Monday, September 20, 2010

On my mind: Communication Skills

As I am mentally preparing myself for my inevitable return to the work force (har), I have been thinking about the essential qualities of a teacher librarian.  One trait that has come to my attention is COMMUNICATION.  Wow is that important.  It's listed on just about every job add I've ever seen, ever.  I'd even go so far as to say that my success in life is hugely dependent upon my ability to communicate with others.  I must be able to communicate complex ideas with my students and children to help them grow and enhance their understanding of the world around them. My husband and I must be able to effectively share ideas with each other to keep our home life running smooth and filled with "sanity."  It's also fun to socialize.

"If you can't put your ideas into words that others can understand, you could say that the ideas don't actually exist," Assis Malaquias once told me.  My jaw dropped and my horribly written term paper nearly fell out of my hand.  He was right.  (He was my professor of International Politics at St. Lawrence in the Fall of 2001...  He also told me that I should be reading every spare second I have in my life if I want to keep up with the world.  He was so right about everything it was frightening.)  Does a concept actually exist if you cannot make another person understand it? I... I can't prove that it does.  So much for living in my head.

In library school, it was totally drilled into my head that I MUST be able to ADVOCATE FOR MY LIBRARY in ways, such as:
  • writing newsletters;
  • sending out weekly mass emails highlighting learning that is occurring in the library;
  • sharing student success stories with administrators, teachers, parents, and the community;
  • advertising ways the library serves the learning community;
  • telling others of our struggles and what conditions would make the library even more successful than it already is;
  • informally discussing the library with a wide variety of people;
  • I'm sure this list could go on and on, but these were the first bullet points that came to mind and I will stop there.  Please feel free to point out anything I have missed!
Plus, I need outstanding communication skills so that I will be able to successfully collaborate with the teachers in the school where I will work.  I need to be able to gather information from them about what they are teaching and what the students need reinforced.  I must be able to share with teachers the successes and shortcomings of individual students.  And this information will likely need to be exchanged quickly, because time always seems to be short for some odd reason.

I seem to have this undercurrent fear that I will FAIL as a teacher librarian because I won't be able to integrate myself with the learning community in which I will teach.  This is silly and unrealistic.  I have never had communication problems in any of the jobs I've ever held in my life.  It's just that this new career is HINGING on my ability to communicate well.  A librarian must be very good at striking a balance between speaking out about something, and knowing when to keep her mouth SHUT.  Maybe it's that balance that worries me because sometimes I go through times when I just talk toooooooo much and other times I withhold my thoughts.....

Communication skills can ALWAYS be improved, I think.  There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to knowing how to exchange ideas well.  Plus, there are always certain individuals out there who have a tendency to challenge one's skills by being difficult...  You know?  So that whole thing leads me to the Question:  How may I improve my communication skills?

In order to find a way to improve, I first must honestly and humbly examine my strengths and weaknesses as a communicator.  That's the hard part.  This is where my mind has been for the past several days.  I've been watching how others communicate including how certain points are emphasized and how to present ideas in such a way that they are well received.  Here are a few nuggets of info that I have gathered:  (These work for me.  Everyone has their own situation.)
  • To communicate well, it usually helps if I'm relaxed. 
  • If I over-prepare, I psych myself out, and if I don't think about what I'm doing, I'm a flop.
  • My biggest challenge when I'm nervous about formally communicating to important people is often knowing and speaking to my audience.
  • Sometimes I don't emphasize the important points enough, and I am working on improving that.
  • I am my own worst critic.
  • I need to just let myself be in the moment and speak my mind.
  • They say to pick your battles, but if I'm worried about that I don't pick anything and that is just pointless.  When I feel empowered, I am a much better communicator! 
Some links to people who's communication styles I admire:

1 comment:

  1. I would have to disagree with you professor to a limited extent: Ideas not expressible in words shouldn't be classified an non-ideas per-se, rather they should be classified as proto-ideas. Many times the seeds of great ideas are born in some intuition or feeling about some concept or thing. These intuitions do not necessarily consist in any sort of propositional statement, or even a descriptive term. Those come as a result of working the idea out in your head (on a sheet of paper, etc.). That said, I do agree that full ideas need to be utterable.