Another critical component of our kids’ academic and social lives involves all the skills revolving around their ability to build and maintain relationships. We all know that there are so many facets and variables, even in our least complicated relationships, but we can at least help students lay the foundation.
Our students have to be able to clearly and effectively communicate their thoughts in a variety of ways. Many students struggle with this, particularly when emotions are high. They need to possess the ability to think clearly about what they want to communicate, and then determine the best way to articulate or present it. This can be a struggle, even for adults (we all know those people). To facilitate this, we have to provide opportunities for meaningful communication; this is going to require multiple instances of modeling, plenty of think time, and clarification or assistance when the communication does not come out right. It is also going to require communication practice in different capacities, with different audiences, and in different settings.
2: Conversational skill and censorship
Beyond effective communication lie the subtleties of conversational skills. Again, I know a good number of adults who don’t have the best grasp on this set of concepts.
This is a more complex subset because, unlike in communication (in which you just have to convey your message to the appropriate audience), in conversation you have to actively interpret and respond to someone else’s verbal and physical input, as well as your own. It also requires a solid grasp on social norms. You have to make appropriate eye contact, maintain a good physical distance, maintain volume control, be polite (and we all know that varies by situation), ask follow up questions—all while having to process their words in real time and give your own input!
The best way to teach conversations is to have conversations. Initiate and hold non-academic conversations with your students, to model these skills on both the speaking and listening side of the scenario. Allow (and encourage) opportunities for conversation amongst your students.
A sub-component of conversational skills is censorship, or the ability to filter what you talk about based on audience or context. This, for some kids, needs to be explicitly taught—there’s no getting around it. I am including in the resources section of this post some graphics I’ve used with kids of varying ages to help with this concept, and we’ll delve deeper into it in a later post.
3: Conflict resolution
This has the potential to be a tough skill, because several other skills feed into it. It involves communication, empathy, perspective-taking, and many others to varying degrees. Resolving conflict often involves compromise, which can be a hard sell for many kids, let alone those with emotional disorders or control issues. What we want to hone in on is that perspective piece, allowing them to analyze a situation from beyond their own point of view, and collaborate to reach a solution themselves. More on this in a later post.
Another big piece is apologies. That will be its own post, too. We need to understand not only that pride comes into play for many students, but also that they may not understand what apologies mean. If the only model they have seen is some peer’s flippant “sorry,” we cannot expect them to make meaningful apologies. We have to build an understanding and capacity here, also.
4: Respect and involvement
Respect is one of those things that is learned through exposure. They have to be directly taught what it is, they have to see it in action, they have to have time to practice it. I know it may sound like I’m beating a dead horse, but model, model, MODEL.
Let them hear you speaking to your peers and your students in a calm and respectful voice. Let them see your open body language. Show them how to ask people how they want to be treated, and then how to treat them that way. Teach them how to listen to you, by listening to them. Then, when they have you figured out, they can start figuring out other adults in their lives (because we all know that respect looks different to different people).
Once they understand how to be respectful to peers and adults, they can begin to become aware that their involvement in various situations is part of that level of respect. Not being involved—in group discussions, group projects, partner work, etc.—is disrespectful to your teacher and to your peers. On the other hand, becoming involved in situations that don’t involve you—being nosy, butting into conversation, over-reporting about your peers to your teacher, etc.—can be just as disrespectful.
The ability to work in a team is much like conflict resolution. The goal is to take different personalities and perspectives and blend them together (often through compromise) to get the best possible result. We have all run into kids who are over-reliant on the team and do little to contribute. We have likely also seen those who want to do everything on their own so they’re not having to rely on anyone else. Both are undesirable habits—one for its lack of work ethic, and the other for its impracticality.
I can tell you that I was the kid who did everything on my own. I didn’t want my grade riding on work that I couldn’t fully control. I didn’t want to be held accountable for others’ lack of effort. And I certainly didn’t want to have to compromise my ideas to accommodate others.
But later in life this came back to bite me. Very few people can get through college or career without having to work collaboratively with others—and I was not one of those few. It took me much longer than it should have to adjust to others in my work, and to begin to acknowledge the value of other perspectives in research or action, because I had not been made to practice it at lower levels to the extent I needed. To this day my husband will tell you that I can be abrasive, and that I tend to try to take too much control in many situations.
I’m working on it, I promise.
Do you have some experience with building relationship skills? Do you have ideas or strategies you’ve found successful? Please share them in the comments!