How to Become a Great Communicator Beginning at Age Three

Possessing all of the knowledge in the world won’t do you a whole lot of good if you cannot communicate effectively.  This is why “communication” was called out as one of the critical skills in Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate under the umbrella of Scholarship.  Becoming an excellent communicator is within the reach of everyone; however, it is a skill that must be honed through many and varied opportunities to practice.  Great communication involves more than the ability to speak or write well, it also involves the ability to express oneself through movement, sound, images, gestures, pacing of speech, and technology.  Skilled communicators also appreciate metaphor, analogy, and other forms of literary expression.  They have the ability to utilize props, charts, and mathematical expressions to illustrate a point they are trying to make.

As students progress through their educational journey at Roycemore, they are presented with numerous opportunities to hone their craft. Recently, during free choice time, PreK students organized themselves into a circle with chairs, undirected by teachers. They proceeded to have discussions about what was going on in their homes. They took turns listening to one another and sharing their personal stories. At Roycemore, the flexibility in the classroom allows these moments of communication and expression to happen organically.

In Junior Kindergarten, the teacher uses role play to act out different experiences and model behaviors through puppets.  Students gain confidence role playing and learn how to communicate emotions such as hurt feelings, sadness, and even jealousy and shyness.  Walk into a classroom some morning and you might just hear a four-year old telling a friend, “I am frustrated with you not sharing with me, and I wish you would take turns with me.” Frankly, this is a much more effective way to communicate than pouting, a temper tantrum, or worse.

First grade students publish their very own Griffin Gazette. Each student is assigned a  “job” to report on the different subjects that are taught in the class. At the end of the week each student summarizes the entire week. A technology platform called Seesaw offers all children equitable opportunities to communicate regardless of ability.  It helps build confidence for students who might struggle with fine motor skills.  One such student who previously struggled with communication recently whispered to the teacher, “I used to hate reading and writing, but now I can do it too!” Students gain pride in their accomplishments and advance to new levels of achievement.

In upper elementary grades, feelings and emotions are routinely shared during regular classroom morning meetings. Creating a classroom environment where sharing feelings is normalized helps create a safe environment for students to express themselves, which ultimately further enhances their learning and strengthens their communication skills.  This emphasis is important as students begin the journey from learning to read, to reading to learn.  Students are then given many and varied opportunities to communicate what they have learned.  Having learned research skills, students then present their findings by writing research papers, creating web pages, filming videos of their presentations, or engaging in live project shares or “museum walks.”

As students progress into middle school, communication skills are further developed throughout the program. In Humanities, students learn how best to communicate with each other and their teachers. Much time is allocated to helping students build skills. In particular, students learn to ask for help (or more time) before an assignment is due. While this may not seem like a big deal, it is something that doesn’t come naturally to middle schoolers. Students hone their skills on how to facilitate class discussions and talk to each other rather than have the teacher facilitate. Recently, seventh and eighth graders participated in a fishbowl discussion, where some students were tasked with discussing while others played the role of observer. It was incredible to see some of the more quiet students take a leadership role in the conversation.

Within the new Illustrative Math program launched this year, the teaching paradigm has been flipped.  Rather than the traditional model of a gradual release of responsibility to students, in the Illustrative Math model, the thinking begins with the individual student processing the math task independently.  From there, it moves to the small group.  Here, students grapple together with the high-level task, communicate their thinking to the others in their group, disagree respectfully, and refine their thinking based on the collaborative input of the group.  The class then comes together with the individual groups communicating their thinking and solutions.  Finally, the teacher leverages the student groups’ communication to synthesize their collective thinking on the task, bringing clarity to the problem’s solution.

Outside of the regular classroom opportunities to strengthen communication skills, middle school students take on the daunting task of leading their student-led conferences and they hone skills through the P3 program.  For their conferences, students gather written and visual learning artifacts in their digital portfolios to communicate both progress and achievement to their families and teachers. To prepare, students work with peers during advisory to practice their presentation, and offer and receive feedback effectively.   For P3, each middle schooler is partnered with a mentor. Students learn how to communicate effectively with their mentor by writing professional emails, and, in some cases, speaking with their mentor via phone or virtual visits.

In the upper school, students further refine the communication skills they have been developing for a number of years through classroom assignments, co-curricular programs and extracurricular activities. In the classroom, students learn critical writing skills through a tremendous amount of practice with formal essays.  They learn how to develop their ideas into a cohesive, written presentation in preparation for the extensive writing that will be required in college. Many of our alumni report that they excel in required college English courses because of the skills they have learned in high school at Roycemore. Co-curricular programs such as yearbook and the literary magazine provide opportunities for students to hone one-on-one communication skills including scheduling interview time, conversational skills, interviewing skills and turning the interview into a story.  Students who participate in the yearbook over the course of their time in high school are transformed into excellent communicators.

Through January Short Term (JST), students gain extensive experience with communication, whether it is through a written proposal for an independent project, communicating with a project director, or presenting at the JST Expo, students are expected to build on the experience they have gained over the course of their time at Roycemore to offer professional presentations on their JST experience, utilizing technology, video, or more traditional oral presentations.

High school students also develop strong communication skills through the many activities in which they participate.  These opportunities offer students a small nurturing environment to develop friendships and express themselves and their interests.  Students find their voice on issues of which they are passionate.  They connect with others to share meaningful conversations and communication opportunities through student-led extra-curricular activities such as Athletics, Theater, Diversity Club, Gender Sexuality Alliance, Muslim Students Association, Scholastic Bowl and Politics Club, to name a few.

Roycemore’s Upper School also prepares students to self-advocate.  Strong communication skills are necessary to understand oneself as a learner and to be able to speak to an adult.  As a smaller community, we spend time through Learning Assistance and/or Advisory speaking with students to help them articulate their needs.  An intentionally small setting gives us the opportunity to work with each student as an individual.

The ability to communicate effectively is a superpower of the 21st century that will serve as a critical scholarship skill that enables young people to build a life of meaning and purpose.  At Roycemore, we are committed to ensuring that this skill building is present throughout the experience for each and every student.