Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Using Semantic Coaching to Improve Teacher Performance

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Using Semantic Coaching to Improve Teacher Performance

Article excerpt

One of the major challenges I face as a teacher trainer is the "balloon goes up/balloon goes down" syndrome exhibited by many novice teachers. They begin their first year of teaching bursting with enthusiasm for their work and filled with optimism about the learning they expect to take place in their classrooms. However, within a few days or even a few hours, many have become discouraged and demoralized by the clash between what they thought running their own class would be like and what actually goes on in school. They describe their interactions with students as an endless succession of failures and end the teaching day physically and emotionally drained. Some even quit.

Usually, the problems they complain of and the discouragement they express have little to do with their command of the subjects they teach or their grasp of the most effective methods for teaching those subjects; most, thanks to their college training, are more than ready to handle those requirements of the job. But all their knowledge goes for naught because they haven't yet learned how to establish authority and rapport with their students. If they don't, they'll likely be miserable and their students won't learn. If they do, they can recapture their initial enthusiasm and develop the confidence and practical know-how they need to be successful. My responsibility as a teacher trainer is to make sure that they do.

The most effective tool I have found for achieving this purpose is semantic coaching, a comprehensive system of communications training, which I studied in the late 1980s while I was teaching junior high. From this study, I learned to establish rapport with and to motivate hard-to-reach students; I improved my ability to get cooperation from parents; and in class, I became livelier, more engaging, and creative. Moreover, I developed a tolerance to stress and a capacity to think on my feet that contributed to my appointment as assistant principal of the school where I taught.

Because of these personal and professional gains, I was sure that semantic coaching could be an effective way to give new teachers a greater sense of authority, that is, increased confidence in their ability to handle a class and an increased capacity to learn from and to develop more options for dealing with problems. In 1990, I began using semantic coaching as the basis for a mentoring program for novice teachers. Because of the success of that program and similar results achieved in subsequent programs designed for both beginning and veteran teachers, I am convinced that semantic coaching is a valuable tool for helping teachers cope more effectively with stress, for showing them how to establish authority for themselves in their teaching roles, and for improving their overall outlook and performance.

Theory of Speech Acts

Semantic coaching (also know as linguistic coaching or linguistic ontology) is a system of conversational analysis and communication design developed by Fernando Flores (Flores, 1982; Flores and Winogrand, 1986). This system places such basic semantic distinctions as facts and opinions within the context of the Theory of Speech Acts pioneered by the philosopher John Austin (1962) and refined by John Searle (1969, 1979). The premise underlying the work of Austin and Searle is that all speaking and listening can be categorized as some kind of action - stating, promising, requesting, asserting, declaring, deciding, replying - in which the speaker makes some form of commitment with the listener. In Austin and Searle's view of communication, the critical actions involved in, say, constructing the Empire State Building would involve not only excavating, lifting, and hammering, but also making assessments, requests, offers, and promises.

Flores realized that looking at communication in this way opened up new possibilities for helping people to avoid misunderstandings and to work together more effectively. He believed that Austin and Searle's categories of speech acts could be used to make practical improvements in training personnel, designing software products, and managing a staff. …

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