Sunday, March 16, 2014

Communication Lessons from Charlie Brown

Do your children ever fail to pay attention to you? I mean your personal children.  As soon as the word, clean, comes out of my mouth, I know instantly that my children are tuning me out. As soon as words, did you, leave my lips, I know they're not listening. Chores are not their favorite thing to do, and talking to them about their chores is not my favorite thing to do either. Now that I think about it, there may be a correlation between my communication style and their listening.

So in your classroom, do your children tune you out? Can you instantly tell that your students lose focus and are glazed over while you are talking to them?  Even the best teacher in America has this problem from time to time. Are there times when you feel like you are Charlie Brown's teacher?

If you feel like your students are tuning you out, it's nothing personal. It's not that they disrespect you; it's that your communication is so routine that they are becoming immune to it. And it's not that you have nothing interesting to say. It's that the tone, cadence, and passion are the same. If you think about it, before I even played the Charlie Brown video, you knew instantly the sound of the voice of Charlie's teacher. I've never heard a word she said, but I can hear her voice like I was in her class today. 

Wah Wah Wah Wah. 

To get the wah wah wah out of your presentation, it's time to change things up a bit. 

Does everything that you say come out using the same tone?  Children respond better to auditory stimuli that vary in pitch and volume. If you talk loud all the time, maybe try talking soft some of the time. If you're a quiet person, it is time to get that loudmouth out. Kids respond well to a variety of tones in communication. If you think about it, everyone responds to a variety of tones, so one type of speaking tone will never reach every kid in your class. 

If you talk slow all the time, people tune out quickly. If you talk at a rapid pace every time you say something, kids are not receiving every word in your message. Is your cadence harsh or is it meek and mild? If your cadence sounds like a drill sergeant, students will instantly turn off their ears, but if your cadence is more like a whisper, students won't even acknowledge that you're there. The rate and emphasis at which words are spoken plays a huge part in student engagement. 

Charlie Brown's teacher was boring.  She was not there to make learning fun. Passionless teachers suck the life out of listeners while passionate teachers optimize every aural minute that learners are in the room. Their enthusiasm for learning and fun stimulates interest in the process of not only learning but life. 

So where is your communication?
The best way to find out what type of communicator you are is to record yourself on audio or video. I prefer video because you can see the response of your students to your communication. Yes I know that we all hate to listen to ourselves speak, but this topic is too big not to investigate. If you have a kid that is struggling in your class, don't you want to know if the student is even listening to you?  That might be the first step in intervening for the student. If you have students that are being loud and disruptive, don't you want to know if your loud communication style is setting a poor example for how students should speak in your class or if your quiet tone is being ignored each time your correct?  If students are zones out in your class, don't you want to know if some of your students perceive you as that teacher from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"?

If you want to improve your instruction, one of the first steps to start with is evaluating your own communication style toward students. Delivery of content is completely dependent on the manner in which you verbally communicate to your students.  How you speak sets the foundation for learning, and it is critical to know if you have a solid foundation for learning.  By evaluating the tone, cadence, and passion within your communication, you can ensure that every student, especially Charlie Brown, learns in your classroom.


  1. I think that its important that we remain engaged and authentic in our delivery. We have to be excited and believe in what we are teaching to prevent students from going into the "Wah, Wah, Wah" mode. This also goes for administrators - keeping teachers interested too! The passion we bring to teaching is what moves teachers to continue to create engaging and exciting learning experiences

  2. This goes for administrators too -
    You couldn't have said it better. Administrators are the model for teachers; therefore, if administrators are stuck in Charlie Brown mode, everyone else will see no need to engage students with their communication.