Communications Overview

One of the important skills that you will need to work effectively as a paraeducator is how to communicate clearly with your supervising teacher. In this chapter, we will look at what makes communication effective. As you complete the exercises, you will have an opportunity to consider your own communication style and how it affects your work with your supervising teacher. This will help you to understand important aspects of communication.

What is Communication?

Communication means understanding and being understood. When you communicate effectively, the other person understands exactly what you mean, and you understand them. Communication is more than the words you use.

Here is an exercise to help you think about communicating with words:

Children come to school to learn.

This is a statement that everyone would agree with. What do you think children should learn in school? Write some of the things you think they should learn.

Here are some of the things that children can learn in school:

  • Reading and Writing
  • Math and Science
  • History, Geography, and Social Sciences

However, children also need to learn:

  • Study skills - how to complete assignments and research
  • Social skills - how to get along with other children
  • Survival skills – how to succeed in the school system by getting good grades and behaving appropriately

And many of the youngest students you will work with will also need to learn English.

All of these answers are correct – children come to school to learn all of these things. However, you may think that some things are more important than others are. In addition, the teachers you work with may have ideas that are very different from your ideas about what is most important.

The statement about children learning is just an example of how words do not always communicate meaning very clearly. What we do and how we do it tells another person a lot about what we really mean.

This means that when you are working as a paraeducator, you must listen very carefully to the teacher’s instructions (the words that he/she uses), and do what he/she asks you to do. Nevertheless, you must also watch carefully to see how the teacher works with the students so that you can follow his/her example.

Communication Styles

This section will help you to become more aware of your own work and communication style – that is, your preferences and priorities that affect the way you work.

Principles vs. Preferences

Do I make decisions based on principle or preferences? Let us take a minute to discuss one of the ideas that may help prevent some problems in the workplace. Most people have principles, which govern the actions they take. Most people also have preferences. Principles are those truths, laws, or moral standards by which we maintain our personal conduct. Principles are the standards that people will not compromise. Preferences, on the other hand, are the things that we choose to do or prefer to do as the most desirable among choices. Let us think of principles as ideas cast in cement that are virtually unbreakable — or only broken by tremendous force. Preferences are much more like putty - flexible, changeable, and able to respond to another person’s wishes.

In our work, we find people who are never late. They feel that they must always be on time for work, for meetings, for almost everything. It has become a matter of principle for them. They work very hard to live by that standard. Other people, however, are not as driven by the need to be on time. They prefer to be on time, of course, but if something else comes up and they are late — so be it. They are not frazzled if they arrive ten minutes after the appointed hour — and often do not see it as being very important. Conflict arises when the person functioning on the principle of being on time has a meeting scheduled with the person who functions on preference and thinks being on time is okay, but not so important that ten minutes makes a big difference. One person may consider being late unreasonable and rude while the other feels that living by the clock is unreasonable and rigid. They are at odds with each other.

For people to work together effectively, it is important to recognize the importance of principle and preference. A friendly reminder that it is very important to one person that the other person arrive on time may be all that is needed to keep the relationship an effective one. Talking about what is especially important to you may prevent future working relationship problems.

Preference Activity

Read the statements and decide which one is most like you. One statement is very exact while the other is more relaxed. If you find that you are somewhere in between the two statements, write what your preference is.

Punctuality

I usually arrive on time.
Or... I get there when I get there.
Or...

Initiative

When I see something that needs to be done, I do it.
Or... I usually wait until I am directed by someone before I do things.
Or...

Classroom environment

I like a classroom that is a little bit noisy.
Or... I like it absolutely quiet in the classroom.
Or...

Supervision

I like my supervisor to watch me closely and tell me what to do.
Or... I want to try things on my own without anyone watching me or telling me how to do it.
Or...

The next exercise has the same questions. But this time it is asking about your teacher’s preferences and communication style. In order to complete this exercise you will need to carefully observe your teacher and look for answers to the questions below. If you haven’t started working in the classroom, you will not be able to complete this second exercise yet. But you can read through it and it will help you to be prepared to work with your teacher. If you cannot tell the teachers preference, ask! Then write his/her answer in the lines.

Punctuality

I usually arrive on time.
Or... I get there when I get there.
Or...

Initiative

When I see something that needs to be done, I do it.
Or... I usually wait until I am directed by someone before I do things.
Or...

Classroom environment

I like a classroom that is a little bit noisy.
Or... I like it absolutely quiet in the classroom.
Or...

Supervision

I like my supervisor to watch me closely and tell me what to do.
Or... I want to try things on my own without anyone watching me or telling me how to do it.
Or...

Look at the answers you wrote the first time you completed the exercise (for your own work preferences) and then look at the answers you wrote the second time (for your teacher’s preferences). Are the answers different? Or are some of them the same?

The answers can be different, but both of you can be right. The important thing to think about is how different answers (which means different preferences) will affect the way you and the teacher work together. How do you think your teacher will feel about you and your work IF...

He/she likes the students to work quietly and you let your group chatter while they work?

He/she likes activities to start and end promptly and you let your group of students finish their writing or drawing before they join the rest of the class for the next activity?

In life, we learn to adapt to people’s preferences and needs. Even small children know that there are things that Grandma will let them do, that their mother won’t let them do. So when that’s what they want to do, they don’t ask their mother, they ask Grandma. They know which of their brothers or sisters will help them. They know that some teachers are stricter than others. You know these things too. Now you need to apply them to working in the classroom. It is important that you work well with your teacher. If you take notice of the way the teacher likes to work, and follow his/her example, you will be able to work much more effectively together.

Many problems and misunderstandings can be prevented if people talk to each other. However, in a busy classroom teachers often don’t have time to stop and answer questions the paraeducator may have. Think about it for a few minutes and then list 3 things you already do, or think you could do, to enhance communication with your teacher or paraeducator.

Communicating with the teacher can help you to understand his or her preferences. You many work with more than one teacher and find that each has a very different set of preferences. You don’t always need to ask the teacher how he/she prefers to run the classroom. Much of your information can be gained by watching what is happening in the classroom. There are several things to watch for that will give you an idea of the teacher’s preferences. Here are some other questions to ask yourself about the classroom:

Does the teacher allow the students to talk while they are working? Or do the students work silently most of the time?

Does the teacher allow the students to work in groups? Or do the students always work on their own?

Are the students allowed to move around the classroom? Or do they always stay in their seats during an activity?

Does the teacher always follow the schedule? Or does the schedule often change?

Does the class always start and finish on time? Or do they finish an activity first, whether the bell rings or not?

Does the teacher give a lot of written instructions for the students? Or does he/she usually just tell them what to do verbally?