Positive communication in education.


When we talk about taking a positive approach, it doesn’t mean we have to be fluffy or gushing - that would be unauthentic and that is certainly what we don’t want! Positive communication is about building channels of communication that focuses on creating a positive ratio of 3:1.

An example of this could be parent-teacher interviews. Parents go along wanting to hear about their child’s progress and they focus on what they can’t do in order to help them achieve more. Teachers also turn up with the same focus. Where are the areas of improvement, what can be done better, what strategies do they need to employ, how can the parent help the child to be better? Well Positive Communication is being aware of the positive to negative ratio and ensuring that it’s 3:1. (based on Barbara Fredrickson’s “Build and Broaden” theory based on comprehensive research – more about that in future posts!) The research shows that children who have their strengths focussed on more than their weaknesses, are more resilient, happier, more engaged in school, academically more successful, have higher self-esteem, have improved performance and are at less risk of depression.  When we talk about strengths, we don’t only mean their talents (dancing, football, art etc), we’re also talking about their character strengths (courage, compassion, perseverance, problem-solver etc). Highlighting these for students, allows them to build on their strengths, being open to more opportunities and to be more successful.  “What about their weaknesses”, I hear you roar!  Well sure, we need to consider those, but research shows that if you spend more time talking up their strengths and showing them ways they can use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses, the more successful they will be.

So, back to the interview! If the teacher highlights all the positives in the child, the strengths they have and then spend a quarter of the time talking about what they could do to improve (using the strengths they have), the parent will be armed with the most motivational tool ever to help their child succeed.  Have you ever noticed that when you tell a student that they are really good problem-solvers, they puff their chests out and want to solve every problem in the world? Well, same deal here.   

Positive communication doesn’t end with parent-teacher interviews. Every aspect of school communication needs to be couched in positive terms. Listen to staff conversations. Are they mostly positive? Is your staffroom full of stories about terrible students or dreadful workloads?  How does that negativity make you feel? Sure, we need to have a whinge every now and again but remember the ratio. If it’s not 3:1 you are likely to be losing motivation, feeling miserable and being closed off to any possible opportunities.  How do your performance discussions go? Are they focussed on your weaknesses or do they celebrate your successes?  Which of those make you feel great and want to do more and which makes you feel down and do less?  It’s not rocket science. Positivity breeds positivity and, well ..... you know the rest!

What about the school policies?  Are they written in positive terms or negative? Does the behaviour policy tell students what they can’t do rather than what they can? Does the Code of Conduct celebrate what makes a good worker rather than draw a picture of a bad one? How do the meetings run? Do they focus on what needs fixing or do they concentrate on what’s working and then using that feel-good vibe to be creative to strive to be even better?

So, I would ask you. Have a look at your school or your child’s school.  Check out the communication channels on social media, newsletters, policies, school reports, staff conversations.  Are they mostly positive? Do they focus on the good rather than the negative? And if you think they don’t follow the 3:1 ratio, what are you going to do about it? Most schools want to be seen as positive learning environments because we all know that’s when students thrive and flourish, but often policy and curriculum demands can get in the way. Supporting your school to take a positive approach to communication is helping all children to be the very best they can be. After all, that’s what we all want – happy, resilient children.

Emma Hackett