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Webinar Script

Slide 1: Welcome to the first webinar in the module on communication and collaboration. My name is Stanley Dudek. I am working on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Cincinnati’s Systems Development and Improvement Center.

Slide 2: This slideshow talks about principles of effective communication as a way to help you think about your role on an instructional team. The core of effective teamwork is effective communication. What does this mean? Don’t we all know how to “communicate”? In a way, yes. But there is more to communicating than engaging in casual conversation. Different situations require different types of communication.

Slide 3: The slideshow and other parts of this unit deal with forms of communicating that help instructional teams work well, accomplish their goals, and keep on getting better. These positive outcomes result from effective communication. But effective communication turns out to be more difficult than it sounds.

Slide 4: For instance, when teams plan instruction, they almost immediately confront communication challenges. First of all, no one on the team can predict how well a lesson might go for a student. Is the lesson going to be too easy for the student? Too hard? And different team members (you and your teacher, for instance) will have different predictions and different views of what actually should happen in the lesson. So, right off the bat, you face the challenge of planning action based on imprecise information and differing perspectives.

Slide 5: The second challenge the team faces is to maintain focus. There’s so much to talk about (including just sharing some time with adult colleagues). But the purpose of the meeting is to plan instruction, and time is short.

Slide 6: Another challenge may come from our different uses of language. When we use a word or a phrase, we tend to believe that any listener will understand what that word or phrase means in exactly the way we intend it to be understood. But communicating is never that simple.

Slide 7: These and other communication challenges mean that team members must learn to communicate well if they are to make wise decisions about how to instruct a student, handle a difficult behavior issue, share information with a parent, consult the principal about a policy, or accomplish whatever else they need to accomplish. Teaching is complex. And so too is the work that surrounds it. And all of it involves communication.

Slide 8: In addition, all educational teams are different. So, every group that works together has to learn to communicate well in order to function as a team. When team membership changes, the communication has to change too—sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. Communication is an ongoing social process. It doesn’t just get good and stay that way; it has to keep getting good enough. In the best of circumstances, it keeps on getting better. What it takes to achieve good communication and then to improve it is hard work.

Slide 9: So, let’s take a look at some things that can make ordinary communication better—strategies that can turn ordinary communication into communication that is effective enough to support the work of a team!

Slide 10: Here it all is in one short list. The next slides in the slideshow will consider each point separately:

  • Beware of your assumptions and be ready to change your mind.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Listen carefully in order to help the team understand issues.
  • Think before speaking.
  • Prepare well by trying to make objective observations.
  • Effective communication is difficult: confront the difficulties with the team in mind!

Slide 11: We all have minds of our own, and we use our minds to make sense of the world. But we do so in ways that differ from individual to individual and from group to group. We then use the sense we make of the world to create messages we share with others. But our messages may not be understood in exactly the way we intend if our listeners don’t share our assumptions.

Slide 12: For example, if we think eating sweets is a good thing, but our colleague thinks it’s a bad thing, we might interpret the following statement about the principal in quite different ways: “He’s going to bring donuts to the lounge every Friday.” From my vantage, that’s a good thing—a treat for the staff. From my colleague’s vantage, it’s (yet another) example of the principal foisting his way of doing things on the whole staff. It’s typical for us to believe that whatever we think is right. But this very common attitude gets in the way of communicating well.

Slide 13: In truth, what we think is not always right, and in a team, sharing outlooks is part of problem solving. The sum of different views is what counts. This means that you must try hard to give equal weight to the opinions of others on the team. You will learn something; and more importantly so will the team. Sure, it is important to explain one’s outlook. But it can be important not to share it prematurely. This is a difficult lesson for some of us.

Slide 14: So, communication is not just talk; more often it’s listening. Communication is an interchange. For that interchange to do any good, all those involved need to have a turn at explaining how they see things. In addition, the team needs to talk about the differences in outlooks that surface during the interchange. It sounds simple, but it’s not. And it involves a lot of careful listening (often called “active listening”). Effective communication requires a lot of careful listening.

Slide 15: What is careful (or active) listening? Careful listening involves thinking while listening—comparing, contrasting, puzzling out the problems that make up the issue being discussed. Thinking about what the speaker is saying allows you to frame good questions to ask the speaker—questions that help both you and the team get a better understanding of what the speaker is thinking. That is, your good questions will help the speaker explain his or her perspective more clearly to the team. As it turns out, good communication is more about learning from others what they think than about trying to teach others what you think!

Slide 16: So, thinking before speaking is a key part of communicating with members of a team. As a team member, your role is not primarily to explain your own assumptions or even to explain what you believe you have observed. Instead, your primary role is to understand and to help the team understand what it is dealing with. You are always seeking to understand the perspectives of everyone on the team as a way to help the team identify shared understandings.

Slide 17: At the same time you are doing all this—

  • being willing to change your initial outlook,
  • listening carefully, and
  • thinking before you speak—

you also need to give yourself room to observe interactions carefully. Effective communication, it turns out, depends a lot on everyone’s observation of what’s going on.

Slide 18: For example, some studies show that body language and tone of voice communicate more than words. When the words and the body language (or tone of voice) line up, there’s no problem. But when the body language and the words communicate different messages, we tend to believe the body language and discount the words. Good communication involves understanding the words in the context of what we think is really going on—what we observe.

Slide 19: That’s why the practice of good communication benefits from our ability to watch what’s going on carefully and to wait before jumping in.

Slide 20: The watching and waiting is part of what we need in order to be as objective as possible. And being as objective as possible helps us communicate because it keeps our thinking from becoming dominated (and possibly clouded) by our own prior assumptions.

Slide 21: Part of what we do to prepare for an objective discussion with a team is to describe carefully (that is, objectively) to ourselves the parts of an issue that relate to what students (and adults) say and do (for example, in class; in team meetings; and in informal conversations with parents, guardians and other family members). If we are able to describe events or behaviors, rather than our reactions to those events or behaviors, we’re getting close to being able to communicate the nature of a problem to other people on the team.

Slide 22: It’s important to remember that even though communication is most often talk—something we do all the time— all talk is not effective. Effective communication accomplishes work in ways that produce desired results and build the capacity for future teamwork. That is, an effective instance of team communication makes it more likely that the next opportunity for team communication will also be effective. This is how effective communication builds an effective team.

Slide 23: Also, communication doesn’t just get good and stay that way. It always requires more work. And that work creates in team members, and over time, habits of carefulness, respect, trust and trustworthiness, and effective performance. The core of effective teamwork is effective communication! If a team is not working on its communication, it’s not working. You are part of that picture.

Slide 24: These points are so important, and they can be difficult for some teams to put into practice. So, here they are again:

  • Beware of your assumptions and be ready to change your mind.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Listen carefully in order to help the team understand issues.
  • Think before speaking.
  • Prepare well by trying to make objective observations.
  • Effective communication is difficult: confront the difficulties with the team in mind!