Communication is both dynamic and complex. In time it can be learnt, understood and eventually mastered. Why then do we expect children to be able to communicate with us correctly all of the time?
Working with children requires us to build positive relationships with them quickly, but also in ways that are professional.
The quality of the relationships that we have with children and young people has a huge effect on the way in which we can work with them.
Positive relationships with children and young people are important as when children feel comfortable they can separate more easily from their parents and children are more likely to participate in the play and learning activities if they are secure emotionally.
When children have positive relationships they are less likely to show unwanted behaviour as their needs are recognised quickly and their language develops because they feel confident communicating with us.
As a Learning Support Assistant in a High School I can only carry out my role to the best of ability if I understand children’s developmental needs and know their interests. I am also able to respond to children more effectively once I can recognise their expressions and emotions.
I think that one of the most important aspects of building a relationship is to find ways of communicating effectively. Since working at in a school setting I have now realise that communication is not just about words it is also about our facial expressions, body language and gestures. Also by helping to create a welcoming atmosphere and being an approachable member of staff you are helping to a positive atmosphere which aids create effective communication.
The listener should always become involved in the communication process. Listening is not passive process; rather, it is as active, and behavioural, as speaking. The main indicator of displaying that you are an active listener is that you will be actively responding.
Ways in which we communicate verbally and non-verbally:
•The way we speak
•Tone of voice, clarity, volume
•Sign Language – Makaton
Effective communication is very important in building a positive relationship with anyone, from a child to young person and adults. The way in which we communicate with all of these different groups can be vary greatly, but each will have the same basic fundamental principles.
An example of this; a student who some members of staff may deem to be challenging or noncompliant frequently called me “Miss”, as quite a few students do that are used to only encountering female members of staff. After a few weeks of this the student became embarrassed by her mistake. Recognising this I simply said “it’s ok Bob” this put her at ease and it became a usual greeting. The first time I encountered this student being somewhat volatile towards a few members of staff she was on the verge of becoming out of control. By using my “hey Bob what’s up?” greeting it distracted and then calmed her in seconds. In reply I got a cheeky smile and a “Hiya Miss”.
Having built up, and still learning, ways of effectively communicating with the most challenging of students enables me to be able to help reduce the stress of a situation whilst enabling the student(s) to feel at ease.
Relationship problems can develop when individuals have a lack of communication, or do not have the skills to communicate effectively. These skills would include clear expression, good listening skills, and being able to adapt to different situations and scenarios.
To develop a positive relationship using effective communication it is important to establish trust. The person we are communicating with needs to feel at ease and to be given the opportunity to communicate with you feeling comfortable and confident. It is vital to listen whilst using positive body language, such as nodding, to use the appropriate facial expressions and maintain eye contact where appropriate. It is also imperative that any possible cultural differences are respected.
Adults need to show positive relationships with each other in front of children and young people so that the child can copy this behaviour this helps to demonstrate what is expected and acceptable in relationship building.
If good communication exists between everyone involved, the child, staff and parents/carers, it will help avert any misunderstandings and unnecessary worry. For example if a child is having problems at home which is not being communicated to staff then it may affect that child’s behaviour or attitude to school. By being open to all involved, you can prevent this and be immediately aware of any issues and therefore assist that child in coping. If communication is effective parents/carers are more likely to contribute to and offer support to the school.
Also Communication is important because it provides you with a link to between people. It is important that this link and method of communication meets the requirements of all parties and also takes into account their needs. These could range from disabilities; blind, deaf, differing home language (EAL), family background or age. Whilst it is important to communicate effectively with parents and pupils it is also of equal importance to communicate with colleagues and other staff. In this way we ensure that everyone is aware of issues that could affect a child’s learning, interaction with other pupils or behaviour. Pupils being reassured that you are supportive of their welfare may feel more at ease when they come into school. In conclusion effective communication with children, young people and adults is fundamental to developing relationships. It should be remembered that whilst it is important for me to communicate effectively with others it is equally important for me to listen to others to further develop the relationships I have.
It is important to build positive relationships with children, young people and adults not just within a learning environment but within any social setting, as this forms strong interactive social skills throughout their lives. Children will build from the skills we demonstrate to them because as adults we are their role models. You should always take into account how you approach someone and respond to them as this will determine how they respond to you. Everyone must be given opportunities to establish trust and to feel at ease.
Children are social learners and it is crucial that all adults working with them need to model good communication through listening and speaking which will aid the development of the child’s friendships, confidence and self-esteem.
At times children cannot express their thoughts and feelings. Through gaining their trust they will begin to feel at ease with us. One way of helping to gain their trust is to praise them for giving input or good work, even for how smartly dressed they are or happy they look. Receiving praise helps raise your self-esteem. A student who feels wanted and appreciated will begin to trust you as well as feeling valued both of which will help form a positive relationship. Probing questions are also important as a positive relationship exists between the frequency of teaching probing questions and the amount of student’s oral participation.
Playing games with children can help build their confidence to be able to communicate. This positive relationship can also be built on and enhanced further by using open questions to encourage the student(s) to develop their own knowledge whilst becoming comfortable in talking in front of their peers. If a student is struggling to answer but you know they know the answer then by using simply prompting the student helps alleviate their uncertainty and any embarrassment and results in a happy and proud student who has overcome their nerves and uncertainty and given valuable input.
Young people can find it hard to open up and express their feelings as they are at a stage where they are going through the transition of child to young adult. They are often confused about so many things and good strong relationships are needed more than ever. Young people need to be able to turn to us for advice, reassurance and guidance. If they feel they are not given the time and feel they are not being listened to there is a risk that they will close up and stop communicating. A good way to help them to open up is to get them involved in an activity they enjoy. When engaged in general conversation they will build up confidence with you. By respecting their views and without judging them you will build up trust and a good relationship.
Good positive communication needs to exist between adults, staff and parents. It prevents any misunderstanding and worry.
In different contexts we approach others and communicate in very different ways. Text messages are usually casual in their tone and used with friends and family, in the same way as social networking on Twitter and Facebook. These are not ways that we should be communicating with children and their parents who see us as professionals.
When dealing with others where there are different cultures certain body language can be found offensive or disrespectful and this needs to be considered.
“Ow at mar mate orate” Now this might well be a perfectly good way of saying hello to a friend at the pub but if you were to utter those five words of potteries dialect to the Head Teacher as you meet him/her in the corridor it would be seen as unprofessional.
The way in which we communicate and the words or actions we use, regardless of technique, defines us a person in the eyes of the person or group that we are communicating with. Instead of “ow at mar mate orate” as a way of greeting the Head a much better way would obviously be “ Good morning Sir/Miss, how are you?” this would also help with the longevity of your career whilst setting a good example to the students.
The same can be said for the ways we would communicate with students’ parents, other schools or other agencies you may work alongside. A formal letter, praise postcard, or; dependant on the content of the communication, a telephone call would be a far more appropriate way of communicating than using social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter or text messages. Especially if “ur” using ‘text speak’ “m8”.
Conflicting ideas or opinions, along with poor communication, can cause misunderstandings and disputes. By being sympathetic to others, addressing them in their preferred way, as well as effective listening and positive body language are all aids to positive communication. Positive communication between people is one of the best ways to avoid disagreements or conflicts occurring in the first place. However clearly defined boundaries must be established and appropriate sanctions be defined and laid out should the boundaries be broken. Sanctions such as short detentions, litter picking or seclusion these will help establish the ground rules so that the student knows what the consequence their choice to break the boundaries will result in.
If any disagreement or conflict remains they need to be identified and resolved as soon as possible in order that positive relationships are maintained together with an effective learning environment. It is vital to communicate with both parties involved in the disagreement and be sure to use positive body language and show respect for the feelings. At this point any negative gestures could be perceived incorrectly by the child and the disagreement would not be resolved.
If left disagreements tend to become worse and guidance from the schools policy or procedure for grievance may be needed. Verbal disagreements can be seen to be a positive contribution to communication as long as they are resolved, mutually by both parties; they can be both satisfying and productive in the fact that both parties know they can talk openly and honestly to each other in the future. Whether as a LSP or in some other position working with young people it is highly likely that there will encounter disagreements with other people. We should always strive to avoid disagreements, however, when this has not been possible we should attempt to resolve a disagreement as soon as possible. Disagreements occur because of one of a number of possibilities; poor communication, opposing expectations, different values and ideas, external factors or lack of confidence.
In any instance it is important to address the issue without delay as the longer it is left the more difficult resolving the disagreement becomes. Poor Communication. Disagreement often occurs where there was poor communication which as a consequence was ineffective eg letters not been passed on by parents or children, a lack of time, there has been a misunderstanding. In resolving this type of disagreement it is necessary to identify the cause of the poor communication and to agree a way forward. The issues should be discussed with the other party concerned before involving anyone else. Opposing Expectations. This occurs when people come to a meeting or attend an activity with different ideas about the outcome. This eventuality can be avoided by discussing the matter prior to coming together, stating what your aims and objectives are at the onset of the discussion/meeting or by publishing an agenda prior to a meeting. Different Values and Ideas. Occurs when schools and parents have different ways in which they deal with certain matters.
The requesting a child to do something in a certain way may be in conflict with the way in which the parent views the matter. It is important from the outset for schools and parents to work together to ensure the welfare of children. On occasion it may be prudent for the school to contact parents to discuss issues and agree outcomes before any discussion with the child. External Factors. It may be that the child or adult with whom you are working has pressures being put on them by matters external to the work/classroom environment. These external pressures may be affecting the way in which they communicate. Over a period of time we get to know these people and can readily identify uncharacteristic behaviour and be able to offer assistance.
An understanding approach, in the first instance, will help to resolve any disagreements. Lack of Confidence. Some adults and children become aggressive when faced with new and unfamiliar situations or have a lack of confidence (because of inexperience). When faced with these situations it may be necessary to be to take a sensitive and supportive approach, offering encouragement and praise, to avoid or resolve disagreements. On most occasions our response to the situations outlined above comes naturally, this ability together with a flexible, proactive approach will enable most disagreements to be resolved amicably.
It is important to reassure children, young people and adults that any information about them is kept confidential and only used where and when necessary and only for the duration required in order to maintain their trust and security. It is their right to privacy to have this information kept confidential and not passed on for others to talk about or gossip. It is also important that the child is always aware that if staff are worried about what the child is saying they may talk to another professional about it.
As a member of staff it is important not to violate their trust or put them at risk of harm by divulging personal information. Children and young people need to know that their information will be kept confidential and they won’t be put at risk of teasing or bullying by other pupils. Adults need to feel secure in the knowledge that they or their children will not be the topic of playground gossip by other parents and that their home details will be safe from others.
Within a school setting, all information which concerns pupils must be treated confidentially, as stated in the Data Protection Act 1998 any information must be stored as stated in the act. All staff who work in a school need to be aware that they may see and hear things which are confidential. In the position of trust as a teaching assistant, all members of staff within the school must abide to the guidelines
Information about pupils should never be passed on to third parties. If a parent told something in confidence to a member of staff and they were unsure about what to do with the information, it is their responsibility to inform the class teacher as soon as possible. If the class teacher is unavailable they should tell the head teacher or deputy head. It is important they do not discuss what they have heard with anyone else .It is important that the information given is recorded correctly, as it may need to be looked at a later date.
However, there may come a time when you will need to let others know your obligations with regard to confidentiality and the sharing of information you have gathered regarding a child or young adult as stated in the Schools Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy.
In most cases parental consent is necessary in order to share the information with other professional bodies, however, the school has a legal obligation to disclose information if there is any indication of the child or young adult being at risk.
If this is the case then you should be open and honest from the outset in all discussions with the child or young adult, or their family where appropriate, about why, what, how and with whom the information will or could be shared. Their agreement for the information to be shared should be sought unless it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so. If you are in any doubt you should seek advice from senior staff if appropriate and where possible.
However, if a child is at risk you don’t tell the parents. Just report and record it.
Pamela J. Cooper, Cheri Simonds (2007). Communication for the Classroom Teacher. London: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. P2-63.
Burnham L, Baker B(2011). Supporting Teaching & Learning in Schools (Secondary)