In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by middle school teacher and PLS Classes instructor, Michael Hands to discuss teacher communication skills.
Get in touch with Michael: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 00:16 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:43 Exploring teacher communication skills. I have a special interest in looking at the verbal communication skills that teachers use. At the early stages of my teaching career, I think I was in my third year wrapping up a master’s degree program, I took a graduate level course that looked at specific communication skills that teachers used. And one of the excitements that I had as a student in that learning session was I thought it was the first time in my preparation to be a teacher, that someone had actually isolated for me, a skillset that made a difference between myself and other people. At the time, I had friends who had gone into dentistry or into psychology and they could be very clear about what skill set they had that made them special. And I struggled as a teacher to say, here’s the skillsets that allow me to be a professional.
Steve: 02:01 I went on then later in my consulting and training career to develop a keynote that I present that’s called “The Magic of Excellent Teaching.” And what I do in that in that keynote is to break down what looks like magic to an outside person observing. But if you go deep down and analyze, you can identify that teachers have a skillset — effective teachers have a skillset in the way they communicate that sets them apart from others. So for our podcast today, I’ve invited Michael Hands to join us. Michael is a middle school teacher and he also teaches a graduate course for teachers on communication skills. So Michael, welcome and would you take a moment or two to introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about your teaching background.
Michael : 03:02 Well, good afternoon and thank you Steve. This is, again, Michael Hands. I am a 25 year public school teacher in the area of Southfield, Michigan, which is just north of Detroit. I did my first three years of teaching in Elementary School and the past 22 years, I’ve been at the middle school level. So I’ve taught from grade six through eight, currently a sixth grade ELA teacher and I have been a PLS instructor for the past nine years. I began with them in 2010.
Steve: 03:40 And you teach a course that’s called “Building Communication and Teamwork in The Classroom”?
Michael : 03:46 That is correct.
Steve: 03:48 So when I took a look at that content, I identified that one of the areas that you address is student rapport and the building of student rapport. Would you kind of give me your, you know, what’s your definition of what you mean by student rapport and how do you see that the skills that you addressed with the people you’re training hit that?
Michael : 04:16 Well, student rapport – I like that concept being introduced in our course because it reminds teachers basically that if we want to effectively deal with our students, we have to be able to rapport — just have a good relationship, you know, with our students. A lot of times, I’ll even say with newer teachers, a newer teacher might feel that a child should just automatically respect them because of their role as a teacher. I’m the teacher, you’re the student. So a new teacher might feel that students should just respect the role as teacher. And many of them do not understand that there are a lot of students that just because you’re the teacher does not mean I’m going to automatically respect you. If you would take the time to maybe establish a rapport with me, a relationship with me, then, you know, students kind of buy in, you know, that way better. So this class just kind of reminds us of that, the importance of establishing a relationship with students, the importance of building that community, you know, of learners. And that will help with the communication — the day to day communication that we have to do with our students.
Steve: 05:32 Michael, can you see if you can break down some specifics for me. I’m guessing if I came into your classroom, I noticed that you have rapport with students but I’m not sure that I would know what it is you did that caused that to happen. So can you kind of describe for me some purposeful communication behaviors that you would see yourself taking on that led to that rapport being built?
Michael : 06:08 Right. One key term that we go over in the course is called S.O.F.T.E.N. and S.O.F.T.E.N. is an acronym that stands for first, S, is a smile. And I think children are very good at picking up on, is this a genuine smile or for lack of better words, you know, a fake smile. They know the difference. They know when someone is being genuine with them. And when someone is just kind of just, oh hurry up, let’s go. So I would first say, just, if you came into my classroom, I think that you would pick up on that I’m being genuine in how I’m addressing, you know, my students. I think they would even pick up on, you know, I think Mr Hands really likes me or really is, you know, concerned with me. So just that smile, that first impression, you know, that you make with the students and also just not being standoffish. The O stands for just being open. You know, and that they can see that you are approachable and students pick up on that.
Michael : 07:18 They know the teachers that they can go up to and talk with and feel comfortable around and then they know those teachers — “oh I better not go up to him or I better not go up to, you know, Mr. Hands’ desk,” things of that nature. So I just feel that students know my genuineness, they feel that I’m open. The F stands for, you know, like Forward lean. You know, we have to learn how to lean in a lot of times when we’re speaking to students. When they’re sitting down, I shouldn’t have a standoff posture, but I should, of course respect their space, but lean in to let them know that I’m really into, you know, to what they’re saying to me.
Steve: 08:04 One of the phrases that I’m frequently taking back to educators is the criticalness to know students. What connection do you see between teachers’ communication skills and how those communication skills help them to know their students?
Michael : 08:28 I think when teachers take the time to just talk with students and in their talking, I think the best thing for them to do, and what I try to do, is to see what those students are interested in. And when the students can tell that, wow, this is not the teacher getting on a soapbox and telling you everything about themselves, but here’s a teacher that’s actually interested in finding out what’s important to me. Then when I gather that information of what’s important to the students, I really try to use that in my lectures and in my talks or wherever I feel, you know, that it would be, you know, appropriate. So the students will then see like, wow, he actually was listening to what I said. He referred to me and in the lesson or a lesson was built on like, let’s say, a class survey.
Michael : 09:27 You can survey the class and I know, recently, I was talking with my students – there’s a very popular movie out called Aquaman and you know, I did a little survey and saw that over half the class saw Aquaman. So then I was able to then discuss the same thing that was in my lesson plans about plot and series of events, the series of events of a story. I was able to connect that with a movie that over – more than half the class had seen and that just made the lesson a little bit more interesting because a lot of times we kind of get stuck to the textbook but we can take many of those concepts that we have to teach and connect them with our students. And I just think that that makes the dialogue more — they are more willing to communicate and just speak in class rather than just reading from – “let’s open up our book to page 45 and let’s talk about”…but if you connect your lessons with their everyday life, I feel that just really builds communication that makes students more apt to want to communicate in class.
Steve: 10:37 Michael, in one of the notes that you wrote to me as we were kind of structuring setting up this conversation, you talked about the fact that the communication skills aren’t necessarily automatic. I wanted — if you wanted to describe a little bit of what you meant by that.
Michael : 10:56 I’d say that sometimes, When, let’s say if we’re at the beginning of the year, you know, a brand new group of students come into the class, the students don’t know the teacher and the teacher of course does know the student. And even more specifically in my case, being a sixth grade teacher this year, I’ve experienced students that came from elementary school. So now middle school is a whole new, you know, concept because they’re used to being in one classroom for the majority of the day. But now they have six, seven different teachers. They have a large cafeteria, there’s a lot of movement. And so the students being overwhelmed with middle school can kind of just make them be quiet. They’re overwhelmed. So I’m quiet, I’m just going to come in here. I’m gonna sit down, I’m not gonna say anything because I’m just like, wow, middle school is so overwhelming.
Michael : 11:56 So I take that time as a teacher to then, try to build communication with them. We have circle time for example, and we can just have them sit in a circle and then just maybe give them a sentence, a prop, like, “how are you feeling today?” Even if it’s just one word. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that. Communicating with our students is sometimes as simple as getting them in a circle. And if you want to build that rapport with them, just ask everyone — go around, give me one word about how you’re feeling today. So when you get that one word, then teachers are able to talk about those words, talk about what they’ve just heard. And I think, you know, communication can just, of course start with the word. Then it’s so easy to even ask a student the next time to, you know, give a sentence to describe, you know, how you’re feeling.
Michael : 12:57 And then that just, again, builds the communication, you know, in the classroom. And then a lot of times you can even address appropriateness because we know as teachers we want our students to communicate with ourselves and with other students appropriately. And sometimes in sessions you might hear something that could be deemed as inappropriate. And we tell them, okay, well let’s just talk about that and talk about how others might perceive that if they heard it that way. So what’s another way that we can say that so you can show them that, you know, a lot of times students and I feel, “I said something wrong, I’m in trouble” but they should know, instead of being in trouble, we talk about how we can redirect, how we can say that differently so that we can still communicate effectively, but also appropriately.
Steve: 13:50 Michael, the title of the course that you teach the word teamwork in it as well. Wanna speak to that a little bit and what that means to you?
Michael : 14:03 Yes. I think it’s important for teachers today to know that the role of the teacher is changing. Teachers are being asked to be more of a facilitator of learner – of learning, excuse me. Except the traditional style that many of us were used to and even myself, starting off as a lecturer. So the name of our course again is “Building Communication and Teamwork in The Classroom.” So my goal as a teacher is not just to have students establish a rapport with me and communicate effectively with me, but I want them to establish a good rapport with their classmates and in establishing a good rapport with their classmates. That’s just like developing a team. The whole class should be a team. And of course students understand that because if you – like I have my discussions about what’s your favorite NBA team or your favorite NFL team. Every student just about certainly has a favorite teams because they understand what a team is. A group of people with common interests, common goals.
Michael : 15:15 So this class not only helps teachers work well with their students, but it gives teachers ideas of how to do different teamwork activities, team building activities, activities where you create that meaningful learning environment so that the students know how to work well with each other, how to communicate effectively and appropriately with each other and just really have that classroom become a real team environment where everyone knows their role, everyone feels valued and respected and know that they can communicate and know that they can share and not feel bad about what they’re sharing, but just to really make sure that each student treats each other with value and respect.
Steve: 16:09 Thanks, Michael. A lot of the people who listen to this podcast have roles of instructional coaches or they’re administrators who are observing teachers in the classrooms and giving teachers coaching feedback. Do you have any thoughts on the role that a coach could play in assisting a teacher in analyzing and maybe at times increasing the effectiveness of their communication skills?
Michael : 16:44 Right. I think coaches are excellent because even in my school district, we have opportunities where we video during a lesson or presentation and then, after, we are able to sit down and meet with either our team member or sometimes the administrator and they will give feedback based on what was viewed and we can even go over, you know, things that we see right there in the lesson. And that’s very important because a lot of times during the lesson, the teacher can get really into the lesson and they may miss certain things but it’s hard to miss things when you’re watching a video. When you’re seeing the entire classroom, you’re seeing how the students responded when you’re seeing how you responded, when you’re actually looking at your facial expressions and your gestures and things of that nature. So it’s so important to have that, you know, time of review and even if a video is not available, but just to have that sit down time or you can talk with another coach because they need to give you feedback. A lot of times you can remember those conversations that you had. And boy, I was dealing with a student and I said this to the student and this happened. I know that many times I’m able to give coworkers advice – maybe next time, why don’t you say it, you know, this way. And that that really helps.
Steve: 18:21 I’m thinking of my own example as a teacher where I went out in the hall to talk to another teacher who brought a problem to me and as I walked into the classroom with that problem on my mind, this little first grade child came up to speak to me. And while I said the right words to him, I didn’t realize that my face was still dealing with the problem out in the hall. And fortunately for me, I was team teaching with another teacher because as soon as he left me, he went right over to the other teacher and I could just tell as I watched him walk over to her, that he was going to her to get the feedback that he didn’t get from me. And that raised the flag of my ability to figure out what it was that had happened. My non-verbals were still in the hall with the other issue and that they’re with the kid. And teachers live in a very dynamic space where there’s a lot of things happening at that same time.
Michael: 19:30 Yes.
Steve: 19:34 Well, Michael, thank you so much. I hope you have a great afternoon with your students coming up here yet and a wonderful weekend.
Michael: 19:43 All right. Thank you. I appreciate this time.
Steve: 19:46 Take care. Have a great day.
Michael: 19:47 All right, you too. Take care.
Steve: 19:49 Bye, bye.
Michael: 19:49 Bye.
Steve [Outro]: 19:51 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.