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Let’s Talk

By Brett D. McLeod
Let’s Talk

“Love without conversation is impossible.” - Mortimer J. Adler
Reading this recently for the first time prompted reflection about the speed at which we live today and the importance of communicating with others.
In our fast-paced world with endless commitments, multiple technologies, and other distractions vying for our attention it is easy for both adults and children to become preoccupied. Even when we spend time with others our minds are often in another place. We may be present physically and yet still not interact or converse in a way that is truly meaningful. But when we do, connections are developed, relationships are strengthened, and trust is built.
Children especially benefit when we adults take an interest in their lives. Kids love to talk about their “day at work” too. When we are interested in what our children have to share it signifies that we value what is happening in their lives and so much of what does happen happens at school. That is why it is vital that not just parents but educators and administrators take the time to converse with “their” children.
Conversation is a window through which we see and are seen. A better view and understanding of both ourselves and others is obtained when we take the time to share, observe, and really listen. We all see the world through our own particular lens and these lenses are colored by our personal histories, the cultures and subcultures to which we belong, and the notions we hold. Imagine, then, the possible discoveries to be made and insights to be had by seeing the world through the unique lens of another. Conversation allows us to do just that.
Realizing this is critical to those of us who have committed our lives to educating others. Our vocation requires not only enlisting cooperation and generating enthusiasm for the learning we offer but knowing how those in our care learn best. The utility of conversation here is manifold. Perplexed by a student’s behavior or lack of progress in an academic discipline? Go to the primary source, engage them in conversation, share your concerns, and simply ask them what they think the cause behind such matters might be. Seems obvious, right? But all too often we seek answers elsewhere.
Certainly, one might not obtain the answer sought but a conversation is more effective than engaging in guess work and suppositions. Essentially, it demonstrates one’s concern for another. Multiple studies have shown that “children of involved parents get better grades, score higher on standardized tests … have better attendance records, higher aspirations, and more positive attitudes toward school and even homework” (Bogenschneider & Johnson). Does not the same hold true for involved teachers? And what is the means by which we often demonstrate our involvement? By showing interest in a child by taking the time to genuinely converse with them.
We use words to communicate all the time. With the advent of electronic communication, we can now shoot messages off to a recipient with speed and efficiency. But what about effectiveness? The expectation that our text will be read with the same feeling and understanding with which it was crafted is fraught with uncertainty. Too often emails prove a source of conflict. We have all witnessed this multiple times at school, be it between staff members or teachers and parents. Misinterpretation, wording, or conciseness are often responsible for such dramas and what does it eventually lead to? A sit-down conversation to salve and remedy the situation. So if the topic is important why not start off with a conversation in the first place?
Eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language are critical elements in effective human communication. Humanity has relied on these for our understanding of one another for countless millennia. Conversation, be it in person or by way of phone, enables us to bridge divides, convey meaning, and construct relationships. This being so, schools should advocate conversation more. Not just between parents and their children but among school personnel as well. The stories, backgrounds, interests, skills, and myriad other findings revealed can prove empowering personally, professionally, even institutionally.
So, if it has been a while since you have had a good chat with your students, their parents, a colleague, or even your boss, should time and circumstance allow it, initiate one. Ask open-ended questions, listen attentively, and invite them to tell you more. Be present and face your body toward the person to whom you are speaking. Doing so will lead to greater sharing. And this may not only prove interesting and informative but lead to some fun and laughter too. After all, we are meant to be social animals and true connectivity is ultimately manifested in the personal bonds we develop and maintain with others.
Bogenschneider K., & Johnson, C. (2004, February). “Family involvement in education: How important is it? What can legislators do?” Wisconsin Family Impact Seminar Briefing Report No. 20, pp. 19-29.

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