Express Publishing (ELT) Teachers' Corner - It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it
Most people are aware these days that the way we communicate is at least as important as the content of our communication. A different pitch, a different facial expression, a tone, a register, can all turn what you’re saying into the complete opposite. If you don’t believe me, imagine how you would feel if someone told you ‘I love you’ while slowly conjuring up a nice goose egg from your scalp by tapping you softly on the head with a rolling pin. Actions speak louder than words, it is said, and some words can speak louder than others. Here are three suggestions for making sure you communicate with impact:
1. Serious talk means be serious – If you need to tell a student off for misbehaviour, or if you’re advising them of the possible consequences of misbehaviour, then there’s no point delivering the message in a way that suggests that you’re terribly sorry about it all, and gosh isn’t the world an awful place that we have to say such things? This erodes the perceived sincerity of your belief in what you say. Keep your tone even and stern.
2. Anger breeds hatred – There is a legitimate place for genuine anger in life; many behaviour experts bizarrely claim that anger is a negative emotion, and must be avoided, which is the biggest piece of nonsense I’ve heard in a long time. (I wonder what emotion would be an appropriate reaction to injustice? I imagine anger would be part of it.) But the point is, it is very rarely a useful commodity in your educational communication. It indicates that passion has seized you, and usually indicates to others that you are to some extent not in control of yourself. This might be fine if you’re trying to face down a potential antagonist in a street fight and avoid actual conflict, but what does it convey to a child? Some will feel fear, of course- is that what you’re trying to achieve? Others will respond in kind, and you’ll find that you’ve escalated the confrontation needlessly. Worse, some will laugh in your face. And where will you go then? Either you raise the stakes higher (physically? I don’t think so) or back down, which makes you look stupid. Even if you feel angry, try to keep a lid on it, and never speak as though you’re furious. There are far too many other emotional tones on your palette to paint with.
3. Speak softly and carry a big stick – If you always DO what you SAY you will, then you will almost never need to blow your stack, shout loudly, or repeat yourself. Children learn quickly which teachers follow up on their pronouncements, and which ones are full of hot air. A teacher who shouts a lot but never calls home, attends detentions etc isn’t seen as strict- they just come across as useless. Not a good look. To quote Bill Rogers; ‘The severity of the sanction is less important than the certainty of the sanction.’ This is especially true, because our sanctions aren’t particularly severe anyway. So what we have left is certainty. Let the children know you mean what you say, and your communication will stand as tall as a tower.
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