Effective communication is the most important part in developing positive relationships with children, young people and adults. Having a positive relationship is the key to creating a happy and calm environment. I believe in treating everyone with respect and in terms of verbal communication, I speak to people in the way I would like to be spoken to (positive, gentle and honest). Children often learn as much, if not more, from what we do and the manner in which we speak (body language, gestures, facial expressions, intonation), compared to what we actually say. Younger, for example, find it more difficult to manage their emotions during times of stress and excitement I have found that if I remain calm and gentle and check that my own behaviour it is more likely to attract the desired behaviour. During my time working with older children, I have learnt the importance of having a sense of humour and showing respect but staying within acceptable boundaries and with all ages, I consciously use vocabulary level with the child’s level of understanding.
Trust and honesty are also vital to developing positive relationships. Some pupils may struggle with learning/confidence, building a trusting relationship means they will be more likely to communicate and persevere, the children I works with know that I will praise their efforts which in turn builds self-esteem. An honest relationship is very important because if children of all ages do not feel that I am approachable they may not share important information that could affect their health, safety, learning or social skills.
By working hard to build and maintain a positive relationships with parents results in the parents offering more beneficial support both in school and at home and will allow them to feel comfortable in raising any concerns they may have. We have a range of communication available in school – from coffee mornings to allow informal talk, school to home diaries, review and progress meetings, events combining staff and parental involvement, we operate an open-door policy so parents/carers can leave messages via e-mail. In the Early Years, parents/carers are encouraged to read with their child for the first 15 minutes in the morning, this assists in building relationships between the child/parent and staff, particularly when pupils are new to the school. By offering different forms of communication, parents/carers are able to choose the type of communication best suited to their need and personal preference.
Communicating positively will allow other staff to work more effectively when planning lessons, discussing child’s progress or any concerns and allow for a more relaxed and positive environment for the children to learn in.
As a Learning Support Assistant I am aware that we need to build effective relationships in order to do our job well. It is important that I work to build positive relationships so that people of all ages feel comfortable in my presence.
There are many generic principles to build strong relationship which need adapting depending on the age/need of the person I am communicating with:
Effective communication – The first encounter is vital, so remember to check body language to create a good atmosphere. Smile (something many people forget when nervous), make eye contact, nod and use facial expressions, show active listening and respond appropriately. I would introduce myself and ask the child if I can join them then play/talk about something the child is interested in, or possibly play alongside a younger child until they show interest in me. I would adapt communication if necessary i.e. when I speak to a person with EAL, I speak slowly, use more facial expressions and ask questions to check understanding. Or, if communicating with a young person that has social/communication difficulties, I would try to create a very relaxed atmosphere, praise all attempts at communication and interact through play, at the child’s level to appear less threatening.
Showing Respect – As a member of staff I am always polite and respectful, I work hard at remembering all pupils names as well as those of key family members of the children in my class. Many of our families have different beliefs, values and are different cultures to myself. We acknowledge and celebrate these differences and I believe this leads to a greater tolerance of others. When building relationships with people it is important to remember these differences and adapt the way we communicate; such as being over familiar – some people prefer to be addressed formally or when taking part in home visits, I follow the hosts lead and remove my outdoor shoes as is necessary to show respect in some religions.
Be considerate – Be aware of the position of others both children and adults. For example, a child may be having difficulties and unfocussed – if out of character try to be understanding and find out why this is as there could be a legitimate reason out of the child’s control. Adults may also have personal or work related issues that cause them to react differently, try to be patient and show understanding.
Take time to listen to others – When listening to others it is important to give the person your undivided attention, giving eye contact and gestures to re-enforce what is being said. I allow time and a quiet space for child/young person to discuss any concerns, I ask open ended questions so they can ‘open up’. I would respond sensitively and confidently so the child/young person knows we can work through any issues together. Sometimes young people/adults have disagreements – taking the time to understand the issue and why something feels unfair allows them to find a way through as quickly as possible preventing the problem from escalating. I have found in Reception that a younger child often feels that things are unfair, by developing knowledge of a child’s development I am able to give them the skills to manage these times.
Be clear on key points – whether I am giving information to adults or children I always try to be clear, concise and use appropriate vocabulary. At the end of the discussion/conversation I re-iterate the main points so we are all clear particularly if action needs to be taken. In addition when I work with younger children I ask them to repeat back what needs to be done. This helps to clear up any misunderstandings and possible frustrations by both parties when the action isn’t completed correctly.
Remember personal issues – This shows the child/adult that you are interested in them as an individual, it will enhance the relationship if you remember events that are important to the child such as enquiring about their birthday or discussing a sporting event involving their favourite team. It also strengthens the bond between adults to offer support a known difficult times such as if a colleague is awaiting exam results for their own children.
Maintain a sense of humour – Allow children/young people to show their sense of humour and demonstrate that adults have fun too. Sometimes work can be very driven and laughter can be a great stress reliever, informal activities such as ‘Golden Time’ allow the relationship between staff and child to develop further as long as boundaries are maintained.
Quite often a lack of understanding of others backgrounds and cultures is what affects relationship and the way we communicate in different social, professional and cultural contexts. Pre-conceptions and behaviour that may perceived as different to our own can cause offense and cause relationships to fail. As mentioned previously, knowledge of different cultures and an awareness of the differing economic, social backgrounds can lead to greater tolerance and by adapting the way we communicate can enhance relationships further. For example the way a person dresses may be accepted by one culture but not another, or if staff and parents/carers do not have a good relationship then expensive school trips could cause the child to miss out and become a barrier to learning.
When communicating with others we need to consider the way in which we work and adapt according to the situation. Part of my job role requires me to attend meeting with various professionals – I adapt the language I use and respond in a more formal way. When corresponding by email I ensure I am clear about the actions required of my and agree timescales.
There are numerous skills required to communicate effectively with children and young people, many of which are used without consciously thinking. A good starting point is to be aware of the person’s level of development and language ability. For example in Reception (4 year olds), when a child is drawing at a table and wants help, I would sit/kneel beside them making eye contact and showing an interest in what they are saying using facial expressions and possibly slightly animated body language. I listen to them and restate what they said to show that I understand.
Whatever the age of the child/young person, I would always do the following including making the child/young person feel that any attempt at communication is valued.
Find opportunities to speak – Some children have little opportunity to express themselves at home so it is vital to allow them the time and space to do so at school. Informal situations are ideal such as playtimes and ‘golden time’ – free choice time reduces the pressure. Some children may lack confidence so plan time and activities to allow for a range of opportunities, as a class, small group and one to one, possibly allowing extra time, giving choices and allow peers to ask questions and offer ideas. I currently run a ‘Talk Boost’ group to help children age 4-7years improve communication skills – by running a structured but fun programme of activities in a small group of 5 children they are becoming more confident and willing to participate with their peers and other adults around the whole school.
Make eye contact and actively listen – Unlike adults who can understand that you are listening whilst completing a different task, it is important to show children/young people that you are listening. By looking at the person when they are talking it shows them that you are interested as you are giving them your full attention. Try not to be distracted and if you need to do something else tell the person that what they are saying is important and you want to give them your undivided attention so ask them to wait while you deal with the priority then ensure you go back to child.
Be aware of your body language and facial expressions – Always look interested by the way you act with children/young people, smile, and be friendly and positive. I try hard to look approachable by getting down to the child’s level, it can be very intimidating for a timid 4 year old child to have to communicate with a standing adult, kneel or sit down at child’s level.
React and comment – on what the child/young person is saying. This allows them to know you have been listening and understand what they said. It will provide the opportunity to correct language in a positive way. Rather than directly correct pronounciation or phrasing I model the correct language and sentence and possibly extend if appropriate. When appropriate we try to include young people in decision making so they learn the value of their contribution and respect and listen to each other’s views.
Respond, question and maintain conversation – model how a two-way conversation works by responding or asking questions so they learn that to take turns in a conversation and relax with adults and know that communication with adults isn’t always about adults giving young people instructions.
a) It is important to adapt communication taking into account the age of the child/young person. Adapting the vocabulary used to suit the age of the child will assist in the child’s understanding and ability to respond. A younger child in particular may benefit from the use of visual aids to support communication as well as very clear body language so they can pick up of facial cues whereas an older child will benefit from being given a more detailed response to a question using age appropriate vocabulary. Children of different age will require a different level of attention, a younger child may need more assurance and physical contact which will reduce as the child matures and becomes more confident. (Remember staff should not initiate physical contact with children just respond appropriately). I have found that by actively listening to the child and reacting in a positive way helps them to become more enthusiastic in future encounters. A young person may need communication adapting as they become emotional at particular times in their life such as when transferring to secondary school or going through puberty, therefore extra reassurance should be given. It will be necessary to gain an older child’s trust so they feel able to ask questions and talk through any difficulties they may have.
b) Communication is part of a development process that happens through various stages, at different rates, and unique to each individual.
Sports, playtimes or school trips are ideal times to converse with older children and like a younger child they also prefer to talk about their own interests such as television shows, hobbies, clothes or sports. An informal conversation puts an older child at ease, makes them feel knowledgeable and more likely to talk to you about important issues as they arise. However it is important to remain professional at all times to remember the role you are in.
c) When communication with someone that may have a ‘communication barrier’ it is essential to remain calm, patient, attentive and to adapt your communication style to one that is most effective to the child/young person. There are many communication differences that could create a barrier therefore a good understanding will help you provide the child with the opportunity to progress in learning and to interact with their world whilst minimising any possible frustrations. I provide 1 to 1 support for a child with ASD (a social and communication disorder). I have learnt to help him to read facial cues which can often be missed in a child with ASD, to help him judge how others are feeling and therefore how to respond appropriately and have assisted in training other members of staff and peers to use clear, concise language and to give longer for him to respond (generally 10 seconds) before re-asking the question. Working with Speech and Language therapists I have learnt how to use PECS, which is a picture exchange communication system for children that are having difficulty communicating verbally.
In reception class we use Makaton Sign for key words and letters to assist younger children that have hearing impairments/communication difficulties, it also provides a visual link for all children to re-enforce the spoken word.
A visually impaired child has recently joined our nursery so we have been trained in the way we approach the child, (he has very narrow vision therefore we approach him from the front whenever possible), this helps the child to feel safe. Resources are also adapted including ICT to allow the child to access material in larger print, in bolder, brighter colours and in talking book form.
We use generic symbols around the school for children that need visual supports such as pupils with EAL, those with visual impairments and children that need emotional support. We use resources such as feeling fans to allow children to communicate how they feel so support can be given before unwanted behaviour escalates and in time learn to self-regulate. Visual daily timetables also support children with anxiety issues so they are aware of upcoming events/activities.
At our school we have a growing number of pupils with EAL which left unmanaged can be a major barrier to learning and leave children feeling isolated and vulnerable. Resources have been adapted and ICT purchased to translate key texts. As a member of staff, I have been trained in supporting pupils with EAL, I speak slowly and clearly using gestures and body language to support what I am saying. An awareness of different cultures is important as each culture has its own norms of behaviour including gesture, eye contact and body language. I have adapted my expectations by requesting that children look at me rather that asking for eye contact which is not polite in some cultures. This allows all children to feel comfortable and accepted.
There are many similarities between communicating with adults and young people/children such as making eye contact and non verbal communication such as nodding and smiling. However there are key differences such as,
Communicating with children and young people:
– Use language that is clear, concise and appropriate to their ages, needs, abilities by using words and phrases they will understand
– Adapt communication style according to their language or SEND
– Actively listen to children
– Respond positively
– Ask and answer questions to prompt responses and check understanding
– Give praise and encouragement
– Give support while communicating with children
Communicating with adults:
– Use language that will be understood
– Avoid assumptions about adults (backgrounds)
– Maintain professionalism and support to other adult
– Respect other ideas even if you disagree with them
– Use a variety of forms of communication: written such as email, letter, notices, text or spoken such as telephone – Summarise and confirm key points to ensure that you clear on what’s happening -Discuss and resolve areas of poor communication
I adapt my communication depending on the communication needs of the adult. For example when liaising with outside professionals at school such as Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists or Trainers I use more formal language and maintain the communication through emails or phone calls ensuring correspondence is professional, prompt and polite. When speaking to parents I always ensure that I am professional and only discuss matters relating to their child to maintain confidentiality.
If the adult involved has a communication difficulty it is important to be sensitive and respectful whilst adapting the way I communicate to avoid any misunderstandings such as having a translator for a parent with EAL or ensuring I am facing an adult that is deaf so I maintain eye contact and they can lip read if able. Having someone that is trained in sign language is very useful. An adult with certain SEND may prefer a letter home rather that a face to face message when body language may be misinterpreted and as with children that have difficulties speaking, ensure that the adult is given enough time to respond and may prefer a private place to speak.
Disagreements occur with children, young people and adults alike and all need to be handled carefully, they are frequently due to miscommunication or a breakdown in communication. It is important not to be drawn in to any disagreement but to ‘manage it’.
Younger children will need to be taught the skills needed to resolve a disagreement which will often be the result of insufficient communication skills and an inability to understand another person’s needs and views. As with older children I have found that younger children also need to be ‘heard’ and ensure their view is valued. We regularly allow children to talk about their own likes and dislikes so they learn that we are wonderfully different. Using simple and clear rules and solutions can assist children to solve their own problems such as two children wanting the same toy, we teach children to get a sand timer and show the other child that when it’s finished then it’s their turn. As well as having clear rules and re-enforcing desired behaviour through positive language and making good choices, it is also important for children to know that making poor choices and displaying inappropriate behaviour has consequences levelled to the child’s developmental age. It is important that the child understands what went wrong and how they can change their behaviour in the future
Disagreements between older children and adults may occur due to; Poor Communication – information may not have been passed on letters lost), information misunderstood, time constraints. Opposing Expectations – adults may not have the same idea, clear aims and expectations should be given. Different Values and Ideas – parental views may differ from schools, clear explanations should be given. Lack of Confidence – may appear aggressive but need support and encouragement. External Factors – such as time pressures that you may not be aware of. Taking the time to listen to each other in a positive, open manner will help find the reason for the disagreement and a mutually agreed resolution can be sought.
If I have any difficulties with another adult, I work hard to resolve the issue promptly and arrive at a decision both parties can accept. In my workplace I can discuss any issues that I have not been able to resolve with my line manager or Head Teacher who will be able to assist me.
Working as a Learning Support Assistant I am aware of the legislation that affects me when working with children, respecting an individual’s needs and rights and that I should familiarise myself with updates constantly review my practises.
For example the ‘Every Child Matters’ legislation ensures that children are safe and that schools have provisions for every child whatever their need and ability. That staff are CRB checked and are vigilant, record and take appropriate action when dealing with signs of child neglect, abuse etc. This legislation ensures at essential information is shared with professionals and support is put in place for the child / family. We take part in educating all pupils in an age-related way in making the right choices in matters such as healthy food, physical education, drugs so they can succeed and develop a sense of self-worth.
We are aware of the Data Protection Act 1998 – ensuring that any information obtained about pupils is only gathered when directly related to us i.e. medical records – this will allow staff to manage a pupils condition appropriately and shared amongst relevant staff in contact with the child with parental permission (lunch and class staff need to know if a child is asthmatic and requires an inhaler, in reception we have a pupil that is diabetic therefore all staff that come into contact with her have been trained to spot signs/symptoms, nominated staff have been shown how to keep accurate records) records from previous schools – class teachers would require information to plan lessons effectively so pupils can reach their full potential SEND records – SENDCO, class teacher and any support and intervention staff to ensure maximum progress. This information is confidential and still requires parents/carers consent.
The 8 principles of practise Under the Data Protection Act 1998 govern the use of personal information. Information must be:
Processed fairly and lawfully
Use only for the purpose it was gathered
Adequate, relevant and not excessive
Accurate and up to date
Kept for no longer than necessary
Processed in line with an individual’s rights
Not transferred outside the EU.
In the current internet/social media age we are vigilant to ensure that any images of a child are appropriate and only displayed with parental permission. This includes other parents taking photo’s taking photographs during school trips and shows. As a parent as well as a learning support assistant, parents often approach to talk about their child, matters involving the school as well as talking about other parents/children. I always ensure that whilst being approachable and friendly that I remain professional and only talk about appropriate matters. I advise them to talk to me about their child only and never comment on other children. If they require information or have concerns I would advise them to follow set communication channels.
As a member of staff I know how important to reassure children, young people and adult that any information stored about them is kept confidential and only used where, when and with whom necessary and only for the duration required. Children need to know information will be kept private so they won’t be teased or bullied by other children and parents/carers alike need to feel their child will not be subject of gossip. Some information needs to be shared amongst all staff with parental permission such as medical information and parents/carers need to feel that their child will be treated sensitively. Other information needs to be shared on a need to know basis, quite often with the school SENDCO and class staff again with parental permission. There are situations when information needs to be shared to comply with legal obligations if a child is thought to be at risk – this can be done without permission following school policies however you should be as open and honest with parents/carers as possible.
I have responsibility of ensuring information about children/young people and their parents/carers remains confidential. This means keeping all information – paper/electronic stored securely and am only able to share this information with authorised people with parents/carers permission. The exception to this is if I obtain information that the child/young person is in danger of significant harm. I am aware that our school have policies and procedures in place to follow in such circumstances. I am aware of signs and symptoms to look out for or in the event of the child disclosing information we have a nominated person to report to. I would inform the child/young person, as sensitively as possible, that I need to share this information only with the nominated person so they can take action to ensure the child’s safety.