by: Gretchen Petersen, Chief Operating Officer
Communicating effectively with others is something that we all struggle with from time to time. Effective communication requires us to listen, process what others are saying, express our thoughts well, pay attention to our tone and body language, take someone else’s perspective, understand others’ nonverbal cues, and so on. Some of this we have learned over time and some we are still working on, but I think we can all agree that communication can be complicated.
Those with learning challenges may have a particularly difficult time picking up on ways to socialize appropriately. I say “picking up on” because these skills are typically not explicitly taught. They are something that people are expected to know, and when they don’t there can be unintended negative consequences. Teaching socially expected ways to communicate positively and practicing communication with our students in the learning environment is a primary focus at LPS.
Each class is like its own social skills group where the staff utilize Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking concepts to guide students in taking the perspective of their fellow classmates, developing a better sense of their own way of thinking, and expressing their thoughts in a way that creates an outcome that matches their intent. For example, a discussion in history class may trigger a student to think about something that happened in their own life not directly related to the topic. That student may then interrupt another student with this thought, which would cue the teacher to explain that interrupting someone is unexpected and could lead to some negative thoughts within the group. The teacher might also explicitly teach the group that thoughts can remain in our minds as bubble thoughts until it’s the expected time and place to say them. Lessons like this occur throughout the day in and out of classes in order to help students practice communicating with others effectively by reading social cues, identifying behaviors that may have a positive or negative impact on social interactions, and understanding others’ perspectives and thoughts.
Navigating peer relationships is another focus when developing positive ways to socially interact. The counselors and our Dean of Students play a pivotal role in coaching students when it comes to friendships, peer conflict, and problem solving. Counseling sessions give students a safe space to talk about misunderstandings and learn/practice positive strategies to help problem solve. Peer mediation meetings occur with a focus of processing situations to allow for a better understanding of each student’s intentions and to normalize that people make mistakes and can move forward with the relationship still intact.
Our students have hundreds of Interactions with others throughout the day. What we say and do within the social realm is an important part of who we are. Students with learning challenges benefit greatly when social communication instruction is infused within the environment. This creates the ability to practice in a safe setting where redirections are viewed as a learning experience, which is part of our whole child approach to student success.