Communication Skills

Sept. 4, 2014

There is a website on which reporters post “want ads” for information on subjects they are researching. Today I saw one of those information requests for college preparation advice for high school freshmen. The ad specifically requested “advice on how to build good habits.” I translate that to advice on how to be successful in college and life beyond high school.

How convenient then that the updated, second edition of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? has recently been released. It is, of course, full of just that kind of information. It is directed toward parents, however, because they are the ones that through guidance and the handing over of responsibilities give their teenagers those skills necessary for a successful college experience.

Although these skills have been discussed often in this forum, it is never too repetitive to make or update a list.

1. Your freshman should keep her own calendar. Include not only academic deadlines and dates, but have her note sport and extracurricular meeting dates, doctor appointments, and anything else she has going. You also should keep track of those dates because in the beginning she probably will miss a few. You can remind her, but eventually let her take over—and let her suffer the consequences of missing a deadline or an appointment.

2. In high school, many teenagers get involved in numerous activities: multiple sports, music, clubs, community service, a job. This is a good time to guide your teenager through priority management. Teenagers can become overwhelmed juggling too many activities on top of school work. Make it clear that academics come first. If school work starts to slide, then your teenager may need guidance in deciding which activities to let go. This can be hard for parents because the teenager may decide to give up something that mom or dad really want him to pursue—such as piano lessons or a particular sport that is near and dear to mom or dad’s heart. Remember that this is the teenager’s life and he needs to make the decisions.

3. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to put your teenager on a budget and teach her financial responsibility. Make a list of the items you will pay for and those for which the teenager is responsible. Do this whether the teenager’s money is an allowance, from work she does for you, or from an outside part-time job—and stick to the plan. This is a good time to show your teenager your household expenses and how you budget.

4. Provide opportunities for your teenager to improve his communication skills. During family gatherings or when friends are around, ask an adult to start conversations with your teen, asking about the teen’s activities, interests, or views. Teens need to learn to communicate face-to-face instead of relying on texting or social media outlets. Also encourage your teen to ask questions as that is a good way to start networking and building contacts.

That’s a good list to start. It will grow as your teenager ages and as you give out graduated responsibility. Keep reminding yourself that the goal is to help your teenager be ready, willing, and able for success in college and life beyond high school.

Oct. 29, 2013

One of my biggest concerns has come up again in “education” news—that of the dismal writing skills of far too many students. Matthew Lynch recently wrote in his Education Week blog that a recent study by Michigan State Professor Gary Troia found that “K-12 writing standards are stagnant from a decade ago, along with student writing achievement.” Troia goes on to say that “nearly 25 percent of K-12 students in the United States are not performing at a proficient writing level.”

As I have written before, in his extensive research on college readiness, David Conley of the University of Oregon professor and Director of the Center for Educational Policy Research has found that proficient writing is the most important academic skill for success in college. I also have written that writing skills are critical communication skills, and that no matter what job or career a young person chooses, being able to write clear, well-organized, concise papers, emails, task orders, proposals, reviews, critiques, and even notes shows that the employee is professional, pays attention to detail, and strives for quality.

I also have written that too often middle and high school teachers skimp on writing assignments because they require so much time to grade, followed by corrections, rewriting, and re-grading. Yet, it is precisely during these years that students need to develop their writing skills.

Lynch made some good suggestions to improve writing proficiency in K-12.

·         Teach keyboarding earlier than third grade, as is the current standard. Lynch points out, correctly, that kids are savvy keyboard operators as soon as they are introduced. A recent National Public Radio story discussed how quickly toddlers under age two learn to operate a touch screen on Mom’s phone or tablet. Lynch goes on to say that as young students learn keyboarding, they also learn spelling, reading, composition, phonics, and improve memory skills.

·         Writing should be an interdisciplinary focus. There is reading material on every subject, so it follows that every subject should include some writing—and be graded on the proficiency of the writing as well as the subject matter. Lynch writes: “Writing is a must-have skill in the global economy and one that will be needed in some capacity for every career. We can’t let students off the hook if writing is simply not their strong suit. Writing is a skill that anyone can master with enough practice and its practical applications need to be emphasized in every subject area.”

·         Lynch’s last point echoes Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?: “College is not the place where students should receive remedial help on their writing.” Professors assign papers assuming students already have the skills to research, compose, edit, and meet assignment deadlines. Students without those skills will indeed struggle in college. Lynch challenges K-12 to put writing on the “pedestal it deserves. It is the foundation of K-12 academic success and workplace achievement. If we put writing on the back burner, it has the potential to damage every other subject area and hold our students back from their true achievement in school and life beyond the K-12 and college years.”

Well said. Writing skills are essential to college success. To read Lynch’s article, go to:

July 2, 2013

 After a few weeks off, my hacked website is gone and this new one takes it place. And I can’t think of a better way to launch it than with a big applause for a very special young woman. Katie Wilkins-Wells is the daughter of my late co-author, Patricia Wilkins-Wells. Katie graduated from Colorado State University in May and landed a lucrative job in her field within a month. Katie definitely was a successful college student and I know her mother would glow with pride at the competence and capability Katie possesses.

 Katie’s major was in environmental affairs and interdisciplinary actions, and she transferred her interpersonal skills into working with irrigation companies, water districts, and stake holders. She capitalized on the connections her professors provided and she cultivated networking by attending water user meetings and making herself known in the “water world.” Her efforts and passions paid off in an internship last summer with the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company in southern Colorado where she helped work through share holder complaints, attended district and state meetings, and organized water transfer records and historical documents.

 All her hard work paid off as she was recently offered the position of general manager of the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District. Just before her 24th birthday, Katie will take the helm of the over three million-acre district that long has been staffed by men only. Besides the district, she also will work with the state to manage water use, and she will manage public communications, community education, and budgeting. Katie will facilitate problem solving when disputes arise over water shortages and other issues. In short, Katie will be using all those skills so necessary for success in college and beyond.

 Katie worked hard to get where she is today and she offers advice to other students: “Passion for a subject is key, and internships are crucial if you want to get a job after college. My professors helped so much with networking (therefore get to know them). Show interest as often as you can by sitting in on meetings or lectures in your field. When the people you meet see your commitment, they will be more willing to provide you with resources to help you get started.”

 Katie’s comments reveal a young woman who has developed good communication skills, who has taken responsibility for herself, and who has worked hard to get where she is. Even though she started in a different major, Katie found her passion and made the most of her college experience. After her success in college, it is clear that she is ready, willing, and able to succeed in her work as well. Well done, Katie! Congratulations!

 And as soon as she sends a picture, I post her smiling face on the Toward College Success Facebook page:

Feb 19, 2013

It is no surprise to readers of this forum that I think Colorado State University’s Office of Parent and Family Programs does a great job with its Parents and Families newsletter. It is always full of useful information for parents of CSU students—information that helps parents understand what it takes to be a successful college student.

 The most recent issue is no exception. In an article about “supporting academic endeavors,” Dean of Students and Executive Director of the Office of Parent and Family Programs, Jody Donovan, asked her college-attending son for his advice on how parents and family members can have meaningfully talks with their “college students about their courses, learning, and exploring new areas of interests.”  He gave some solid suggestions for parents of college students, but his comment on communication skills got my attention.

 Donovan wrote that her son said that, “many college students have not had experience talking with adults about important matters. Many students have not had to handle important conversations on their own, and need practice before they feel comfortable talking with a faculty or staff member. He (her son) has watched numerous students rely on their parents for simple logistical matters, like paying rent, setting up meetings, researching deadlines, etc. Parents and family members play a significant role in helping students practice, through role playing, coaching, and preparing students for handling their own affairs. It is hard for us, as parents to watch our students struggle with something we can take care of easily, and yet, if students never get an opportunity to tackle things on their own, they never gain these important skills for success in life.”

 Or for success in college. The skills that Donovan spoke of are some of the skills I continually tout in this forum and in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Donovan, who is quoted in Toward College Success, recommends the book to parents attending CSU campus visits. She recognizes that the skills outlined in Toward College Success are indeed essential for students to be successful in their college living and learning environment. The communication skills necessary for success that her son correctly noted are discussed in my Jan. 8, 2013 blog post. Parents who create opportunities for their teenagers to hone communication skill, who give them graduated responsibilities, who let them be responsible for their own appointments and calendars, are parents who are teaching the skills critical for college success and life beyond high school.