Communication and professional relationships with children, young people and adults Essay
Why effective communication is important
Effective communication helps to build positive relationships. We build relationships by communicating positively, being approachable and understanding the issues that are important to children and young people. This results in them feeling valued and secure in the school environment. The Government prospectus Common Core of Skills and Knowledge describes communication as ‘not just about the words you use but also the manner of speaking, body language and above all, the effectiveness with which you listen.’
Communicating positively involves actively listening, maintaining eye contact and being aware of our body language.
A calm, clear tone of voice will help children and young people to feel at ease in our company and not threatened. Actively listening is essential if we are to establish respectful and professional relationships. Using verbal and non-verbal feedback shows a child and young person that we understand what they are thinking or feeling and value what they say. A child that feels valued is more likely to respond better to support that a teaching assistant may offer.
Taking time to listen to children and young people builds their trust. Trust is important as children may need to confide in an adult or ask for help.
So that children and young people know what to expect when working with them it is important to establish ground rules. These rules should set out how you are going to work together, expectations, what you both want to achieve and the consequences of breaking the rules. If rules are broken then children must be treated equally as showing favouritism does not help to establish respectful relationships. All children are equal and stereotypes such as race, ability and religion are to be avoided.
Building relationships with adults is similar to building relationships with children and young people where communicating positively is the key. Burnham (2010) states “The principles of relationship building with children and adults in any context are that if others are comfortable in our company, they will be more likely to communicate effectively.”
Teaching assistants need to build relationships with a range of adults. They may be other members of the school team, parents or other support staff. By being approachable, responding politely to adults and being committed to working cooperatively, respectful and professional relationships can be developed and maintained. When in conversation with adults you may have different views and as long as you show mutual respect and are considerate of the views of others then a compromise can usually be met.
There are many similarities between communicating with adults, children and young people such as listening and treating them with courtesy and respect. However, it is important to maintain a formal relationship and communication style with children when teaching so that they understand boundaries. Children need communication to be clear and unambiguous so that learning is less complicated for them.
Our communications with adults will differ depending on the situation. For example communication in the staff room can be less formal. As adults have more developed communication skills, they understand jokes, humour, sarcasm and expressions used can be more complex. However it is important to remember that all adults in school are role models to children. Demonstrating and building positive relationships with adults in school shows children and young people how to communicate and relate to others. If adults behave professionally in school and show mutual respect to each other this can create a positive environment for children to learn in and children are more likely to want to be in school if they are supported by adults who get along with each other.
How different contexts may affect how we communicate
Our communication styles change (often automatically) depending on the context in which we are working and who we are communicating with. Sometimes how we respond or react can often be misread which can affect relationships. Therefore it is important to think about how our own behaviour may affect those around us. Certain behaviours may be perceived differently due to a
lack of understanding of someone’s background or culture. In these instances there is a risk of offending or being offended to which may affect the relationship. It is important not to make assumptions.
How to adapt communication for children and young people
When communicating with children and young people it is important to adapt behaviour and communication styles according to age, needs, ability and stage of development as different stages require varying levels of attention and support. The child development chart completed in Unit 1 shows how children required different levels of support depending on their stage of development.
Children in Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 are starting to develop their communication skills and may need reminding to take turns and to share. It is likely that younger children will need lots of reassurance and encouragement particularly when starting school and settling into the school routine. As a result of this they may need comforting and more physical contact such as holding hands, however it is important to be clear on what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Language used when communicating needs to be simple and clear. Young children may need reminding of how to behave, carry out tasks and their understanding should be checked. Praise and recognition is likely to be in the form of stickers and stamps on the hand. So that the children understand why they have been rewarded the praise should be immediate. As children’s language develops it is important to encourage and build their confidence when they start asking questions by actively listening and helping them to find out the answer.
When working with children in year four and five (Key Stage 2) they are more mature in the way they communicate. From my experiences in school I have noticed that their conversations are more complex and that it is important to encourage discussions and negotiations as their confidence grows. At this stage children can follow and understand instructions and their learning is more independent. However they may still need reminding not to shout out or interrupt. Reminding them of the classroom rules and sanctions will help
Older children, though more independent, may need help with talking through ideas and reflecting on their own thoughts. As they develop their vocabulary and understanding, instructions given can become more complex and detailed. As older children start to form and experiment with their own opinions and views of the world they may need to be shown alternative opinions. There could be a situation where a child may have ‘inherited’ their parent’s racist opinions. As we have discussed children learn to behave by copying adults and children may also copy opinions from adults. The role of a teaching assistant here is to be balanced and show an alternative point of view by challenging what is right or wrong.
When working with a child with special educational needs at any level it is important to seek guidance from the Special Educational Needs co-ordinator (SENCo) on their development and learning stage. Using the holistic approach to child development, and child development charts you can then adapt your behaviour to suit their needs. Children who have communication difficulties or special educational needs may feel pressured or anxious when speaking especially if directions and questions are too complex for them to understand. Giving extra time to allow them to formulate their ideas and speech should help them to communicate. Opportunities to speak in class or in a small group may also help increase their confidence.
Whilst it is important to maintain a professional relationship with children and young people there are times, such as before school and at break time and dinner time when conversations can be less formal. This is the time when children can chat to their teachers about their life outside of school, what they did at the weekend etc. These are the times when teachers and teaching assistants can get to know their pupils. However, during lessons communication should be more formal (though still maintaining a sense of humour) as children need to be kept on task and understand instructions.
How to adapt communication to meet different communication needs of adults Information will be difficult to convey if the needs of the individual are
not met and could result in miscommunication or important issues not being understood.
Examples of when communication may need to be adapted are:
Hard of hearing or deaf – face the person when speaking, speak slowly. Sign language may need to be used.
English is not first language – speak slowly using simple language. Repeat important information and ensure it is understood. Use an interpreter if necessary.
Poor vision or blind – address them by name so that they know they are being spoken to.
Also, depending on the context of the conversation the communication style may need to be adapted. For example communication with adults at parents evening will be formal whereas at social events, or PTA meetings the style may be more relaxed. Again, in the classroom the style would be formal when speaking to children however at a school disco, or on a school trip the style may be more relaxed.
How to manage disagreements with children, young people and adults
Children and young people will always have disagreements and when dealing with these it is important to consider the stage of development so that we can then adapt our communication style. With any conflict it is important to establish what has happened and to hear both sides of the story so that the children feel that they have put their point across and that one pupil is not being favoured. If one child was in the wrong then apologies should be made or if required the matter may need to be referred to another member of staff.
Young children are egocentric, they lack the ability to appreciate and understand an opinion that is different to their own. A child at this stage
of development is unlikely to understand why taking another child’s toy will upset them. Puppets and role play games can help demonstrate to young children how to play and behave nicely with children and how to resolve disagreements in a peaceful way.
Older children and young people who understand how to discuss and negotiate should be encouraged to settle their own disagreements, however they may need reminding of the school strategy and behaviour policy. Kamen (2010) explains that ‘Pupils need to learn how to use language to reach agreements so that as far as possible their needs and other people’s can be met fairly. Pupils need to learn that resolving conflicts does not mean getting your own way all of the time (being aggressive)’. By being assertive and behaving in a way which is neither passive nor aggressive allows everyone to discuss and then negotiate so that a solution can be found where ‘I win and you win’ rather than ‘I win so you lose’ or ‘I lose because you win’.
Children and young people need to be able to understand how their feelings might affect their behaviour and how to respect others’ feelings. They also need to learn how their actions can impact other people. This can be taught by reading stories, classroom discussions and assembly. Teachers can use this time to reinforce school rules and to encourage children to work together in the correct manner.
When dealing with another adult who disagrees with you, showing mutual respect and being professional may mean that you can work together to reach a compromise. It is important that the situation is resolved quickly so as not to affect the working environment in the school. If a compromise cannot be met then support may be needed from another member of staff. All schools have a grievance policy where issues are put in writing and dealt with at a senior level.
If there is a disagreement between an adult and a child then it is important to remain calm and to not raise your voice. Adults should remember that they are role models and have to follow the school sanctions. If the situation cannot be resolved then support may be needed from a senior member of staff.
When dealing with disagreements:
Correct title or form of address should be used.
Listen to facts, do not make assumptions.
Be polite; remember that you are role model to children.
Do not shout.
Try to resolve the disagreement as soon as possible.
Seek advice and support from another adult if required.
Be assertive, but not aggressive.
The legal requirements and procedures covering confidentiality, data protection and the disclosure of information
These are the two main legislations that cover confidentiality, data protection and the disclosure of information.
Every Child Matters (England 2003) based on Children Act 2004 The 2003 inquiry by Lord Laming into the tragic death of Victoria Climbie influenced the move from child protection to safeguarding. Lord Laming reported that the services responsible for the protection of children had not worked together. His recommendations that services are integrated and that information is shared between services influenced the Children Act 2004. This act does not replace the Children Act 1989 but it adds to it by setting out the process for integrating services for children. It also provides the legal framework for Every Child Matters which aims to improve outcomes for children in five key areas; being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well-being.
Data Protection Act 1998
This acts states that confidential information can only be used for the purpose for which it was gathered and you can only ask for information that is directly relevant to the care of the child. Any organisation which holds information on individuals must be registered with the Information Commissioners Office. Information can be kept for no longer than is necessary and must be held securely.
Each school must also have their own policies and procedures relating to confidentiality, data protection and the disclosure of information. At the school where I work these policies are: safeguarding policy, confidentiality policy and the information security policy. The importance of reassuring children, young people and adults of the confidentiality of shared information and the limits of this
Any member of staff in school that retains information about children they are working with should ensure that it is shared only with people who have a right or need to know such as class teacher or SENCo. As teaching assistants we may need to know information such assessment levels or if a child has special educational needs. Reassuring those that provide information that you will use it appropriately will give them confidence, and build trust. Parents will be more responsive and willing to share information if they feel that that can trust you.
In most cases parental consent would be needed before any information can be shared with other professionals. However, some information must be shared within the school such as food allergies, special diets, religious ritual or medical conditions. At the school where I work care plans are displayed in the staff room and also the classroom where the child takes their lessons. Information about food allergies is also passed to lunchtime supervisors.
If a pupil is at risk then confidential information must be passed on to the appropriate person who can prevent the child being harmed. It is important to let the person who has confided in you know that you may need to share the information with others. School procedures and must be followed when
sharing information. By not sharing information with the relevant person the child may continue to be at risk of harm.
The following are situations when information must be shared:
Where there is concern or evidence that a child or young person may be suffering.
To prevent harm arising to child, young person or adult.
Serious crime may have taken place.
Burnham, L. and Baker, B. (2010) Supporting Teaching and Learning Harlow:Heinemann
Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the children’s workforce (2005) DfES
Kamen, A. (2010) Teaching Assistant’s Handbook Level 2 Dubai:Hodder Education