P21 culled responses from leaders in the business community, education leaders, and policymakers to determine what is necessary now for students to thrive as tomorrow’s leaders, workers, and citizens. The 4C skills emerged: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication. Communication skills for the 21st Century include digital communication, interpersonal, written, and oral communication.
There’s no getting around it, in order for 21st Century kids to succeed in this quickly updating world, they must be nimble communicators across multiple digital platforms. In fact, communication is the most universal use of technology there is. Whether through text message, email, blog post, video, discussion board, tweet, or another of the myriad ways kids use technology to connect with the world, communication today requires competencies unimagined by generations past. For kids to communicate successfully in their academic, personal, and professional lives, they’ll need an understanding of the properties and norms of various digital tools. They’ll also need interpersonal communication skills that support their interactions with a wide variety of people.
While kids are digital natives, some are still lacking basic digital proficiency and online communication skills. In fact according to P21, despite the fact that 95 percent of teens, ages 12-17, are online and 58 percent of 12-year-olds have a cell phone, only 4 percent of 13-year-olds can write a proper email. However, classrooms are helping kids keep up to speed by featuring more and more communication through technology in their lesson plans.
Using Technology to Support Communication Education
Schools are working to find innovative ways to teach interpersonal communication skills to kids. Saluda Trail STEAM (STEM + Arts) Middle School in Rock Hill, North Carolina has a beginning of the year boot camp where students get to focus on their personal communication skills. Ambassadors from the school get to deepen this work as they mentor elementary school students. The Mosaic Project in Northern California offers an immersive weeklong outdoor school program that teaches kids to communicate and connect through their differences, while also teaching essential assertive communication and conflict resolution (including listening skills, expressing feelings productively, and empathy).
Level Up Village delivers STEAM enrichment courses to K-9 schools around the US, connecting students with peers in other countries who exchange video letters on collaborative projects. Their work provides students an opportunity to hone their communication skills across national, social, and economic divides; much like what will be required of them in their professional lives down the road.
Level Up recently partnered with several other organizations at the 2016 Global Education Forum in Philadelphia this October. During the forum, educators interested in bringing the 4C’s to life in their classrooms shared an immersive cross-cultural experience that used virtual reality to view the film Clouds Over Sidra about the life of a Syrian girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The virtual reality experience was incredibly impactful. It, and other video communication platforms like Level Up Village and Shared_Studios, bring the view right in, communicating human experience – building connection, empathy, and fostering collaboration – in the classroom.
While schools are doing a lot, there is still more that needs to be reinforced at home. As our busyness is ever growing, and technology is ever streamlining communication, kids still need to be able to communicate interpersonally, in writing, and ultimately, professionally. They need to learn what kind of communication is appropriate in which forum; and what school can offer is limited. What kids are immersed in at home is very powerful.
Teaching Effective Communication at Home
There’s plenty that can be done outside of school to foster kids’ budding communication skills. The most important one is parents modeling switching modes from situation to situation, and talking about the different types of communication as it’s done. Modeling this way is a very potent form of teaching communication, as kids absorb what they see and experience more deeply than what they’re simply told. Hold kids to a high standard in digital communication, just like monitoring their safety through content they put on the web. Let them know what’s expected of them to communicate appropriately as well. And, since what’s appropriate is actually difficult for them to discern, it will require some guidance at first.
Communication is more than just the exchange of information, it’s about connection between people. The goal is for that connection to be acknowledged whenever we communicate, as in the salutation we use at the top of an email, and the considerate sign-off at the end. Remembering to prioritize connected interpersonal communication at home gives kids skills they can rely on for the rest of their lives.
Effective interpersonal communication is about speaking respectfully, and listening thoughtfully includes sharing observations, feelings, and needs, and at the same time respecting the different perspective of the other person. Communicating with another person should allow kids a chance to show that the other person’s thoughts are valued. It likely sounds easier said than done, especially if what is needed to communicate is conflict. But, with a little practice, difficult conversations get easier.
Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is a four-step compassionate communication process that teaches people to transform conflict into cooperation. Beginning in the 1960s, NVC has been used by millions of people around the world, from parents to peace processes in the Middle East. Though the name is a little antiquated, it’s a skill that is more relevant than ever for kids expected to collaborate with peers from so many cross-national and cross-community backgrounds.
Jenny Kepler, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in person therapy with adults, couples and families. She also offers parent coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland. http://jennykepler.com/