What is Interpersonal Communication?
1. Interpersonal communication is the process of sharing thoughts, feelings, and information with one another. At the core of this process are the two elements of message sending and message reception; however, interpersonal communication goes beyond a superficial exchange of “hellos,” referring to both the content and the quality of the message, and how we can develop and/or strengthen relationships from the messages we share.
2. Interpersonal communication can take place with or without words. Even silence and withdrawing body language have meaning, and they communicate that meaning.
3. There are six interpersonal communication styles: controlling, structuring, egalitarian, dynamic, relinquishing, and withdrawal. The controlling style is an unequal interaction where the speaker does not allow the listener to respond to the message or to give feedback. Common in the school setting is the dynamic style, or motivating words and phrases that teachers use to inspire children and to help them achieve their academic goals.
4. No communication happens in a vacuum. There are always conditions preceding the message and conditions surrounding the message. These conditions or context can be in the form of present or past events, including each individual’s personal history; that is, how each participant is and what each participant brings to the interaction. Context influences the way the participants understand and interpret the message.
5. Like all skills, with knowledge, practice, and feedback teachers, as well as their students, can develop and/or improve their interpersonal communication competence.
Interpersonal Communication in the Classroom:
Theory and Principles
1. Interpersonal communication theories explain how personal and/or social relationships start, develop, and end. Some interpersonal communication theories explain how to maintain a social or a personal relationship; other theories focus on why some individuals relate to others the way they do. The consensus among these theories is that we define, initiate, maintain, deepen, or even terminate relationships based on the quality of our communications. Simply put, the way we communicate has a role in influencing our social interactions, relations, and behaviors. In applying this broader principle to the school setting, we explore how teachers can use interpersonal communication theory and principles to build positive and constructive teacher-students interactions and relationships.
2. Systems Perspective is a group of theories sharing an interactional view of relationships maintenance. From this group of interpersonal communication theories, we get the nonsummativity principle, or the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When some students, but not all students, in the classroom achieve that class is on negative synergy. To create positive synergy, all students in the classroom must achieve, including children with a history of school failure. Only the system (class) as a whole and working together can create positive synergy, something that individual members (individual students) in isolation cannot accomplish. Another important concept in systems perspective theory is homeostasis, or the tendency to maintain stability in face of changes. A classroom in conflict, or in negative homeostasis, is likely to remain in conflict, and any effort to reduce it may feed the conflict because conflict is the natural balance or homeostasis for that classroom.
3. The Coordinated Management of Meaning Theory (CMM) is a collection of ideas put together to explain interactions during the communication process. The main premise is that communication is about meanings, not only in the passive way of perceiving the message, but in the active way of creating the meaning of the message. Creating meaning is not done in isolation; all participants create meaning simultaneously and in coordination. In other words, each participant is at the same time influencing and being influenced by all the other participants in the interaction. When participants do not share one same meaning, the message loses clarity, coordination, and coherence sometimes even deteriorating into arguments and disagreements. The three core concepts in the coordinated management of meaning theory are (1) coherence or the stories we tell, (2) coordination or the stories we live, and (3) mystery or stories unexpressed.
4. According to the coordinated management of meaning theory, we create our self-concept through the stories we tell; these stories are guides or scripts for our behavior. By telling and retelling a particular story, we can shape self into whatever picture or self-image we want it to be.
5. The Symbolic Interaction Theory states that we live in a symbolic world as well as in a physical world. Symbols like words, gestures, and social rules help us understand (give meaning) and define our environment. We share symbols through human interactions, therefore, interactions give us meaning.
6. The three main concepts in the symbolic interaction theory are: (1) meaning or the purpose and significance that we attribute to other people and things, (2) language or a set of shared meanings, and (3) thought, which modifies our interpretation of the symbols. The concept of meaning is central in understanding human behavior. Meaning is not fixed; when we interact, we create and/or modify meaning. In other words, right from the start, we get meaning when we share symbols which each other, and this original meaning continues evolving as we continue interacting.
7. We act toward people and events based on symbolic meanings, that is, based on existing symbols already attached to those people or events. Our internalized symbols filter our perception of the event and shape our behavior.
8. Children develop their self-concept through the process of interacting and communicating with significant others like parents and teachers. In particular, the way significant others react to children’s behaviors and how children perceive and interpret those reactions. The concepts of teachers’ expectations and self-fulfilling prophesy are rooted in principles of symbolic interactions.
9. The concept of faces, or the self-image that individuals want to present to others, is central in several interpersonal communication theories, among them, the Politeness Theory. The main assumption here is that we are all concerned with maintaining face. The politeness theory explains how an individual tries to promote, protect, or “save face” especially when dealing with embarrassing or shameful events. The concept of face has two dimensions, the positive face, that is, our wish to be liked, appreciated, and admired by those individuals important to us, and the negative face, or our wish to act freely, without constrains or limitations. Our positive and negative faces may be in conflict.
10. Using the notion of face needs, we can teach disruptive students how to reach a balance between getting other’s attention and approval (positive face) while developing independence and self-sufficiency (negative face).
11. According to the politeness theory, speech acts like apologies, compliments, criticism, commands, and threats are FTA’s or face-threatening acts. To help children preserve face, teachers can apply specific strategies known as facework, which can be either preventive facework (before the embarrassing event) or corrective facework (after the embarrassing event). In addition, when a message threatens the child’s face, teachers can apply one of five suprastrategies, ranging from most polite to least polite.
Interpersonal Communication in the Classroom:
Components and Skills
1. The central part in an interpersonal communication discipline system is how we talk with children. Talking with children involves both a receptive component or listening, and an expressive component or speaking. Teachers can get a lot of the classroom discipline done just by knowing how to listen to children’s concerns, apprehensions, and feelings.
2. Listening to children requires more than being polite to the distraught child; good listening is a supportive experience with immense soothing and healing value. The teacher who listens to children is trusted more than the teacher that “grabs the talking stick” and goes straight into lecturing, nagging, judging, and/or reprimanding.
3. Based upon depth (how attentive we are) there are seven listening types: (a) initial, (b) casual, (c) partial, (d) selective, (e) active, (f) full, and (g) deep. In partial listening, we listen most of the time, but not all the time; selective listening is biased and we are interested only in specific information. Deep listening is the same as “listening between the lines,” that is, we pay attention to the emotion, detect needs, and identify the child’s goals.
4. Based upon our intention for listening or purpose, the nine listening types are: (a) discriminative, (b) content or comprehension, (c) biased, (d) critical, (e) appreciative, (f) sympathetic, (g) empathetic, (h) therapeutic, and (i) reflective. Both the biased and the critical listening types are evaluative and judgmental in nature. Therapeutic listening is a form of empathetic listening, but at the therapeutic level, we use our deep connection to help the child understand, develop, and/or change his behavior. Reflective listening is an example of therapeutic listening.
5. To build trust and to create rapport with children, teachers need to cultivate the habit of good listening. Among the listening skills that teachers benefit in developing are: sensitivity, acceptance, supporting, and non-judgment. We support children emotionally when we validate their ideas, concerns, and feelings. Good listening skills always involve helping students feel better about themselves.
6. Listening to children opens the door to communication. To keep the communication door open, reaching children’s inner world, teachers also need expressive or speaking skills. Speaking skills are structured ways to respond to children. Effective speaking skills encourage children to build on their thoughts and feelings, and to explore deeper.
7. The eight speaking skills are: (a) repeating, (b) elaborating, (c) acknowledging, (d) paraphrasing, (e) checking perceptions, (f) verifying, (g) clarifying, and (h) summarizing. Starting at the elaboration level, we invite and encourage the child to tell us more. In both checking perceptions and verifying, we corroborate if our impressions about the message’s content and/or the child’s feelings are accurate. To clarify feelings, needs, or intentions, we can use either facilitative questions (who, when, where, what, and how) or guessing phrases.
8. It is important that, before saying anything to a child, we think of the effect that our words would have. We need to consider if the message creates the effect we want.
A Therapeutic Framework of Interpersonal Communication
1. Assertive communication, one of the most popular approaches for teaching children how they can deal with interpersonal conflict in the classroom, trains children in using language that shows consideration for the wants and needs of the other child while attempting to satisfy own wants and needs. The main premise in assertive communication is that children can stand for their personal rights without being hostile or forcing other children to do what they do not want to do.
2. Optimistic language teaches children to explain failure as a temporary and local event. Optimism is more than catchy phrases or images of success; optimism is a way of thinking, specifically, the way children think about and explain the causes for failure and success, or children’s explanatory styles. Optimistic thinking and talking train children in replacing generalized self-blaming explanations (i.e. explanations that blame own character) with explanations that blame a particular behavior, pointing to a cause that the child can manipulate and change.
3. Motivational teachers develop patterns of interacting with students that enhance children’s willingness to spend effort, to engage in tasks, and to achieve academically. At the most basic level, we define motivation as the amount of effort a student is willing to put toward achieving a goal.
4. When handling students with a long history of academic failure, the central question for teachers to ask is, “What can I say and do to help this child interpret his classroom setbacks in ways that elicit his renewed effort?”
5. Motivation is about how children think about their dreams, and their ability to reach those dreams. Children who believe that their dreams are within their reach put more effort than children who believe they will never be able to reach their dreams.
6. Setting goals and making choices are two strategic interventions to help children develop an internal locus of control orientation.
7. An attribution style is a cause and effect inference that explains pleasant and unpleasant events by indicating a cause. Children’s attributions that are internal, stable, and uncontrollable lead to a helpless orientation or learned helplessness.
8. Motivational language ensures that our low-achieving students perceive their setbacks, disappointments, and even the smallest of improvement in ways that elicit effort rather than discouragement and helplessness.
9. Many theories of motivation focus on effort as the factor critical in school success. Effort is not about spending endless hours doing random activities that lead nowhere; effective effort is strategic effort, or using the strategy that is appropriate to learn the skill.
10. The basic premise in cognitive-emotive theory is that “we feel the way we think;” that is, our thinking creates our emotions. According to the cognitive-emotive view, to help angry students overcome troubling emotions and aggressive behaviors, we need to help them develop new ways, or new habits, of thinking and self-talking. With rational thinking and talking children learn to self-manage troubling feelings through an increased awareness of those specific thoughts and personal speech that triggered the angry feeling or the acting out behavior.
11. When we help low-achieving students identify goals, we are strengthening self-esteem, communicating to children that they are worthy of those goals and worthy of developing the traits and skills they need to reach their long-term goals. It is important that we keep children focused on their dreams and goals, never on their disappointments and feelings of failure. A realistic goal is a goal that children truly believe they can reach, representing the objective toward which they are not only willing but also able to work. Included in this section are 18 guidelines for setting goals.
12. Therapeutic language gives choices to students, making children aware that there are always options behind the things they do. When children with behavior deficits understand the personal responsibility inherent in the choices they make, the argument that they behaved the way they did because of someone else’s actions or because of the environment loses credibility and is easier to refute.
13. Social problem solving teaches children how to negotiate and how to compromise. Interpersonal relationship problems are a main contributor in creating a disruptive classroom environment, so, when students know how to negotiate and compromise, both their interpersonal exchanges and the overall classroom atmosphere improve. Given adequate time, strategies, and a plan children can do something to solve most classroom interpersonal problems.
14. Therapeutic language focuses students on solutions to their behavior problems, concentrating on children’s competencies instead of their deficits, and letting those competencies guide in finding solutions to problems. From a solution-oriented perspective, the answers lie in the child’s successes. Speaking the language of solutions, the teacher points out the times when the child was slightly successful in an activity or a lesson, taking ideas from that situation and applying those ideas to the current problem.
15. According to solution-oriented theory, every problem behavior has within it the exception, or the counter-example of the positive behavior that leads to a solution.
On Becoming an Effective Communicator
1. Interpersonal communication as a behavior management tool is effective only to the extent that our message is able to convince the student for whatever we intended to convey.
2. Among the factors instrumental in effective interpersonal communication are clarity of message and completeness of message. A message is clear when both the sender and the receiver interpret it and understand it in the same way, that is, both share the same meaning and the same message implications. Message completeness does not mean that we need to deliver a long speech. We can talk for hours and say little, or we can be brief and complete.
3. A basic interpersonal communication principle is that the true meaning of a message is not as much in the words we say, but in the way we say the words. When our intention is to control the student, our emphasis and energy are different from the same message delivered with the intention of learning about the student. The difference in energy between these two intentions is what determines the true meaning of our communication. We can always tell how children are interpreting our messages by observing the way they behave.
4. Good communicators understand that, in the interpersonal communication process, the focus is always on the child and what the child needs never on the teacher or what the teacher wants. Good communicators respond to the message from the child’s frame of reference or point of view. They are self-confident, knowing when the time to talk is, and when the time to listen is. Good communicators resist the impulse to react emotionally to anything the child says, because they know that reacting emotionally is a main contributor for arguments and miscommunication between teachers and students. Good communicators understand that rapport and empathy are the two columns that hold relationships, for that reason, good communicators connect before trying to direct.
5. Some rapport arises naturally, some rapport, we have to create. Simple acts of greeting the child by his name or finding something that the child does well, and commenting about it can start building rapport.
6. There are three kinds of empathic statements: (a) a statement that reflects what the child wants and/or expects, (b) a statement that reflects what the child is feeling, and (c) a statement that reflects what the child wants, expects, and his feelings. In an empathic response, first we offer support, next, we check our understanding using questions, and only after spending ample time listening to the child, we work collaboratively on how to solve the problem.
The Nonverbal Aspect of Interpersonal Communication
1. To develop interpersonal communication competence teachers need to go beyond the words they say in order to regulate (control) in a constructive way, and if necessary correct, any communication problem that may arise. This requires from teachers to be able to manipulate all ways in which the message is sent: verbal, nonverbal, paraverbal, and extraverbal.
2. Nonverbal communication revolves around two main premises. The first idea is that everything communicates, including things that appear unrelated to the message such as time, physical space, clothing, and material objects. The second important idea is that although we can stop talking, we never stop communicating. That is, we can never turn off the nonverbal output; even our silence has message value. Because we cannot control our nonverbal behavior the way we control our words, nonverbal communication is more genuine and more effective in inferring children’s unexpressed feelings and intentions.
3. The most influential day-to-day messages that we send to students are mainly nonverbal, having a pivotal role in influencing the overall classroom atmosphere; in particular, children’s moods and attitudes.
4. This chapter lists twelve types of nonverbal behavior. They are: (1) posture, (2) eye behavior or oculesics, (3) touch or haptics, (4) breathing, (5) physiological responses, (6) body attitude, (7) paralinguistic, (8) sound symbols, (9) physical space or proxemics, (10) appearance or clothing, (11) kinesics or body movement, and (12) body orientation. The study of eye behavior reveals that we tend to look longer and more often at students we like best than those students we like less. Touch creates bonding or an emotional connection, a key technique for influencing children. Our paralanguage, or the way we say words, helps convey a range of emotions and attitudes. Where we place ourselves in the room, or proxemics, sends a strong nonverbal signal to children. The more comfortable we feel with the child and/or the situation, the less physical space we need. Changing from less space to more space signals to the child that we do not like what we hear, but if we want to connect with the child and build rapport, we reduce the physical space between us. Teachers’ facial expressions, a kinesics behavior, communicate more approval (e.g. smiling) or disapproval (e.g. frowning) to students than any other form of body behavior. Our body orientation, also a kinesics behavior, reveals attitudes; leaning the torso forward signals that we like the child and want to get closer, but leaning away signals putting distance and a negative attitude.
5. Teachers’ body language may send the wrong nonverbal signals to students; for example, insecurity, anger, and/or frustration. Most children can “read” teachers’ nonverbal signals very well, and soon, some students start taking advantage of the lack of confidence that we are projecting. Simply put, teachers’ nonverbal signals may be reinforcing a disruptive atmosphere and/or conflict in the classroom.
6. When a child sends mixed signals, that is, verbal and nonverbal behavior each telling a different story, or sends a conflicting message (verbal and nonverbal language contradicting each other), nonverbal communication is more powerful and reliable. To find true and/or in-depth meaning in what the child is communicating, the teacher needs to travel into the realm of nonverbal communication. Body language and paraverbals are primary tools in inferring students’ true meaning and intention.
7. Teachers need to look at each nonverbal signal the child sends within the context of the communication. An isolated signal or gesture may have multiple meanings or no particular meaning. One single gesture is not going to give us reliable information, and even worse, putting too much emphasis on one signal may lead us to the wrong conclusion. The meaning of the nonverbal behavior is dependent upon when and where the child exhibits the behavior, or the setting. Therefore, the first question we need to answer is “Is this behavior appropriate for this context?” Next, we look for behaviors that happen at the same time or in synchrony, as well as for congruent signals happening at the same time or clusters. Finally, we need to exhaust all alternative meanings for that nonverbal cluster.
8. Nonverbal communication is emotional communication; nothing speaks clearer the language of feelings and emotions than nonverbal behavior. Teachers’ body language will create a sense of interest, enthusiasm, trust, and willingness to connect emotionally; or it may generate disinterest and mistrust. With our nonverbal messages, we “pull” (accept) or “push” (reject) children; our body language makes the difference. Among the positive nonverbal signals that teachers can send to children are: making eye contact, positive head nods, smiling, a straight and open posture, using complementary gestures, and closing the physical space. Eye contact is our main source of contact with students, so, use eye contact wisely and take advantage of its great communicative value.
9. When our words and body language align, our communication is clearer and free of contradictions and mixed messages. A mixed message can cause mistrust and/or disagreements, making children less likely to trust us fully. When children trust us, they accept what we say as true, and we can guide and persuade them easier. Communication synergy allows a teacher to connect faster with a troubled child.
What We Expect is What We Get:
The Influential Effect of Teachers’ Expectations in Shaping Classroom Behavior
1. When we have an expectation, we anticipate that a particular event is going to happen, looking forward to its probable occurrence and appearance. When facts and evidence support it, the expectation becomes a rational belief; when the expectation is not supported by facts and evidence, then it turns into an irrational belief.
2. Expectations are important mediators of teachers’ behaviors, directly affecting our feelings and attitudes as well as influencing and shaping our actions. Once our expectation for a disruptive student is set, we tend to behave in ways that are consistent with that expectation and, because we are expecting disruptive behaviors, we anticipate and react to the expectation rather than taking proactive measures to prevent or modify the child’s behavior.
3. Proactive teachers keep their expectations flexible, that is, as the child changes, the expectation changes. The way children perform or behave determines what the reactive teacher expects; with reactive teachers, students are the ones shaping the expectations. Over-reactive teachers hold strong and rigid expectations for individual children and those expectations are less likely to change as the student’s performance changes. Over-reactive teachers communicate negative expectations to low-achieving students and to disruptive children having a negative impact on those children’s performances.
4. Teachers anticipate different levels of academic performance and behavior for different students, a process known as differential teacher expectations. Through differential treatment teachers maximize the achievement of students from which they hold high expectations while minimizing the achievement of those students with lower expectations, giving low expectations children fewer opportunities to achieve. According to theory in differential teacher expectations and treatment, when teachers expect less from children, they provide negative, inferior, or different treatment, ultimately receiving less from those students.
5. Rosenthal’s four-factor theory (four ways in which teachers convey differential expectations) connects with his well-known self-fulfilling prophesy. The latter is the process by which teachers’ expectations about individual children leads to the realization of the expectation. According to Rosenthal, there are three ways in which teachers’ expectations can produce a self-fulfilling prophesy: (1) sustaining expectations or expecting the child to hold his pattern of performance, (2) halo effect, that is, the teacher sees what she is expecting to see; the disruptive child can do no good, and (3) pygmalion effect, which is the process where the teacher’s expectation produces the self-fulfilling prophesy.
6. Expectations play a role in bringing about what we expect; teachers communicate low academic or low behavior expectations to specific students and those children reflect the image and low expectations that we created for them.
7. In addition to academic performance and behavior, motivation is the third area where teachers’ expectations influence students the most. Motivation starts with a belief about what we can do; the stronger we believe we can do something, the stronger our motivation. When students perceive that we expect more from them, they show a higher degree of motivation; a student with high expectations performs at a higher level than a child with lower expectations, even when the two students’ ability levels are comparable.
8. The chapter presents 40+ guidelines for communicating high expectations to all students. Among them: developing awareness of how we are communicating our expectations to children, equalizing our patterns of interacting with children, focusing children on effort and controllable causes, teaching children to use the language of strategies to overcome obstacles, manipulating children’s ability beliefs, teaching children with their potential in mind, focusing children on positive selves, strengthening and manipulating children’s self-efficacy beliefs, and reframing the meaning of errors, mistakes, and negative results.
The Speech Act- Parts and Uses
1. The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, interjections, prepositions, and conjunctions. Nouns name people, places, things, or ideas; pronouns replace nouns. Action verbs tell what the subject does. Modal verbs are linking verbs that help the main verb express meaning, including: ability, possibility, need, feeling of duty, intent, desire, and request. The tenses of verbs are crucial in manipulating language meaning. Adjectives tell what kind, how many, or which one. Two forms of adjectives that have an important role in modifying meaning are the indefinite adjective and the comparative adjective. Adverbs modify or describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Most adjectives can be changed into adverbs. Interjections express strong emotions; prepositions show position, direction, or time; conjunctions connect words or groups of words.
2. Sentences, or groups of words put together to make a complete statement or ask questions, may include parts like clauses, phrases, and modifiers. An explanatory phrase helps to explain, while the appositive phrase renames the noun or pronoun before it.
3. Among the special linguistic terms that explain special ways of stating an idea are: metaphors, similes, analogies, idioms, and presuppositions. Presuppositions are hidden ideas in a statement, or the implied assumptions that we usually take as true.
4. Like using figurative language, skilled interpersonal communicators organize words and parts of speech in special ways to create a unique effect. Included in this chapter are 50+ techniques in manipulating language to help teachers create the specific mental images and states of mind we intend to convey in our messages to children. For example, concrete nouns help bring reality to the situation; with abstract nouns we inspire and help children connect with their inner thoughts. First-person plural pronouns create bonds, but third-person plural pronouns put distance between the child and others. To make children accountable for their behavior, we need to use the active voice of the verb; however, if we want to downplay the child’s action, we use the passive form of verbs. Turning verbs into nouns helps teachers distance the student from his disruptive behavior; we can even change the meaning of the disruptive behavior by just changing the verb. The past verb tenses help put disruptive behaviors in the child’s past, but if we are trying to develop goals and dreams, then we need future verb tenses. To show children that anything is possible, nothing compares with the modal verb; to push children into action, we use continuous forms of verbs. Adjectives help expand a child’s self-concept, create equivalences and personal definitions, and they influence children’s perceptions; we can even deflate a bully using wimpy adjectives. Adverbs suggest behavior and feelings and they motivate children; we can use adverbs to change children’s irrational beliefs. Nothing speaks the language of emotions as well as exclamations do; prepositions of time and place get children see a better future, and conjunctions create associations between things or ideas we want to connect. Appositive phrases help redefine a student carrying a heavy baggage of negative labels, and with idioms, we create diversions. Lastly, language is crowded with presuppositions or hidden assumptions that teachers can use to shape children’s belief systems. Teachers need to be on guard for those presuppositions of failure that predispose children to feelings of helplessness and frustration.
Disciplinary Speech Acts
1. Speech acts are acts of communication. With a statement, we express a belief; a request expresses desire; and when we apologize, we are expressing regret. Speech act theory explains how speakers use language to accomplish intended actions, and how listeners infer the intended meaning of the speaker. In speech act theory, both the speaker’s intention and the listener’s inferences play a central role.
2. There are three main categories of speech acts: (a) locutionary act or the performance and meaning of an utterance, (b) illocutionary act or what the speaker intends, and (c) perlocutionary act or the consequence.
3. Illocutionary speech acts also split into assertive, directives, commisives, expressives, and declaratives. Assertive speech acts are statements of facts. Directives cause the listener to execute a particular action. Most speech acts intended to discipline children fall within this category (e.g. requesting, forbidding, admonishing, and warning). Commisives commit the speaker to some future action; expressives state attitudes and feelings; and declaratives change the reality of the situation.
4. Short-term disciplinary speech acts are disapproving verbal statements or reprimands that attempt to decrease the occurrence of a behavior. Among them, we find speech acts like nagging, judging, scolding, shaming, put-downs, name-calling, threatening, and comparing. Common to these short-term disciplinary speech acts is that they all attempt to reduce a problem behavior by focusing on and describing the negatives; getting the child to feel guilty about what happened is a common denominator. Although a short-term speech act may get children to do fast what we want them to do, in reality, this kind of speech act has no sustained or long-term disciplinary value.
5. Interpersonal communication discipline, delivered in the form of long-term disciplinary speech acts, is more a classroom atmosphere and way of talking to students than a set of techniques. Discipline focuses in building the right relationships with children rather than in using the right technique. No discipline technique is going to work if we cannot communicate with children. Building or strengthening the emotional bond or connection between the teacher and the disruptive child lays the foundation for long-term discipline. Interpersonal communication discipline does not focus the child on causes, or where the child has been, but on goals and dreams, or where we want the child to go. In this chapter, we discussed how teachers can turn the following directives into long-term discipline or long-term disciplinary speech acts: feedback, constructive criticism, praise, encouragement, requests, commands, and corrections.
6. Feedback involves the sharing of information and observations with students. Feedback focuses on a specific skill or a specific behavior, never on the child’s character or his reasons for doing something. That is, feedback focuses on how something was done or procedures, not on why it was done or motives. When the teacher’s feedback is effective, the student learns something from it, and the teacher increases the probability of the child producing an improved response in a similar situation the next time. The three types of verbal feedback most commonly used in the classroom are: positive feedback or praising, negative feedback or drawing attention to inappropriate behavior, and corrective feedback or telling the child what to do to comply with the rule or expectation. To be corrective or constructive, the teacher’s feedback must provide specific information about how the child can improve an academic skill or behavior.
7. We can classify criticism as either negative or positive. Negative criticism is a judgmental comment that directly questions the child’s character and/or motives, aiming at assigning blame or finding fault. Positive criticism is task oriented, focusing attention on the task by pointing out something that the child did wrong. If after identifying the mistake the teacher provides corrective information, positive criticism upgrades to constructive criticism. This section includes 14 guidelines for criticizing children, among them: criticizing only a problem behavior that the child can fix, using observation language, avoiding evaluative language, avoiding “you” language, using effort feedback, focusing on strengths, giving supportive examples, teaching relative reasoning, and teaching self-criticism.
8. Although praising children does not always get high remarks in disciplining, when used consistently and strategically, praise improves the way that teachers and students interact. Strategic praise means to give children a positive but realistic appraisal of their performance; that is, we describe how the child’s performance matches a classroom standard or an individualized goal. This section includes 12 examples of strategic praise plus 19 guidelines for giving praise that makes a difference. Among the guidelines are: personalizing the compliment, following the “if-then rule,” creating the “small words-big message effect,” praising small changes or improvement, avoiding praising easy tasks, varying the praise, using indirect praise, giving private praise, the four-step procedure, and teaching self-praise.
9. An encouraging speech act is a supportive statement that motivates and inspires action by stimulating the student’s confidence and giving hope. An encouragement speech act starts with descriptive feedback that evaluates the child’s performance honestly followed by a supportive statement that reinforces confidence and reassures the child that we believe in her ability to improve the skill or to modify the behavior. Showing students that we have confidence in their ability is a starting point in helping children learn to believe in themselves. When facing a disappointing outcome, we direct the child to compare her current performance to past performance, not to what other children do; that is, we encourage the child to stay focused on improving. There are 20+ examples of encouraging speech acts listed on this section. Two examples are: “I’m not going to ask you to do anything that is beyond your abilities,” and “Do you remember when you were learning to control your anger? Your self-control is really improving. You have come a long way.”
10. A request is asking the child to do something; a command is telling the child to do it. Only with a request we give the child the option to comply or to refuse; the command gives no such option. We reveal if we are making a request or a command by how we respond to children when they do not comply; if we judge or criticize the child’s response, we were demanding, not requesting. According to the nonviolent communication model, the most powerful way we communicate that our request is not a demand is by empathizing with the child when he does not comply. Most specifically, a request: (a) asks for what we want, (b) asks for present action, (c) names a concrete action, and (d) describes the specific action that we want.
11. When refusing is not a choice, the alpha command is our best option. An alpha command is a clear, direct, and specific speech act without extra verbalizations. Beta commands, on the other hand, are vague, may involve multiple directives, and they may include too many verbalizations. Alpha commands increase compliance, but beta commands inhibit compliance. Some examples of beta commands are the multiple-step command, questions, and the collaborative command. This section also includes 20 guidelines to give alpha commands. Among them, we find: stating the command in ten words or less, following the one-sentence rule, using a direct statement, using positive wording, describing appropriate behavior, giving the “start” command, giving a clear time limit, giving the command in close proximity, turning down the voice volume, and giving an advanced warning.
12. When delivered within the context of interpersonal communication, the corrective speech act is a guidance system that aims at strengthening acceptable behavior while weakening unacceptable behavior. The objective is to teach and/or to improve social skills, not to punish behavior. In interpersonal communication discipline, setting limits walks hand-in-hand with our positive expectation that the child’s behavior is going to improve. Teachers skilled in interpersonal communication deliver the behavior limit and the positive expectation together. The main principle in correcting behavior is that our behavior is our choice. When we make a behavior choice, we are accountable for our behavior. With corrective speech acts, teachers remind children to think of the consequences in making particular choices, including the choice to misbehave. This chapter ends with over 20 guidelines for correcting behavior, including: setting the behavior expectation in advance, beginning on a positive note, redirecting the behavior with positive directions, following the “when-then” sentence pattern, teaching “when-then” connections, the three-step approach, fixing the behavior (not the feeling), helping children connect feelings with behavior, using precorrection and prompts, and giving “if-then” warnings.
Enhanced Disciplinary Language
1. With persuasive speech acts, the key is to make the sentence shorter and the message stronger. The chapter opens with an analysis of three forms of persuasive speech acts: suggestions, persuasions, and visualizations. When we give a suggestion, we bring an idea or a thought for consideration into the child’s mind. Suggestions are expressed in the form of tentative language and they carry no pressure to comply. With modal verbs (i.e. should, would, and might), we open the mind to consider what might be. Using “maybe” or “perhaps” makes the suggestion even less forceful and more tentative. Suggestions and requests are the ideal couple because we can state both of them as a question, using choice language, and/or in an indirect way.
2. In persuasive communication, giving suggestions to children is just the beginning. With the persuasive speech act, we shift the child’s focus from believing that it can happen (suggestion) to believing that it must happen (persuasion). At the core of the persuasive speech act is an appeal to reason or logic, to emotions, and/or to the child’s character (perception of self). With hidden commands, we both weaken resistance to our directives and strengthen new ideas or thoughts. With the simple trick of changing our voice while saying the directive, we separate the directive from the rest of the sentence, turning an otherwise powerless message into an influential hidden command. This section lists several examples of persuasive messages as well as 30+ persuasion techniques. Among the techniques are: using pauses, dropping the pitch, changing the pitch, the triple technique, trivializing, putting the child in a “yes” mood, using crazy numbers, positive labeling, creating forced cognitions, noticing, linking, and wondering.
3. In a creative visualization, to imagine is to experience. We can influence a tantrum-prone child to perceive herself as better able to tolerate frustration, or persuade an anger-prone child to believe that “he has what he needs” to stay calm and in control of his feelings. Creative visualizations walk the child’s mind into a journey of positive and therapeutic images that soothe feelings of insecurity, helplessness, and/or anger. The section includes six visualization exercises for children; on the sixth and longest exercise the hidden commands and persuasive tricks used are listed.
4. Interpersonal communication theory defines a statement as the answer to a background question. Questions focus attention and initiate behavior, which puts the skill of asking questions at the very center of influencing children’s behavior. Questions can be a teacher’s best linguistic tool to motivate students and to influence behavior change. For a teacher, learning to ask the right questions is like learning to crack the code in behavior change. A well-formed question, or a series of questions, helps children answer “What will it take for me?” and “What do I need to do to make it happen?” Focusing on solutions is built on each therapeutic question we ask. From beginning to end teachers can set up a detailed motivational and/or social problem solving process as a series of questions that students answer. For instance, in the simple act of asking the student, “What can you do to deal with this situation?” we are presupposing both that the student is capable of solving the problem and that the child has options to solve the problem. When teachers ask solution-seeking questions, we help the child put old and ineffective strategies in the past, and leave them there. This section includes plenty of examples of questions that we can ask to take children into a solution-oriented path, including questions to help the child: select goals, identify resources, initiate action, stay in course, correct course, measure progress, and cope with failure. The section ends with an analysis of ten very special kinds of questions, among them, the leading question and the tag question.
5. Speaking a supportive language of change coupled with child guidance techniques, teachers and school staff can, first, soothe angry feelings and hostility, and then, come to some agreement with the child that a change in behavior is necessary. Without motivating and engaging children in collaborative problem solving, it is going to be difficult to make progress. The child guidance section opens with a discussion about rapport. Success in shifting a child from an agitated state of mind to a calmer state of mind depends on our ability to connect emotionally with the student, and the only way to connect emotionally with a distraught student is through rapport. The pillar for rapport is trust; a child that does not trust us is not going to open to us. The synchronization technique, an on-the-spot rapport technique adapted from the neuro-linguistic tradition, is introduced here. In addition, 16 alternative techniques to create rapport are detailed, among them: moving the student to an open body position, feeling what the child is feeling, looking for points of connection, creating an agreement frame, and creating a false cause and effect relationship.
6. The child guidance approach relies on quality adult-child interactions that stimulate a perceptual shift in children’s thinking, feelings, and/or behavior. Effective child guidance reinforces children’s strengths, creates positive expectations, motivates and engages, and enhances the adult-child relationship.
7. The following specialized speech acts fit the child guidance framework. The first one is interpreting or restating the student’s position in our own words, without anything added or taken away. The best interpretation is the one that the teacher does from the third person’s perceptual position, in particular, the camera view. Effective interpretation links the way the child is acting with the way he is thinking and feeling. Next on this section is reflecting. Similar to paraphrasing, first, we listen attentively, and then, we reflect back the content of what the child said, making inferences about either the child’s feelings or what the child wants. When children hear back what they had said, they feel understood and their feelings accepted. The whole point in reflecting is to clarify and restate what the child says by turning our observation back to the child. With a reflection of deeper feeling, we reflect back a feeling that seems under the surface or implicit. The third specialized speech act on this section is reframing, or redefining the behavior by giving the child a new explanation of the feeling or behavior, and if possible, even putting a positive spin in our reframing. The two main kinds of reframing are content reframing and context reframing. With either kind, we present the child an alternative way of looking at the situation. There are eight examples of reframing in this section; in addition, two reframing techniques are introduced: expanding the frame and reversing. The fourth speech act in child guidance is decoding, a kind of interpretation where we translate the child’s behavior into a statement about a specific feeling, connecting what the child is doing and saying to what the child is feeling. When we decode, we help the student answer two main questions, “What are you doing?” and “What are you feeling when you do that?” One of the most important purposes in decoding is to build children’s confidence that they do not have to become victims of their own negative feelings. The three levels of decoding are acknowledging, surface interpretation, and secondary interpretation. Our short-term goal in decoding is to help the student shift from acting-out the angry feeling to rationally talking about the feeling and troublesome situation. Next comes challenging. When done therapeutically, challenging, or questioning the validity of what we see and hear aims at helping the student reassess the behavior. An important purpose in challenging is to bring to the child’s attention any incongruity that we notice between what he says and what he does. Skillful challenging communicates our curiosity and concern instead of opposition and anger; that is, we do not contradict or dispute what the child is saying, we are just curious about it and want to know more. A highly sophisticated form of challenging is to challenge a faulty cause and effect connection or a faulty cause and effect belief. Finally, we get the confronting speech act. Confronting a student is always done within the context of challenging; a therapeutic confrontation is simply a more in-depth challenging. Confrontations are particularly appropriate when the student engages in a negative behavior that the child either seems unaware of or is indifferent about. Confronting the student always revolves around two main questions, “Is what you are doing helping you?” and “Is what you are doing against the rules?” Inviting the student to look at exceptions, or those times when the problem behavior is not present, is a well-known confrontation technique. A therapeutic confrontation is at its best when we do it in such a subtle and supportive way that the child does not feel confronted.
8. The child guidance section ends with 30 guidelines. Among them: helping children find positive intentions and true meaning, helping the child separate his behavior from his identity, training the child in talking about the disruptive behavior as an outsider, using double binds with both leading statements and presuppositions of change, teaching the child to reorganize his priorities, the reversing technique, using a softer feeling, deflecting the behavior, the broken record technique, the boomerang technique, using reflective stories, and “the other child” technique.
9. Without actions that change behavior, insight and self-awareness are just words. At the end of the chapter, we find 70+ guidelines in how to help children translate self-awareness into an action plan (individual child) or a social problem solving plan (two or more students). Some guidelines are: training children to talk about future changes in the present tense, externalizing, detaching from the problem behavior, neutralizing the blame, questioning, using choice-consequence links, asking for a quick action plan, creating a mini-goal, teaching children to use a self-focus, dealing only with current behavior, getting a commitment from the child, looking for areas of agreement, dividing to conquer, future pacing the child, and pretending that a miracle happened. This last section also includes four models of short-and-easy action plans that children can follow, as well as two multiple-steps problem solving plans.
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