5 Tips for Helping Students Improve Their Interpersonal Skills
Do our students know how to talk to each other? With adults? In the workforce? In various parts of their lives?
There’s widespread anxiety that digital technology is producing children who are growing up noncommunicative and detached from society. And while it’s true that we’re seeing a massive shift in how we communicate and interact, every new technology generates exaggerated concern about its impact on society. Heck, Socrates supposedly railed against the advent of writing as it would cause people to forget what they’ve remembered.
Nevertheless, teachers still need to spend time developing appropriate interpersonal skills in our students. Here are a few tips for doing that in the digital age:
Remember basic manners
As much as it makes me feel like I’ve turned into my father, I find myself making it a point to remind students about the times when “please” and “thank you” should always be used. Aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to do, it also makes the other person feel valued and worthy of appropriate treatment.
When I encourage this type of behavior, I always remember the saying, “A person who is nice to you, but not nice to the waiter, is not a nice person.” Also, positive social behavior lifts up the entire community and helps schools to focus on other more academic concerns.
Respect personality differences
There are a lot of different personality types in the world, and we have an obligation to help our students figure out how to work with and manage all of them. It’s unreasonable to give our students the idea that they will like everything about their future friends, neighbors and co-workers.
Being patient with others, finding the “sweet spot” by having just enough — but not too much — contact, and not taking others too seriously are all good things to remind our students. This lesson also teaches our students to avoid behaviors that push people away, such as dominating a conversation, insisting that things get done their way, or not meeting their deadlines and responsibilities.
Work together collaboratively
Fewer and fewer careers have people working in isolation, so you have to incorporate collaborative and group-work lessons into your practice. To make this work effectively, be sure to set up the groups yourself, have the students pursue legitimate and worthwhile goals, avoid busywork, and explicitly teach the children the behaviors and ways to interact in a group setting.
This is where balance is important. A part of your class should be dedicated to the sharing of information, but that work should lead into students practicing their interpersonal skills by working together. Some teachers take this a step further and incorporate problem-based or challenge-based learning activities into the class.
While it’s good to tell students about your expectations, it’s better to spend time having them practice working through situations that illustrate why the expectations matter.
Set time aside to give students scenarios that challenge their interpersonal skills. How would they address a non-working group member? What are polite behaviors in a social setting? What would a well-written and comprehensive complaint letter look like if they were unhappy? The best way to have children adopt a behavior, other than modeling it for them, is to have them explicitly practice it.
Tell parents this is a goal
Your communications to parents should reinforce that your classroom is primarily an academic place that students need to leave with more abilities and knowledge than they had when they arrived. Yet it’s also reasonable for them to expect their children to leave your class as better people.
Let your parents know you’ll be setting time aside to develop the appropriate habits that make them productive, useful and polite members of society.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- Vaughan Bell, "Don’t Touch That Dial! A history of media technology scares, from the printing press to Facebook.," Slate.com