communication200x200Good for film but bad for faculty

Playing the part of the Captain, a cruel and sinister prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, Strother Martin uttered one of classic cinema’s most memorable lines: what we have here is a failure to communicate. An amusing characterization that makes for a good movie script will never do when it comes to your faculty.

Thus far, my list of critical faculty selection criteria has included credentials (first but, in many ways, least important), contagious character, and competence in terms of a comprehensive and current grasp of their teaching discipline(s). Permit me now to propose a fourth criterion. Communication.

Beyond competence

You may be inclined to assume that high communication skill is an aspect of competence, but I think this attribute is worthy of discrete consideration. How many brilliant, yet boring scholars have you encountered over the course of your own academic odyssey? Just because you survived it does not mean you are justified in subjecting your students to it. You must insist that your faculty members excel in communication. Superior qualifications in other areas do not offset an instructor’s shortcomings as a communicator and facilitator of learning.

Teaching, not talking

I hasten to add it is important to distinguish effective communication, and effective teaching, from giftedness in public speaking. E-ffect is more essential than a-ffect. Teaching involves talking, but it is not primarily about lecturing.

A person may be quite an effective facilitator of learning yet lacking to some degree in rhetorical skills. Effective teaching is evidenced by student engagement and learning. An excellent lecturer who avoids student contact is by no means better qualified than an excellent mentor who effectively engages students as fellow learners.

Insist on it, improve on it

Sadly, many well-credentialed, spiritually infectious, and professionally competent individuals either lack the gift of teaching or, more commonly, have neglected to devote themselves to mastering principles of teaching and learning. This is to some extent a remediable deficit, but one you cannot afford to ignore.

If you identify an otherwise highly desirable faculty candidate with a deficit in communication skills, make an investment in their professional development and insist upon measurable improvement. But remember this old adage, you can’t make up in training what you lack in selection. If the person’s track record reveals little aptitude and attitude toward improving communication, take a pass and keep looking.

Seek results, not reputation

Simply put, if your goal is to build your faculty’s effectiveness, not its collective resume, you will need to include evidence of high capacity for communication in your faculty screening, assessment, retention and advancement. More on faculty selection criteria in succeeding posts …


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