Why Teachers Struggle With Classroom Communication & How to Fix That

An image of five chat bubbles.

These days, educators and students are at an impasse. Educators need help understanding if students are truly engaged in the classroom, while students expect a more engaging learning experience.

The shift to remote/hybrid learning during the pandemic has only worsened the situation. In a recent paper published in BMC Medical Education, many educators stated the following reasons for ineffective communication:

  • Lack of interpersonal relationships between students
  • Lack of feedback mechanisms between students and educators
  • No way to collaborate with peers on group projects
  • Hesitancy to ask questions due to feelings of embarrassment

It’s time for educators to take a more personalized and digital approach to create an engaging learning environment. You can resolve these issues by taking a proactive approach to improving classroom communication.

We’ll explore the benefits of effective communication, types of communication styles, and strategies for improving communication.

Benefits of active communication in the classroom

Here’s why you need to improve communication within your classroom.

Improved student engagement with material

Educators who create interactive classes, facilitate open discussions, and offer real-time feedback are more likely to interest students in the material.

Typical lecturing styles are a one-way conversation, with educators hoping students listen and take notes. But that's heavily dependent on whether students are listening in the first place and have an active interest in the topic. When you consider the number of lectures they attend each day, plus the number of assignments and exams they have to take, the burden lies on the educator to make these sessions enjoyable.

Also, when students see that you’re trying to cultivate a positive relationship with them and between them, they’re more likely to respond. A 2018 study found that positive teacher-student and student-student relationships influence student engagement in academic activities.

So, to make the classroom more dynamic, encourage more active communication methods like collaborative discussions or hands-on projects.

Develops a positive learning atmosphere

It’s a good idea to prioritize open lines of communication to cultivate an environment where students feel seen and heard.

For example, an observational study published in 2020 reported the effects of the “teacher’s gaze” and how it changes a student’s perception of their teacher. When teachers maintained eye contact with students, they established dominance while asking students questions. But in a lecture, maintaining eye contact conveyed more friendliness, which indicates that students respond positively to such nonverbal cues.

When students respect the educator and subject matter, they’re more likely to engage. Over time, this builds trust and rapport, creating a supportive culture.

Encourages better academic outcomes

A 2021 study found that seven educator-dependent factors influence a student’s achievements. They include an educator’s ability to:

  • Be clear in the classroom
  • Be credible as a teacher
  • Be available to students
  • Show compassion and empathy
  • Build rapport with students
  • Confirm responses during lectures
  • Show recognition of students


Seven educator-dependent factors that influence a student’s achievement within the classroom (Source)

Students are more engaged in class when an educator performs well on all these fronts. It allows them to absorb material quickly, participate in fruitful discussions, and apply their knowledge in different contexts. Over time, students recall information easily and tend to perform well in assessments.

Better communication skills and self-esteem

How you communicate also significantly impacts how students feel and learn within the classroom. For example, if educators take a more aggressive approach to teaching and belittle students for not answering a question, it results in low self-esteem. Not only that, it also results in detachment from the subject matter.

A recent study found that teachers who adopt a more assertive communication style tend to have more positive teacher-student relationships. In addition, their students also have better self-esteem. This communication style lets you be more objective while letting students offer their opinions.

If you focus on uplifting students, it’ll bolster their confidence in themselves and their knowledge of the subject. Good communication skills ultimately lead to positive behavior and performance outcomes—inside and outside the classroom.

Types of active communication in the classroom

Before we look into how you can improve your communication skills, let’s understand the various types of communication.

Verbal communication

Verbal communication refers to using spoken words to convey messages or ideas. It’s a direct form of communication whose perception depends on the tone of voice you use and the clarity of your speech.

However, this type of communication heavily depends on your listening skills. For instance, if a student asks a specific question and you give a general response that doesn’t clarify what they’re asking, the student is left with no real insight. You can avoid this by improving your focusing and listening skills. This two-pronged action lets you create a positive feedback loop within the classroom.

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication involves using body language, facial expressions, and gestures to make your point. For example, if you maintain a rigid body posture, it may make your students feel uncomfortable.

This communication type offers additional insights into your emotions and intentions. It plays a critical role in understanding unspoken issues and cues in a conversation.

Written communication

In this communication type, you express your ideas using symbols and text electronically or on paper. This method is key for documenting knowledge and facilitating long-distance conversations (like email). Here, the clarity of thought, coherence of sentences, and grammatical structure matter.

Visual communication

Anytime you convey an idea or information through visual forms, it falls under the visual communication type. Some examples include:

  • Images
  • Symbols
  • Charts
  • Graphs
  • Videos
  • Presentations

In this case, there’s a lot of emphasis on design and color theory. Plus, the visual needs to clearly express the intended message, or else there’s room for miscommunication.


Although many people consider speaking and nonverbal cues the only form of communication, active listening also plays a huge role. Unless you can listen and interpret what the other person is saying, it’s hard to communicate with them.

A good listener shows patience and openness to communicate. It’s easier for educators to pick up on student feedback when they are listening well, even if students aren’t expressing directly what they mean.

8 strategies for improving teacher-student communication

Here are a few ways to create better educator-student relationships through active communication.

1. Consider using digital tools to improve interaction

Nowadays, many digital tools are available to make learning an engaging activity. A McKinsey study found that real-time chatting and polling tools were among the most widely used digital tools in the classroom, even before the pandemic. So much so that 67% of institutions still use them.

For example, Poll Everywhere lets you create activities like:

  • Multiple-choice questions
  • Open-ended questions
  • Live polls
  • Surveys

You can use these features to conduct a pop quiz, perform a few icebreaker activities, or even create an anonymous feedback loop with students. The goal is to encourage using tools that add an interactive element into the mix—allowing students to participate in the classroom’s activities.

Additionally, you can use tools for whiteboarding to conduct brainstorming sessions. Or, create an open feedback channel to receive and answer questions.

2. Create feedback mechanisms to respond appropriately

Unless you give students the space to offer feedback, you won’t know how to improve your teaching process. Take the time to ask them about how they perceive your teaching style and if it’s easy to understand the subject matter.

You can conduct one-on-one meetings, send anonymous surveys, or poll students during a live session. This approach creates an open and honest feedback culture, allowing you to tailor your approach to your students’ learning style.

Additionally, offer students feedback on their assignments and progress. Instead of saying, “Your answer is incorrect,” rephrase it to “Your answers are incorrect because of…” This approach shows learners you care about their learning outcomes.

3. Try interactive teaching methods to keep students engaged

One-way lecture sessions don’t do much these days. Instead, use techniques such as:

  • Group discussions
  • Problem-based learning
  • Live presentations
  • Role-playing

These techniques help students develop critical thinking and collaboration skills as they apply theory to real-world scenarios. It also accommodates the needs of students with different learning styles and needs, making the classroom more inclusive.

4. Implement group discussions or projects to encourage collaboration

The learning process can get quite monotonous in a remote learning setup or a lecture-based session. Conduct group discussions or ask students to do group work to overcome this.

Students learn to collaborate using this approach, improving their interpersonal skills and camaraderie. They’ll also learn how to develop their opinions on the topic while countering opposing or newer perspectives.

Create small groups to encourage active participation from all students, but make sure the group is large enough to avoid singling students out.

5. Incorporate visual aids within your lectures

Visual aids let you present abstract concepts in a more concrete way through visualization. They grab a student’s attention and help them retain information.

For example, instead of using bullet points in a presentation, turn the points into a graphic. Or use a video of a technique to teach students how to do it. This approach creates a more dynamic learning environment and caters to diverse learning styles.

6. Make it easy for students to ask questions and have discussions

Teachers who create a welcoming classroom environment tend to have students who feel comfortable asking questions. Many students are either introverted or worried about feeling embarrassed when participating. But if you create a culture that creates this two-way conversation, your students will be better for it.

Implement clear guidelines such as when to ask questions, participate in class discussions, and respond when a peer asks a question. For example, either allocate time at the end of the session or let students raise their hands to ask questions during the lecture.

You can even use a Poll Everywhere Pinned Q&A to create a backchannel to let students send in their questions on a rolling basis. Students can feed their curiosity and deepen their understanding through active participation.

7. Discourage negative behaviors with appropriate measures

In higher education, you might come across students who behave disrespectfully with their peers and educators. These things can happen when students are in a new learning environment after high school and consider their classes and instructors “temporary” (limited to a semester).

For better classroom management, it’s best to set up a code of conduct to establish expectations. Inform students about what’s acceptable and unacceptable and how disruptions or disrespect will be addressed. For example, this might be through a private discussion with a student or a mediation session through the school administration.

This way, you create a positive learning environment that’s also a safe space for every student.

8. Observe classroom dynamics and individual student behavior

Regularly track how the classroom dynamics change to see if students feel more engaged or disengaged. If there’s a particular reason for disengagement, probe further and see if there are any ways to rectify it.

For example, it’s common for students to become more sluggish toward the end of the semester. If you notice such a pattern, do an out-of-the-box activity such as learning in the park or doing a fun hands-on activity.

In addition to this, you also need to pay attention to individual student behavior to see if certain students need more help. In those cases, you can provide personalized support to address specific issues.

Create a positive communication culture with Poll Everywhere

Students get distracted quite easily, considering they always have their phones. In addition, some are burdened with a heavy course load, resulting in more disengagement due to burnout.

Communicate with them if you want to improve your class’s learning outcomes. Ask your students how they feel, what they need help with, and how you can support them. It’ll help you teach in a way that students will respond to—while also learning all they can from you.

An excellent way to do that is to employ a digital tool like Poll Everywhere. The software lets you create a variety of activities, whether it’s a feedback survey or a discussion channel.

You can also create more interactive experiences by deploying live polls (pop quizzes) and anonymous surveys to conduct Q&A sessions. The goal is to use the tool in a way that allows students to be more confident with their questions and take charge of their own learning experience.

Are you looking to create your first interactive activity? Sign up to Poll Everywhere for free today.