Sunday, March 27, 2011

Of tomatoes, time, and clear communication

"Where is she? Where is she?" "I sent her to Sam, but she went to tomato. Maybe she's a jumper!"

I heard this exchange as I returned from a stimulating conference on Smith Women in Education. Exhausted, all I could do was laugh at the inanity of the dialogue. To translate: I was leaving a parking lot and the attendant was trying to help the shuttle driver find the next rider. Rather than confusing each other with, "was that 's' or 'f'?" they had learned to identify aisles not by their letters but by the words which began with those letters. Clearly, this is not the code in use when police band radios go off but, it worked for them.

As I drove home, that exchange replayed in my head.  Each occupation and each location has its own internal language. When new people come on board they must learn that language as well as the multitude of overt and covert elements of the culture of that community.

How often do we assure that newcomers, adult or students, understand the various elements of our school cultures? How many words mean entirely different things in our communities? If they are not entirely different, are the subtleties significant enough to put newcomers at a disadvantage?

When I was in graduate school I took a course where the fundamental principle involved our T.I.U., our Theory-In-Use. What that meant was that we needed to break down our vocabulary into discrete terms to be sure that we were operating under the same assumptions. This was essential in situations involving conflicts. At the same time, identifying our T.I.U. could help us avoid conflicts. If a student said someone was "mean" to her, how did she define that?  If we advise a new teacher to give more feedback to students, what should that look like? What are the expectations in the community in terms that are understand by all sides?

Our lives are busier than ever, or are they? Can we slow down enough to be sure that we help those around us to understand what we're saying and what it means? Will a few more moments of patient clarification help reduce stress for all of us? If not, I may send someone to the "eyebrow" and she'll be lost forever due to a lack of clear communication.

Translation: At our school, the "eyebrow" is a semi-circular driveway where people are dropped off and picked up.

1 comment:

  1. Great point, Beth. Our language is, indeed, critical. And we often forget that. I am thinking we need to spend much more time talking about how we communicate and what that means as we all make so many assumptions.