considered the organisation from the inside out, rather than the outside in. There was a tendency to prioritise the physical environment (how the school looked) along with staff and student wellbeing (how the school felt), ahead of what happened in classrooms.

The primary aspect of appraisal he advised, was to consider the teaching – learning nexus, the classroom interface or how the school taught. Evaluation from the outside in, missed the point of focussing on what schools were really all about.

We followed the Spring Methodology. I discovered that if the heart of the school, its teaching and learning focus were healthy, relationships and physical aspects of appearance tended to look after themselves. Mr Spring’s timely advice was not lost. The method was one I followed in other schools during following years.

Dr Colin Moyle ACEA (Now ACEL): 1984

From Dr Moyle, I learned that periodic professional refreshment should be part of educational development. It can be easy to relax in the leadership role, believing there is nothing more to learn. Leaders who think this way become ‘cruisers’, leading organisations that meander along, often making minimal progress.

Revisiting the essence of a career can bring with it essential rethinking and revitalisation. This process can help people in leadership positions refocus and reinvigorate their operational precepts.

In 1983 I was afforded such an opportunity when Dr Colin Moyle, a key figure in the Australian Council of Educational Administrators visited Darwin. He conducted a week long leadership symposium with fifteen school principals. He asked each of us to contemplate the development of a mission statement of no more that 25 words. Its purpose would be to focus us on key priorities we identified.

The idea of a mission statement that conceptualised sense and purpose had never crossed my mind. After careful consideration my statement emerged. It became both a reminder and a guide.

It reads:

To fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode, family, work and recreation;
To acquit my responsibilities with integrity;
To work with a smile in my heart.

Over the years since, I have frequently reflected on my mission statement. I have also asked others to consider the wisdom of developing a similar focussing position. My mission statement has well and truly served its purpose.

Charlie Carter Regional Superintendent of Education, Darwin: 1992

Wake-up calls are sometimes necessary and I had one come my way early in 1992. I had just been appointed principal of Leanyer School and began to fill the role enthusiastically. Too enthusiastically. I was making decisions without consultation and acting in a way that was imposing on Leanyer, the philosophy and policies belonging to Karama School, from which I had transferred.

Some staff members and parents met with Mr Carter to express their concerns about my leadership style and approach. He listened to them and hand wrote me a note. It read in part:

Dear Henry

I am taking this opportunity to alert you to the fact that I have recently received a number of deputations from many sections of he Leanyer School Community. In all instances they were critical of your leadership. …

I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the situation and ways in which I can offer support to you. Please ring me to make an appointment. …

I have handwritten this letter to preserve … confidentiality. …”

I met with Charlie Carter. What followed was the support and understanding I needed to confront and meet this challenge. The help offered made me stronger, more empathetic and wiser in my dealings with others. I went on to spend 20 years at Leanyer as the school’s principal. Without the support, coaching and help of Mr Carter, my tenure may have been closer to twelve months.

Needless to say, I learned the wisdom of an approach to dealing with key issues, that confronts and overcomes challenges in an effective and non-confrontationist manner. It was a conversational and understanding strategy that stood me in good stead when dealing with others. Mr Carter’s modelling and practise of that approach was helpful to me at the time. He taught me the value of that self same approach in the years that followed.

Conclusion

Each of us in professional life can draw inspiration and understanding from the words and practices of others. In one sense it is ‘rote learning’. It is the instilling of priorities and the impression of leadership examples that pass from one generation of professionals to the next. These stepping stones of understanding and style help in ensuring some sense of organisational stability. Without this transfer, educational leaders could become lost.

Henry Gray

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