The American Association of State Colleges and Universities published the following Policy Matters article over 10 years ago. The question is: Does participating in induction programs matter?… The answer is YES. It mattered 10 years ago, and it matters today. We need to move faster to make more significant progress in this area. Over the past couple of decades, the number of beginning teachers has ballooned and so has the number of beginners eligible for induction in any given school. These are the people educating our future leaders, so why are we not providing these people with more systematic support to succeed professionally.
The traditional “sink-or-swim” model for beginning teachers has not worked very well. Facing challenging work conditions and insufficient support, nearly half of new teachers leave the classroom within the first five years. Among those who stay, it can take years to develop the skills they need to be most effective in the classroom. These factors have a negative impact on student learning, particularly in poor and lowperforming schools where new teachers are often assigned. The financial cost of teacher turnover adds to the problem, draining resources from already tight budgets.
In order to remedy these problems, there has been a rapid growth of teacher mentoring and induction programs in recent decades: more than 80 percent of new teachers participate in some kind of program, up from 40 percent in 1990-91. “Mentoring” refers to one-on-one assistance and support given by an experienced professional to a novice. “Induction” State-level policy support for teacher induction programs can help teachers realize their full potential, keep them in the profession, promote greater student learning, and save money. Higher education institutions and school districts must work together to provide high-quality and well-designed induction programs. refers to a more comprehensive program. The Alliance for Excellent Education identifies the components of comprehensive induction as high-quality mentoring, common planning time and collaboration, ongoing professional development, participation in an external network of teachers, and standards-based evaluation.
Though states have increasingly been involved in mandating and funding induction programs, there is by no means consistency across districts and states, nor adequate services for all novice teachers. Far too often, what have been called “induction” programs have been limited to one-on-one mentoring designed to help teachers “survive” their first year. There has been a lack of ongoing support, and mentors may be under-trained and over-extended. Funding is often inadequate and unstable.
If teachers are to become the skilled professionals they need to be and if they are to stay in the field, stakeholders need to take coordinated action to expand and improve induction programs and to make them more universally available.
During the past two decades, new thinking about induction has emerged nationwide and there are several promising comprehensive induction models.
Leading the field is the New Teacher Center (NTC) at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The central element of the NTC Induction Model is one-on-one mentoring by a carefully selected and highly-trained mentor. Additional components include participation by all first- and second-year teachers, a network of support for both new teachers and mentors, mentors being released from teaching duties to assist new teachers, formative assessment, linkages to pre-service education, program evaluation, and other elements. This model promotes the expectation that teaching is collegial and that learning is a lifelong process.
The Educational Testing Service has developed the Pathwise Framework Induction Program, a comprehensive mentoring and support program for beginning teachers. This program provides training and support for mentors and structured tasks through which beginning teachers, with the assistance of a mentor, can develop and hone their skills. An online component, including discussion boards, courses, mentor refresher, and resource pages, enhances communication.
The Teachers for a New Era Project of the Carnegie Corporation of New York is attempting to strengthen K-12 teaching by developing state-of-the-art programs at schools of education. One guiding principle is the establishment of teaching as a clinical profession. Exemplary teacher education programs will consider the first two years of teaching as a residency period requiring mentorship and supervision. During this induction period, faculty from the higher education institution will confer with, observe, and provide guidance to the new teacher to improve practice.
There is growing evidence of the positive impact of induction programs on teacher retention, costs, teacher quality, and student learning.
Evidence from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey suggests that participation in comprehensive induction programs can cut attrition in half. Many smaller studies have corroborated the finding that participation in mentoring and induction programs has a positive impact on teacher retention, though the size of the impact varies by study.
There also is evidence that induction programs save money for school districts. It has been estimated that for every $1.00 invested in induction, there is an estimated payoff of nearly $1.50.
An evaluation study in California in the early 1990s showed that teachers participating in induction programs, compared to other new teachers, used more complex and challenging instructional materials, were more successful in motivating students and setting high expectations for students with diverse backgrounds, and made greater use of state curriculum frameworks. Teacher attrition was reduced by two thirds, and the programs were especially successful in supporting minority teachers. This work laid the foundation for development of subsequent induction programs.
Investigating the impact of induction programs on student learning is a growing area. Research by the Educational Testing Service has found some impact of these programs on student achievement. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Services began a five-year evaluation study that will examine the effects on student achievement of two programs, the NTC Induction Model and ETS Pathwise. More research is needed to sort out what aspects of induction most affect teacher quality and retention, which, in turn, affect student learning and district costs.
Though many states require teacher induction, current state policy leaves much to be desired.
Recent studies have found that 30 or more states have some form of mandated mentoring program. Merely requiring this mentoring, however, does not assure that programs are comprehensive and effective, or that funding is secure.
Education Week reports that only 16 states require and finance mentoring for all new teachers. Only five states provide a minimum of two or more years of state-financed mentoring, down from eight in 2003. More in-depth data collected by Education Week in 2003 indicate that nine states specified a minimum amount of time for mentors and new teachers to meet; eight required mentors and teachers to be matched by school, subject, and/or grade; nine required mentors to be compensated for their work; and seven required release time for mentors.
Some states have made strides toward developing comprehensive induction programs, but limited and uncertain state funds challenge this progress.
Two years ago, a partnership between the University of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Education began the Statewide Mentor Project that was based on the NTC model. Data have supported the effectiveness of the program in increasing teacher retention and the legislature approved funding for a state-wide program.
California’s New Teacher Project funded and evaluated several induction models in the late 1980s. The project’s success led to legislation that provides for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment programs throughout the state.
New Jersey has been involved in mentoring programs for two decades, but funding has been uneven. Currently all districts are required to have a Mentoring for Quality Induction plan in place, but they vary widely from district to district.
Legislation enacted in Michigan more than a decade ago mandated the New Teacher Induction/ Teacher Mentoring Program requiring three years of mentoring. The state Department of Education has developed guidelines and tools for districts as well as program standards. There is currently an effort underway to foster a network of support among teacher preparation institutions.
Virginia mandates mentoring for all beginning teachers and funds about half the costs for this program. The state Department of Education developed guidelines for effectiveness, and with federal funding, supports 20 pilot induction programs across the state.
In Georgia, higher education institutions have been involved in developing resources for new teacher support. Albany State University, the University of Georgia, and Valdosta State University founded the Georgia Systemic Teacher Education Program in 2000 which has a BRIDGE (Building Resources: Induction and Development of Georgia Educators) component. This is a peer-reviewed, interactive online resource and mentoring site for teachers.
Other notable state programs include Connecticut’s Beginning Educator Support and Training and Louisiana’s Teacher Assistance and Assessment Program.
There is evidence from several states that competition for funding has led to reduced state support for induction programs. Some states depend on foundation funding or the U.S. Department of Education Title II teacher quality grants. Without a steady source of funding, these programs remain in precarious situations.
As states increasingly hold their teacher preparation programs accountable for the success of new teachers, higher education institutions need to work with school districts to ensure that induction is high quality and well-designed. They need to work toward greater alignment between what is taught in schools of education and what occurs in the classroom. They need to evaluate programs to document their effectiveness and ensure their quality.
Long-term policy support for teacher induction programs and adequate funding at the state level can help teachers realize their full potential, keep them in the profession, promote greater student learning, and save money. Mentoring and induction can bridge the gap between pre-service education and the classroom, and higher education institutions must be an important part of this picture.
The complexities of delivering education is increasing. From traditional brick and mortar and distance education, to competency-based education, prior-learning, micro credentialing, badging, and co-curricular assessment, to ERG initiatives, LiveText understands that telling your institution’s story goes beyond assessment for compliance.
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So we challenge you to take a look at your current assessment system…If you can’t do all of the following with your technology, it might be high time to reassess your assessment system!
LiveText is purposefully designed to allow faculty to capture, measure, and report learning experiences, no matter where they occur. Did you know that via™…
Significantly reduces faculty workload.
Faculty assesses and scores student work in a number of ways, without ever having to leave their learning management systems – eliminating any double work.
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Provides faculty quick access to assessment reports to analyze course and teaching effectiveness. Reliable and timely access to assessment data informs faculty about whether the changes they implemented to improve student learning are working.
Supports faculty development for professional growth and tenure.
Faculty can easily showcase their own professional accomplishments, development goals, and assessments.
If you’re still only able to align learning outcomes and standards to rubrics, contact us and we’ll show you how to take your use of assessment technology to a whole new level by capturing evidence of learning at every level. Register to join our live March 9 or March 21 webinars where you can see via live and ask us questions.
I just spent 4 months planning a huge surprise birthday party for my mother. She turned 60, so it was kind of a big deal. For these 4 months, 40 of her closest family and friends kept this big secret from her.
Picture this: It’s the night of the party. She walks into the restaurant for what she thinks is a casual dinner date. We yell surprise, start singing Happy Birthday, present her with her favorite red velvet cake, and queue the waterworks! Taken aback, she musters the following words as tears trickle down her cheeks…”Oh my, thank you, thank you, thank you, I have NO more goals!”
Laughter erupts. It was funny…but also kind of sad, I thought. I was still thinking about it days after. So I asked her about it. “When you said you had NO more goals, what did you mean?” She said the following in only a way my mother, known in social circles as Sue Magoo, could get away with: “Well, I don’t really recall saying that. However, if I had, I know that what I would have meant was that I’m 60 now. I have everything I need. I have no more goals.”
This got me thinking…I actually can’t wait until I get to the point in which I have no more goals! Ironically, to reach this goal, I must set some goals.
No matter what you’re doing, if you want to succeed, you need to set goals. Without goals, you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of your life’s direction, but it also provides you a benchmark for determining whether you are actually succeeding.
To accomplish your goals, you need to know how to set them. You can’t simply say, “I want” and expect it to happen. Goal setting is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve and ends with a lot of hard work. In between, there are some very well defined steps that transcend the specifics of each goal. Knowing these steps will allow you to formulate goals that you can accomplish.
Here are our five golden rules of goal setting:
When you set goals for yourself, it is important that they motivate you. This means making sure that they are important to you, and that there is value in achieving them. If you have little interest in the outcome, or they are irrelevant given the larger picture, then the chances of you putting in the work to make them happen are slim. Motivation is key to achieving goals.
Set goals that relate to the high priorities in your life. Without this type of focus, you can end up with far too many goals, leaving you too little time to devote to each one. Goal achievement requires commitment, so to maximize the likelihood of success, you need to feel a sense of urgency and have an “I must do this” attitude. When you don’t have this, you risk putting off what you need to do to make the goal a reality. This leaves you feeling disappointed and frustrated with yourself, both of which are de-motivating. And you can end up in a very destructive “I can’t do anything or be successful at anything” frame of mind.
Tip: To make sure your goal is motivating, write down why it’s valuable and important to you. Ask yourself, “If I were to share my goal with others, what would I tell them to convince them it was a worthwhile goal?” You can use this motivating value statement to help you if you start to doubt yourself or lose confidence in your ability to actually make the goal happen.
You have probably heard of SMART goals Add to My Personal Learning Plan already. But do you always apply the rule? The simple fact is that for goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART. There are many variations of what SMART stands for, but the essence is this – goals should be:
Your goal must be clear and well defined. Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. Remember, you need goals to show you the way. Make it as easy as you can to get where you want to go by defining precisely where you want to end up.
Set Measurable Goals
Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. Without a way to measure your success, you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have achieved something.
Set Attainable Goals
Make sure that it’s possible to achieve the goals you set. If you set a goal that you have no hope of achieving, you will only demoralize yourself and erode your confidence.
However, resist the urge to set goals that are too easy. Accomplishing a goal that you didn’t have to work hard for can be anticlimactic at best, and can also make you fear setting future goals that carry a risk of non-achievement. By setting realistic yet challenging goals, you hit the balance you need. These are the types of goals that require you to raise the bar and they bring the greatest personal satisfaction.
Set Relevant Goals
Goals should be relevant to the direction you want your life and career to take. By keeping goals aligned with this, you’ll develop the focus you need to get ahead and do what you want. Set widely scattered and inconsistent goals, and you’ll fritter your time away.
Set Time-Bound Goals
Your goals must have a deadline. Again, this means that you know when you can celebrate success. When you are working on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases and achievement will come that much quicker.
The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible. You have no excuse for forgetting about it. As you write, use the word “will” instead of “would like to” or “might.” For example, “I will reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year,” not “I would like to reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year.” The first goal statement has power and you can “see” yourself reducing expenses, the second lacks passion and gives you an excuse if you get sidetracked.
This step is often missed in the process of goal setting. You get so focused on the outcome that you forget to plan all of the steps that are needed along the way. By writing out the individual steps, and then crossing each one off as you complete it, you’ll realize that you are making progress towards your ultimate goal. This is especially important if your goal is big and demanding or long-term.
Remember, goal setting is an ongoing activity, not just a means to an end. Build in reminders to keep yourself on track, and make regular time-slots available to review your goals. Your end destination may remain quite similar over the long term, but the action plan you set for yourself along the way can change significantly. Make sure the relevance, value, and necessity remain high.
Tip: Goal setting is much more than simply saying you want something to happen. Unless you clearly define exactly what you want and understand why you want it the first place, your odds of success are considerably reduced. By following these Five Golden Rules of Goal Setting you can set goals with confidence and enjoy the satisfaction that comes along with knowing you achieved what you set out to do.
So this is what I am doing…In honor of my 60-year old mother, I use the SMART strategy to map out my end goal of having NO more goals!
February 2 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm CT
Whether it’s fulfilling institutional assessment needs or student e-Portfolio development, LiveText’s new assessment solution, via™, is helping institutions like Pepperdine University and Point Loma Nazarene University instill a professional voice in students and providing them with a greater sense of ownership over their learning.
When you join this webinar, you will see how via can help you:
In 2015 and 2016, Dr. Denise Moseley, Assistant Professor of Education and Director of Institutional Effectiveness at Southern Arkansas University, submitted an abstract for the LiveText Assessment Conference. The title of her proposal was What a Journey: The Road to Systematically Assessing Academic Programs. Her proposal was accepted. Her session at the conference focused on how her institution worked toward building a campus-wide system to assess student learning outcomes within academic programs. During her presentation, she shared the following challenges and how they addressed them: 1) Some programs may not consider general education to be part of the curriculum past the sophomore year. 2) Some programs may not have aligned their program goals with the university student learning outcomes. 3) All programs may not have a systematic timeline for collecting and studying assessment data. Faced with these challenges, the University tackled a comprehensive review and revision of the assessment process.
By popular demand, Dr. Moseley shared a follow up of her institution’s story and progress in a LiveText-hosted assessment webinar the following year. With over 200 attendees, this webinar gave the institution even wider exposure – not to mention the tremendous value of hearing and using the feedback of those to whom she presented.
This could be your story too! Learn more about submitting a 2017 conference proposal: www.livetext.com
Each year, our Annual Conference provides a broad national framework and setting for approximately 300 higher education attendees — including presidents, provosts, accreditation and assessment directors, faculty, and policy leaders — to gain a deeper understanding of current research, trends, and innovative approaches in assessment.
High-quality assessment is essential to improving student learning. Through the use of both direct and indirect sources of evidence, assessments guide collective actions for improvements in teaching, academic supports, curricula, and student affairs programming. We believe an effective culture of assessment is built on a cooperative approach that focuses on student-centered learning. Within a culture of trust and shared responsibility, administrators and faculty — with participation from students, alumni and other stakeholders — develop and implement ongoing and systematic assessment strategies to understand what, how much, and how students learn in order to continuously improve learning outcomes. Our Conference focuses on the best, most successful ways, as well as lessons learned throughout the process of building such a culture.
Contribute to a deeper understanding of current research, trends, and innovative approaches in assessment at the LiveText 16th Annual Assessment & Collaboration Conference, July 10-12, 2017. To get started, review the guidelines and submission form today. The deadline to submit your proposal is March 3, 2017.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over 1.8M students earned bachelor’s degrees in 2014. This kind of stat gets me thinking…with over one million new entrants into the job market, that’s some pretty stiff competition. Of course, some may apply and go directly to graduate school and some may forge alternate paths, but largely most will want and need to begin careers. So I started thinking about what some have called the unemployability of recent graduates.
Aside from the competition and downturn in the job market over the last several years (not to minimize these issues, but simply meaning they fall outside the scope of this post), why has it been so hard for graduates to find positions that match their skill sets and interests? Is it because they can’t do math, don’t know science, or are afraid of technology – probably not. Ask them though to show up somewhere at a certain time, prepare a presentation on a topic that might require some research, or organize and articulate a set of solutions to a potential problem, and I have found that many (of course, not all, I don’t mean to generalize too broadly) lack the ‘soft’ skills – the term used to describe the kinds of skills needed for navigating a workplace effectively.
Maybe then we should stop calling them soft and consider them equal to if not part of the ‘hard’ or ‘true’ skills. They are some of the very things that will set candidates apart from one another or that can make a student a superstar in his/her first position. These skills are hard to teach and take time to develop, but that doesn’t mean they are not important. In fact, that probably means it is more important than ever to focus more diligently on effectively developing our students’ ‘soft’ skills – as opposed to focusing only on preparing them to be content experts in certain subjects or fields.
The impetus is clear. Even employers’ calls for graduates’ organizational and interpersonal proficiency are becoming louder. A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College found that more than 60% of employers said that applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. In another survey, a wide margin of managers also said today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems, or write well and cited such soft skills as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration as the areas with the biggest gap.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers confirms such findings and found in its Job Outlook survey that the top five personal qualities/skills employers seek include:
A lack of technical knowledge does not seem to be a main pain point. So what’s the result? Nearly 1 in 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with the ‘soft’ skills.
So when someone talks about the unemployability of our graduates, I want to turn the focus inward and look to the opportunity we have as members of the higher education community. Let’s start helping our students seize the opportunities that are clearly out there for them. Doing so may require that we spend less time on content and more time on core competency development. To do so, we must systematize core competency and high impact assessment practices – that is, the systematic assessment of analytical, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, quantitative and information literacy, teamwork, and problem solving skills (just to name a few) through more active learning experiences in internships, service or community-based learning, writing or first year seminars, collaborative group projects, e-Portfolios, or capstone projects.
This work is hard. This work takes time. Yet, ultimately, we will be better equipping our students for the road that lies ahead. And, in my opinion, that is the kind of work worth doing.
LiveText is happy to release its 2017 Best Practices Assessment Webinar Series schedule for the first quarter of next year. Presented by experts and leaders in higher education assessment and student learning, our series focuses on important topics in assessment, student success, and continuous improvement. We invite you to plan your professional development calendar with us by registering for the webinars that best suit your interests. #ChoosetoLearn
Presented by: University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
January 24 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm CT
Embedding analytic rubrics in our courses can be a great way to measure progress toward intended learning outcomes, and to furnish direct evidence of learning. But how do we know that our raters have a shared understanding of the rubric criteria? And how can we be sure that our raters will apply the criteria consistently in scoring work? During this webinar, participants will be introduced to techniques for rubric norming that they can apply at their own institutions. A step-by-step process for calibrating rubrics and approaching inter-rater reliability will be shared. Strategies and tips will be provided to facilitate workshops effectively, keep things fun, and build interdepartmental partnerships.
Presented by: National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment
February 7 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm CT
This webinar explores the use of curriculum mapping as a means to increase coherence and intentionality for learners. Pulling from lessons learned in the field and the work of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), participants will be presented with various approaches to help make sense of the different pieces that come together to enhance student learning across learning experiences. Together we will explore the relationship between general education and the major, the curriculum and the co-curriculum, and the field of employment and our course learning outcomes. Institutional examples will be shared on various ways to consider mapping our learning to enhance alignment.
Presented by: Dr. Barbara Wright, Independent Consultant and former V.P. of WASC
March 14 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm CT
This webinar focuses on the importance of faculty involvement if assessment efforts are going to have any traction and lead to real improvement in student learning. Yet a couple of decades into the assessment movement, winning faculty commitment remains a challenge at many institutions. Fortunately, assessment practice is evolving in ways that speak to faculty values and respect faculty expertise. In this webinar, we’ll consider what those changes are, how they connect with instructors’ priorities and passions, and how to design assessment to make optimal use of instructors’ time, energy, and talents.
Presented by: Dr. Lance Tomei, Independent Consultant
April 11 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm CT
This webinar will discuss the various aspects of assessing student learning in higher education including assessment of classroom, program, and institutional-level learning outcomes as well as assessment in support of continuous quality improvement. Similarities and differences among these different categories of assessment will be presented along with implications for faculty, for programs, and for the institution.
Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood. — Freeman Teague, Jr.
The holidays are here! That means family and friend gatherings will begin to fill your calendars. And if your family is anything like my loud, large, no-topic-off-limits kind of family, then this also means that there will be a lot of talking, opinion sharing, commenting, and of course, misunderstanding. With this in mind, I shall begin my personal prep for the season with a review of some basic communications training.
Communication is the exchange and flow of information and ideas from one person to another; it involves a sender transmitting an idea, information, or feeling to a receiver (U.S. Army, 1983). Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or idea that the sender intended to transmit. Many of the problems that occur in an organization are the direct result of: 1) people failing to communicate and 2) processes that lead to confusion and can cause good plans to fail.
Studying the communication process is important because you coach, coordinate, counsel, evaluate, and supervise throughout this process. It is the chain of understanding that integrates the members of an organization from top to bottom, bottom to top, and side-to-side.
Communicating with others involves three primary steps:
Thought: First, information exists in the mind of the sender, such as a concept, idea, information, or feelings.
Encoding: Next, a message is sent to a receiver in words or other symbols.
Decoding: Lastly, the receiver translates the words or symbols into a concept or information that he or she can understand.
During the transmitting of the message, two elements will be received: content and context. Content is the actual words or symbols of the message that is known as language — the spoken and written words combined into phrases that make grammatical and semantic sense.
We all use and interpret the meanings of words differently, so even simple messages can be misunderstood. And many words have different meanings to confuse the issue even more.
Context is the way the message is delivered and is known as paralanguage — it is the nonverbal elements in speech such as the tone of voice, the look in the sender’s eyes, body language, hand gestures, and state of emotions (anger, fear, uncertainty, confidence, etc.) that can be detected. Although paralanguage or context often cause messages to be misunderstood as we believe what we see more than what we hear; they are powerful communicators that help us to understand each other. Indeed, we often trust the accuracy of nonverbal behaviors more than verbal behaviors.
Some leaders think they have communicated once they told someone to do something, “I don’t know why it did not get done. I told Jim to do it.” More than likely, Jim misunderstood the message. A message has NOT been communicated unless it is understood by the receiver (decoded). How do you know it has been properly received? By two-way communication or feedback. This feedback tells the sender that the receiver understood the message, its level of importance, and what must be done with it. Communication is an exchange, not a give, as all parties must participate to complete the information exchange.
Anything that prevents understanding of the message is a barrier to communication. Many physical and psychological barriers exist:
Culture, background, and bias — We allow our experiences to change the meaning of the message. Our culture, background, and bias can be good as they allow us to use our past experiences to understand something new. It is when they change the meaning of the message that they interfere with the communication process.
Noise — Equipment or environmental noise impedes clear communication. The sender and the receiver must both be able to concentrate on the messages being sent to each other.
Ourselves — Focusing on ourselves, rather than the other person can lead to confusion and conflict. Some of the factors that cause this are defensiveness (we feel someone is attacking us), superiority (we feel we know more that the other), and ego (we feel we are the center of the activity).
Perception — If we feel the person is talking too fast, not fluently, does not articulate clearly, etc., we may dismiss the person. Also, our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen. We may listen uncritically to persons of high status and dismiss those of low status.
Message — Distractions happen when we focus on the facts, rather than the idea being communicated. Our educational institutions reinforce this with tests and questions. Semantic distractions occur when a word is used differently than you prefer. For example, the word chairman instead of chairperson, may cause you to focus on the word rather than the message.
Environmental — Bright lights, an attractive person, unusual sights, or any other stimulus provides a potential distraction.
Smothering — We take it for granted that the impulse to send useful information is automatic. Not true! Too often we believe that certain information has no value to others, or they are already aware of the facts.
Stress — People do not see things the same way when under stress. What we see and believe at a given moment is influenced by our psychological frames of references, such as our beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences, or goals.
These barriers can be thought of as filters, that is, the message leaves the sender, goes through the above filters, and is then heard by the receiver. These filters may muffle the message. So how do we overcome the filters? … Active listening and feedback.
Hearing and listening are not the same thing. Hearing is the act of perceiving sound. It is involuntary and simply refers to the reception of aural stimuli. Listening is a selective activity that involves the reception and the interpretation of aural stimuli. It involves decoding the sound into meaning.
Listening is divided into two main categories: passive and active. Passive listening is little more that hearing. It occurs when the receiver of the message has little motivation to listen carefully, such as we often do when listening to music, television, or when being polite.
People speak at 100 to 175 words per minute (WPM), but they can listen intelligently at 600 to 800 WPM. Since only a part of our mind is paying attention, it is easy to go into mind drift—thinking about other things while listening to someone.
The cure for this is active listening—which involves listening with a purpose. It may be to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interest, see how another person feels, or show support. It requires that the listener attends to the words and the feelings of the sender for understanding. It requires the receiver to hear the various messages, understand the meaning, and then verify the meaning by offering feedback. It takes the same amount or more energy than speaking. The following are some of the traits of active listeners:
When you know something, say what you know. When you don’t know something, say that you don’t know. That is knowledge. — Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius)
The purpose of feedback is to alter messages so the intention of the original communicator is understood by the second communicator. It includes verbal and nonverbal responses to another person’s message.
Providing feedback may be accomplished by paraphrasing the words of the sender. Restate the sender’s feelings or ideas in your own words, rather than repeating their words. Your words should be saying, “This is what I understand your feelings and thoughts to be; am I correct?”
It not only includes verbal responses, but also nonverbal ones. Nodding your head or squeezing their hand to show agreement, dipping your eyebrows to show you don’t quite understand the meaning of their last phrase, or sucking air in deeply and blowing it hard shows that you are also exasperated with the situation.
Carl Rogers (1951) listed five main categories of feedback. They are listed in the order in which they occur most frequently in daily conversations. Notice that we make judgments more often than we try to understand:
Evaluative: Making a judgment about the worth, goodness, or appropriateness of the other person’s statement.
Interpretive: Paraphrasing — attempting to explain what the other person’s statement means.
Supportive: Attempting to assist or bolster the other communicator.
Probing: Attempting to gain additional information, continue the discussion, or clarify a point.
Understanding: Attempting to discover completely what the other communicator means by her statements.
Imagine how much better daily communications would be if listeners tried to understand first, before they tried to evaluate what someone is saying.
To deliver the full impact of a message, use nonverbal behaviors to raise the channel of interpersonal communication:
Eye contact: This helps to regulate the flow of communication. It signals interest in others and increases the speaker’s credibility. People who make eye contact open the flow of communication and convey interest, concern, warmth, and credibility.
Facial Expressions: Smiling is a powerful cue that transmits happiness, friendliness, warmth, and liking. So, if you smile frequently you will be perceived as more likable, friendly, warm and approachable. Smiling is often contagious and people will react favorably. They will be more comfortable around you and will want to listen more.
Gestures: If you fail to gesture while speaking you may be perceived as boring and stiff. A lively speaking style captures the listener’s attention, makes the conversation more interesting, and facilitates understanding.
Posture and body orientation: You communicate numerous messages by the way you talk and move. Standing erect and leaning forward communicates to listeners that you are approachable, receptive and friendly. Interpersonal closeness results when you and the listener face each other. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling should be avoided as it communicates disinterest.
Proximity: Cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for interaction with others. You should look for signals of discomfort caused by invading the other person’s space. Some of these are: rocking, leg swinging, tapping, and gaze aversion.
Vocal: Speaking can signal nonverbal communication when you include such vocal elements as: tone, pitch, rhythm, timbre, loudness, and inflection. For maximum teaching effectiveness, learn to vary these six elements of your voice. One of the major criticisms of many speakers is that they speak in a monotone voice. Listeners perceive this type of speaker as boring and dull.
Speak comfortable words! — William Shakespeare
Three thoughts on communication: Mehrabian, Ekman, and emotions.
Mehrabian and the 7%-38%-55% Myth
We often hear that the content of a message is composed of:
However, the above percentages only apply in a very narrow context. A researcher named Mehrabian was interested in how listeners get their information about a speaker’s general attitude in situations where the facial expression, tone, and/or words are sending conflicting signals.
Thus, he designed a couple of experiments. In one, Mehrabian and Ferris (1967) researched the interaction of speech, facial expressions, and tone. Three different speakers were instructed to say “maybe” with three different attitudes towards their listener (positive, neutral, or negative). Next, photographs of the faces of three female models were taken as they attempted to convey the emotions of like, neutrality, and dislike.
Test groups were then instructed to listen to the various renditions of the word “maybe,” with the pictures of the models, and were asked to rate the attitude of the speaker. Note that the emotion and tone were often mixed, such as a facial expression showing dislike, with the word “maybe” spoken in a positive tone.
Significant effects of facial expression and tone were found in that the study suggested that the combined effect of simultaneous verbal, vocal and facial attitude communications is a weighted sum of their independent effects with the coefficients of .07, .38, and .55, respectively.
Mehrabian and Ferris caution their readers about the limitation to their research,
“These findings regarding the relative contribution of the tonal component of a verbal message can be safely extended only to communication situations in which no additional information about the communicator/addressee relationship is available.”
Takeaway…what can be concluded is that when people communicate, listeners derive information about the speaker’s attitudes towards the listener from visual, tonal, and verbal cues; yet the percentage derived can vary greatly depending on a number of other factors, such as actions, context of the communication, and how well the communicators know each other.
In the mid 1960s, Paul Ekman studied emotions and discovered six facial expressions that almost everyone recognizes world-wide: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. Although they were controversial at first (he was booed off the stage when he first presented it to a group of anthropologists), they are now widely accepted.
One of the controversies still lingering is the amount of context needed to interpret them. For example, if someone reports to me that they have this great idea that they would like to implement, and I say that would be great, but I look on them with a frown, is it possible that I could be thinking about something else? The trouble with these extra signals is that we do not always have the full context. What if the person emailed me and I replied great (while frowning). Would it evoke the same response?
Trust your instincts. Most emotions are difficult to imitate. For example, when you are truly happy, the muscles used for smiling are controlled by the limbic system and other parts of the brain, which are not under voluntary control. When you force a smile, a different part of the brain is used — the cerebral cortex (under voluntary control), hence different muscles are used. This is why a clerk, who might not have any real interest in you, has a fake look when he forces a smile.
Of course, some actors learn to control all of their facial muscles, while others draw on a past emotional experience to produce the emotional state they want. However, this is not an easy trick to pull off all the time. There is a good reason for this—part of our emotions evolved to deal with other people and our empathic nature. If these emotions could easily be faked, they would do more harm than good (Pinker, 1997).
So our emotions not only guide our decisions, they can also be communicated to others to help them in their decisions… of course, their emotions will be the ultimate guide, but the emotions they discover in others become part of their knowledge base.
When all else fails, remember this one simple communication rule: think first, speak later.