Communication was one of the desired student learning outcomes that was originally identified at the 2013 21st Century Learning Summit. It was important in both the literature we reviewed and the parent and faculty perceptions we gathered. We spent time exploring what communication meant and decided that in the SAS context, the focus would be on helping students to effectively exchange ideas and information through a variety of mediums. We also determined that cultural competence was a key element of effective communication, leading to the decision to incorporate cultural competence into communication instead of having it be a separate DSLO. While we changed our approach the following year by making cultural competence a separate DSLO, we continue to see a tight connection between being an effective communicator and being culturally competent. As one student recently told me, “to have a good community, you have to have good communication.”
When we did a deep dive into how we were teaching and assessing components of communication five years ago, we found there were many ways in which we were already explicitly teaching communication skills in classes across our divisions. Since then we have further focused on ensuring that all SAS students become strong communicators. Our youngest students learn how to contribute to discussions, listen and respond to others, and give short presentations to classmates. In middle school and high school, students learn more sophisticated skills by preparing more extensive individual and group presentations, speaking to different audiences, and participating in debates, interviews, town halls, and Socratic seminars. In world language classes, the emphasis is on speaking and interacting in Chinese, French, or Spanish. By practicing communication skills appropriate to various disciplines, as well as after-school sports and activities groups, our students become comfortable and willing contributors in various settings.
Our faculty members are also encouraged to serve as models in this area. Like our students, our teachers vary in confidence when it comes to public presentations, and we encourage them to take risks and step out of their comfort zones. Parent talks, teacher days, and professional conferences give us many opportunities to extend ourselves, and we value our faculty members’ willingness to engage in these activities.
As an educator, I am proud that SAS has embraced the goal of effective communication by making it one of our core student learning outcomes. As a parent, I have seen firsthand our success in this area. When my daughter returned from her first semester at college, I was eager to hear her thoughts about how her SAS experiences compared with those of her college classmates. The most obvious difference, she said, was that “I am able to engage in class conversations in a way that my peers cannot.” My daughter’s comfort in engaging with others came directly from the SAS emphasis on interpersonal skills throughout her time as an Eagle. We believe our schoolwide focus on communication sets our students apart and gives them the skills and confidence to have their voices heard as they move through life.
My next article will explain the desired student learning outcome of content knowledge. Feedback, questions, or comments about our Learning at SAS series are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please get in touch!