20 September 2022

Communication triad – is a mature educational dialogue possible?


Communication is a basic tool of knowledge transfer in a school situation. The child and the adult communicate with each other in a different way than people the same age do. Participants of this communicational relationship differ in terms of their development stage and their knowledge about the world. Their competencies of sending and understanding information coming from the environment differ much as well. 

Communication triad in a school situation

Communication between the teacher and the student is a type of communication between the child and the adult and is characterized by inequality of the relationship. This interaction takes place in a specific environment which imposes a specific style of communication. At school, the child watches and acquires communication patterns from the teacher, but also uses the communication skill they have already acquired at home. When learning communication in both environments, the child also uses the skills acquired in both places.  This influences the quality of interaction between the student and both the parent and the teacher. Communication between the parent and the teacher is characterized by mutual expectations towards the educational path of the child (Ferenz, 2017). These expectations differ in terms of perspective which arises from different contexts in which these people have contact with the very same child. The common goal of parents and teachers is (or at least should be) to support the development of the child in different spheres.

At the same time, a common goal of communication within the triad between the teacher, the student and the parent is (or, again, at least should be) to carry out the educational process of the child. In this context, it is worth considering the most important aspect of the school communication between the abovementioned participants of the discourse and the manners to improve the quality of communication.

Features of communication between the triad participants: teacher, student, parent.

In a conversation, the adult and the child represent two different worlds even if they communicate with each other in the very same language. The difference of experiences they have, level of linguistic cognitive skills, ways to perceive issues and differences in their emotional maturity are reflected in the manners of communication of these two both groups. Usually, adults, in their contacts with children, adjust the topic of the conversation to the communicational skills of the child. They also modify the conversation in terms of the way they speak: they change phonology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics. In practice, it means that adults in their conversations with children talk in a more clear and slower manner, with exaggerated intonation, they use limited vocabulary referring to what is happening here and now, they try to make their statements shorter, easier and more correct in terms of syntax, and their sentences contain mostly questions, commands and phrases said to the child.

Roles of the teacher and the student create social context for communication which shape the scope of linguistic strategies of specific actors. Their relation constitutes a specific type of the diad between the child and the adult, since in this case the goal of communication is not to freely exchange thoughts with an interlocutor, but rather to complete an educational task which has a clear target. In other words, the goal of communication is to deliver a specific goal which is inscribed into the curriculum.  (Rostańska, 2018) . In communication with the student, the teacher performs different organisational, corrective and control functions which differentiates this situation from other relations between children and adults.

Child’s participation in school education is a time when the child acquires new communicational experience. At that time, the student develops linguistic competences, for instance by repeating specific linguistic forms heard from the teacher which are also transferred to the out-of-school context, everyday interactions with other adults, etc.

In the student-teacher communication in traditional school, one-side communication prevails. It is characterized by the fact that it goes from the teacher to students, it is limited to transferring the thoughts without an unnecessary commentary, it assumes the existence of the driving force of the sender’s communication.  In this type of communication, the sender focuses on themselves and, in some sense, shifts the responsibility for the quality of communication onto the interlocutor. The recipient is subordinate to the sender which may lead to conflicts, frustration and a sense of helplessness of the subordinate person. A command is sent to the student in a one-way manner, without any expectations for any additional commentary. Using one-way communication by the teacher may result in stiffening of the way of thinking and presenting statements without expecting any understanding or acceptance from the recipients. There is a significant limitation of cooperation and strong emphasis of asymmetry in the relationship between the participants of the communication process. Another type of communication is a two-way communication in which the sender and the recipient send and receive messages interchangeably. Considering the perspective of the interlocutor and reacting to that by sending and receiving messages back results in an increased symmetry of the relationship.

Traditionally, at school one-side communication prevails, despite the fact that the desired type of communication is a relationship one, within which the sender and the recipient focus on the subject of the conversation. This gives both sides an opportunity to emotionally engage in the conversation, exchange thoughts, provide support and be open in a cognitive and emotional manner. This type of communication is also significant for the development and quality of education, especially with children who form part of the primary education (Rostańska, 2018). 

A specific form of communication in the school space is an educational dialogue which gives you a possibility to obtain the missing information and create space in which both sides of the dialogue undertake an effort to develop a common stance. When the school communication takes the form of an educational dialogue, the relationship between the teacher and the student receives some characteristics of cooperation.  Educational communication differs from the communication used in everyday life with the lack of possibility to freely choose the form of presenting one’s thoughts and the manner of using the language adopted as the prevailing one creates a linguistic atmosphere in everyday contacts in the classroom. Characteristic features of this atmosphere include lack of trust to the role of spontaneous speaking, limited use of jargon, depreciating the language used by students, transferring the rules of the written language to the spoken one, asymmetry of linguistic rules, changes in the direction of communication. We could say that there is an unjustified conviction that education develops communicational skills of students by listening to the talking teacher and not by active talking.

The subordination of the role of the student in communication with the teacher in a school situation results in adopting a linguistic role which  requires from a child constructing specific manners of organisation of the uttered sentences and it is developed in conditions that are often stressful for them. It is worth noting that the hierarchy of the relationship in school situations is related not only to a conversation with the teacher, but the entire school staff. (Rostańska, 2018).   

Communicational skills acquired at school are adapted by the child to their resources and the child uses them also at home (in the form of choosing some specific syntax, vocabulary and gestures). In this way, messages received at school get through to the private circles of the child and have a chance to influence communication applied in the child’s family environment. (Rostańska, 2018).

A natural place of social maturation of children is their family environment which influences the school situation of the child also via the style of communication between the parent and the teacher. Both the teacher and the parent exchange the expectations they have towards the child, they take certain stances and get familiarised with the opinion of the interlocutor. The need of getting closer to and understand one another allows for defining the possibility of cooperation in the school reality. Both sides enter into a direct relationship and, although in each case these have some specific shape, they mean a lot in the educational process.

Pygmalion effect 

The influence of interpersonal expectations in the classroom is called a Pygmalion effect. This is a phenomenon which in social sciences is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. This term was coined as a result of an experiment carried out by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobs in a primary school. The experiment was about developing a conviction in teachers about expected high school performance by some students and observing the behaviour of these teachers towards their students. At the beginning of the school year, an IQ test was carried out among all students at primary school. The staff were told that the goal of the exercise was to search for extraordinarily talented children. Several students were selected from each class on a random basis; a list of them was provided to the teachers. This made them look as students with some extraordinary intellectual potential. In reality, the results obtained in the test by the selected students did not differ much from those received by others, and the teachers were misled. After eight months from the first measurement, the exercise was repeated and it turned out that the children from whom the teachers expected a lot indeed displayed higher IQ than their colleagues who were just a control group. The effects of the teachers’ expectations were most visible among the younger students, i.e. in the first and second grade of primary school (Turska, 2018).

At the end of the school year, the teachers were asked to describe the behaviour displayed by students in different situations at school. The children deemed to have high development potential were described by the teachers as more interesting, attractive and happy. Interestingly, the experiment brought about some unexpected results. The control group also reported a significant IQ increase, but this was definitely much lower than in the case of the experiment group. Paradoxically, the results show that the more the mediocre students improved their IQ, the worse they behaved, according to the teachers.

The experiment provides some interesting conclusions about the communication in the teacher-student-parent triad. The difference in the development of children in two groups was so visible that it allowed for drawing a conclusion about the influence of teacher’s expectations in the school environment on the actual treatment of students and reaching specific educational results. If communication at school plays a basic role in the process of teaching and upbringing, can we say that proper communication is key for effective implementation of the curriculum?

Teacher, watch your words 

It is said that the communication skills form part of teacher’s teaching skills. In the classroom, it is the teacher who is more responsible for creating proper communication. When communicating with students, the teacher is a role model. Improper communication patterns will be taught to students who may copy them in the future. The teacher should be aware of how their words influence the student and what emotional states they may evoke (which, in turn, may result in specific behaviours). 

One of the reasons for failures in communication is too a frequent use of words that may trigger difficult emotions in a student. These difficult emotions may, in turn, discourage the student from talking and trying to enter in a dialogue (Strykowska-Nowakowska, 2017).

When contacting children, teachers should be extremely careful with behaviours that may violate the child’s borders or be hard to understand. Examples of such behaviours include blaming, judging, calling names, giving orders, ridiculing or threatening. Literature also focuses on incompetent judgement by the teacher, comparing to other children, inadequate prophecy-like statements, generalisations or exaggeration. Teachers also tend to advise students who don’t ask for it. Advising, suggesting, offering solutions are elements of communication which can be taken by students as a proof of the fact that teachers don’t believe in students’ ability to solve problems on their own. (Strykowska-Nowakowska, 2017).

The abovementioned statements may also be perceived by students as lack of respect or approval, lack of faith in the legitimacy of their needs and feelings and, in effect, they may negatively influence their emotional well-being. It is worth remembering that children at the school age develop fast. School experience influences not only their current well-being, but also development of their personality. A child spends a great deal of their time at school and we could say they treat school as one of the sources of knowledge about themselves. Teachers should be aware of the consequences of what they say, even if they say it in good faith.

Is there any remedy?

To improve school communication, it is worth starting from considering adaptive style of communication between the teacher and students. It is desired to make school communication cooperational and assertive. In contact with children, the teacher should respect their borders, listen to their opinions and respect them, enable exchange of messages, views and emotions. Such communication gives students a sense of co-creating tasks which boosts their motivation to perform and makes them feel the sense of participating in classes. Apart from that, the teacher should communicate their expectations clearly and transparently, without hurting the feelings of the recipient. (Strykowska-Nowakowska, 2017).

One of the main objectives of Holistic Think Tank is to create interdisciplinary subject (IDS) whose main goal is to address children’s educational needs. One of the assumptions is to take up educational tasks within interpersonal communication. The key communicational competences stressed in IDS assumptions include effective verbalisation of one’s thoughts and transferring intentions, as well as active listening, empathetic approach towards the interlocutor and adopting their perspective, targeting a compromise and effective conflict solving while respecting different perspectives. In HTT, we believe that communication in the school space should not be treated solely as a tool and it should be taught from the early school years.

Ewa Wojciechowska


Ferenz, K. (2017). Nauczyciele wobec zróżnicowanych oczekiwań rodzicielskich. Konteksty Pedagogiczne, 1(8). https://doi.org/10.19265/KP.2017.01815

Rostańska, E. (2018). Trudna komunikacja – trudna edukacja. Porozumiewanie się ucznia i nauczyciela jako przestrzeń szkoły. Konteksty Pedagogiczne, 1(10), 37-48. https://doi.org/10.19265/KP.2018.11037

Strykowska-Nowakowska, J. (2017). Kompetencje komunikacyjne nauczycieli. Studia Edukacyjne, (45), 311-328. https://doi.org/10.14746/se.2017.45.21

Turska, D. (2018). Efekt oczekiwań interpersonalnych w edukacji.Implikacje dla nauczycieli. Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska, Sectio J, Vol. XXXI, 3, 121-132, https://doi.org/10.17951/j.2018.31.3.121-132Zalewska-Bujak, M. (2017). Obraz szkolnych relacji komunikacyjnych nauczyciela z uczniami. Konteksty Pedagogiczne, 2(9), 59-76, https://doi.org/10.19265/KP.2017.02959