Cultivating Communication in the Classroom

9 Min Read  •  Community Connections

It’s always at the end of the school year that I spend a lot of time reflecting on my own communication skills as a leader. There is a lot of information to disseminate to teachers and everyone is tired so there are gaps in understanding. This year, the team and I have used a combination of our instructional website, smores, youtube videos, remind 101, and the traditional email and phone calls and it leaves me wondering what worked, what didn’t, where we need to streamline and what needs to change.

Then taking it deeper I wonder if I struggle this much, what’s communication like in the classroom and how can we best help our team of teachers to develop deeper more meaningful communication. All of us, including students, are inundated with various communication streams on a minute by minute basis and we need to consider how to manage and analyze this communication for effective life management.

I was privileged enough to have met Lisa Johnson, as she is a fellow Texas educator. Not long after we met, she sent me an advanced copy of her first book and as I read it I knew I needed to connect more with her, allowing our PLN to learn from her and soak up all the tips that she had for better educational practices that enhance communication. Lisa graciously hosted #K12ArtChat in April and has agreed to follow up the chat by doing a quick interview with us.

Lisa, thank you so much for spending a little more time sharing with us and sharing your knowledge with our community.

One statement from your book that stood out was “If we are truly teaching learners and preparing them for a future not yet written, then we need to consider the need for all students to receive a viable education that not includes core content but also purposeful integration of the 4 Cs ( critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) .” Our education system is in the midst of a transformational time, in which educators are searching for innovative methods to educate students. We as educators should also work to practice the 4 Cs with our community and colleagues in order to enhance our classrooms, strengthen our teaching and model for our students.

What suggestions do you have for educators to provide and model purposeful integration of the 4 Cs?

Well, I could write 194 pages on that… but seriously. ;) The avenue I took was focusing on communication and threading the other 3 Cs through it. For example, once students know how to effectively communicate in a group and in written communication, then they can start collaborating and creating things together. And once they are aware of how their online communication and preferences impact others and are viewed by others, they are more apt to use tools like social media and curation effectively and think critically about what they post and create online. I have also compiled a quick reference of a few of the ideas and strategies within the book into an infographic… “21 Communication Skills Every HS student should have before College and Career.” I also don’t want to leave out social emotional learning which is clearly a big buzzword right now as well. But honestly, I think if you are focusing on communication, than self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills will ultimately follow.

A key component of your book is that you give educators tangible tools to use for curriculum design to allow for purposeful communication to occur, one of those tools is the Communication Catcher.

Please tell us about the Communication Catcher: what is it? How does it work and what feedback have you had from teachers and students?

Early on when I was writing the book, I knew I didn’t want it to look and feel like every other professional development book out there. In fact, I wanted there to be a bit of whimsy and “edutainment”… included purposefully, of course. I was reading the book “Shut Your Monkey” by Danny Gregory, and I was so drawn in by the large iconic banana on the front cover so I started thinking about icons and symbols. At the same time, I was also considering the element of nostalgia – let it be know I was also watching Fuller House at the time – as communication has changed so much in the past 20 years and yet for some reason, there are ideas that transcend decades and time… and the cootie catcher (or fortune teller) just happened to be one of those things. My elementary son knows what they are and HS students do too. So I decided to create one for each chapter! The intent is that they can be used directly with students or in professional development with teachers. All of the resources and “communication catchers” can be found on the companion site . I have to say that it was both surreal and reaffirming to have teachers actually cut these out and use them. It brings such joy and engagement to them while still interacting with the core communication curriculum and strategies.

So personally, Lisa I have to say that I love how your first chapter is about email etiquette. Etiquette in general is something we all need to have continued conversation around; it’s essential to effective communication and email, in particular. As a teacher leader, I feel that professionals are all over the spectrum in terms of emails tone and formality of language. What is your #1 recommendation for working with students and teachers on email etiquette?

I think my number one recommendation is simply to organize your info in such a way that it is entirely obvious what you are trying to say or ask for and that you can garner a clear response quickly. Using bullets, questions, and condensing text seems to really help with this process. People don’t have time to figure out what you are asking or cipher 3 paragraphs of text before you get to the point. ;)

And do you think today’s students still need email practice (is it a skill they will still need as a future skill)?

I believe so. I’m not going to say that this batch of texters and tweeters won’t impact the communication styles of our future workforce but at least for the forseeable future… colleges and careers are still using email in some form or format.

Switching gears a little… Matt and I really liked the questions you posed for #K12ArtChat. There were two that we hoped you would expand on. What do you use with students to create digital portfolios and how do you ensure the portfolio stays with the student when they move to a new grade or school, etc.?

As more and more student work becomes digital in nature, we have to provide a consistent repository. Oftentimes, campuses and grade levels choose different tools and while I do love the idea of choice… I think sometimes we do our students a disservice by not simplifying and streamlining the process. Ideally, students should have easy access to their K-12 educational artifacts and be able to reflect on them and also take them with them when they leave our institution. I have had several questions on this particular topic so I decided to create a Portfolio Platforms Considerations guide to kickstart these discussions.

What ideas would you suggest for fostering reflection, peer analysis and collaboration in terms of student creativity?

This kind of ties into the portfolios in the sense that we don’t just want to stuff content in a digital shoebox and never look at it again. The benefit of it being online rather than in garage is that we can easily review and reflect on it. But it isn’t just our work… the ability to easily share these digital artifacts allows us to easily receive feedback from a much wider audience… peers, family, etc… To facilitate these types of conversations… I created a Peer Portfolio Communication Catcher.

Last (but not least) for us is the idea of visual literacy as artists and art educators and how we know an image is worth a thousand words. However, we live in a screen-based world where images have become more important than ever in communication: icons, emojis, graphics… they are a language all their own. What suggestions do you have for teaching students to communicate effectively through visuals, as well as read and analyze images?

Ah yes… I think there are lots of ways to explore visual literacy in communication. For one, exploring the use of emoticons in emails and analyzing how the same message can be transformed with a different icon is powerful. Presentation skills thrive on the ability for students to navigate visual literacy and metaphors effectively. I am including a slide deck I use with students to teach them some of these visual literacy skills within presentations. I think it is also vitally important that students protect what they share online whether it be with their own logo or some sort of watermark. One of the first visuals people see is your resume… After seeing the shift to a slightly more visual style of content formation…I recently revised my own resume . I am also including a Smore that I created on this idea of Blended Resumes.

Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your insights. Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to share with the #k12ArtChat community and EducationCloset readers?

Parting thoughts… are simply to please feel free to contact me and continue these discussions. I typically tend to share the most via Twitter, Facebook , and Pinterest and would love to connect with educators that are interested in the topics we discussed here today and would like to keep the ball rolling! ;) … Oh and one more thing. Each chapter has a Pinterest board so even though the book has been published… I will continue to add research and resources to those boards. ;)

You can find Lisa’s book “Cultivating Communication in the Classroom; Future Ready Skills for Secondary Students” on where it has a 5 star rating. I believe that Lisa’s book is a valuable tool for educators who are looking to enhance the classroom community as it offers research based realistic activities to implement into cross-curricular lesson plans. One of the features I love about this book is that at the end of each chapter there is an authentic teacher reflection tool and student self assessment which allows the teacher to consider key facets of their classroom communication. I highly recommend this one as you begin your planning for next school year!

Wishing You a Creative Summer,
Laura & Matt Grundler