TED Conversations

Karen Goepen-Wee

Language Arts Educator and Literacy Advocate, Rundle College Academy

TEDCRED 20+

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How best might educators and business leaders work together to help students become clear, effective communicators?

Universities and businesses constantly talk about how so many of their students or recent hires lack the ability to clearly and effectively communicate. Although clear communication is highly desired, I personally do not believe that the skills required for mastery of communication are effectively taught or modelled in school at all levels. I feel that the current focus upon back to basics in terms of language arts skills does not help students learn to communicate because this kind of teaching is limited and limiting. Students learn best to communicate when engaged in real world, inquiry based projects and Reader's/Writer's workshops where they must constantly use the skills of communication in context. I feel that the business world is an untapped resource in terms of real-world possibilities.

How could we go about nurturing education/business partnerships that are ethical?

What are the best methods for developing communication skills?

How can we best engage students in the communication process?

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    Feb 28 2014: Having ample opportunity to read, write, speak, and discuss at school are time-honored and effective strategies for building communication skills. Are these activities not a central part of education in Canada as you observe it?
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    Mar 2 2014: Educators and business leaders can help young people become better commnicators by SHOWING them what is right, what is noble, what is real, and what is divine.

    How can educators and business leaders help young people become effective communicators when they themselves are not effective?
    • Mar 6 2014: Lead by example? Are you MAD, man!? That would bring about the complete downfall of modern society! You'll be advocating tolerance, charity, kindness, personal courage, and an internal work ethic next!
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        Mar 6 2014: Bryan, things are not easy anymore. If modern society will fall because of tolerance, ...and internal work ethic, let's hope it will be replaced by a better one, a New Global Society. What do you think of that? Dreaming?

        No wonder, on the rare nights I have pleasant dreams, I don't want to wake up!

        Hope things are doing well for you, my friend.
      • Mar 7 2014: The Modern Society is already on the downfall due to obsession with Money,Intolerance,unethical work culture.

        The humanity is suffering from diabetes of Money. High blood pressure of Intolerance.Cancer or unethical work culture.
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    Mar 1 2014: it comes down to content - so much of the content is dull and irrelevant and taught simply for the sake of tradition.

    opinion and controversy and debate are always interesting and often generate emotive responses which is engaging in itself.

    less adherence to rules for the sake of tradition would be helpful but most people balk at the idea of a misplaced comma or embarrassing lack of apostophe's ;)

    generally, it is time that causes most mis-communication, or more accurately, rushing to meet deadlines.

    i would think the first step is for universities and businesses to clarify what exactly the mean by "clear communication". once that's established, anyone with a brain and a desire to work in such an environment would be able to do exactly that.
    • Mar 6 2014: It has nothing to do with content. All "content" can be fascinating if taught properly. It has to do with incompetent or ill-trained teachers.
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        Mar 6 2014: what a ridiculous statement.

        that's the go-to "argument" of those informed only by network media and it really doesn't hold any water, it's merely a political gimmick to stir an emotive response in the gullible and ignorant.

        you can fascinate all of people some of the time and you can fascinate some of the people all of the time but you can't fascinate all of the people all of the time.
        • Mar 6 2014: No, it's a statement made from decades of experience at presenting data and teaching. Content is merely a tool. The incompetent craftsman blames the tool. A good speaker or teacher NEVER has to "fascinate all of the people all of the time"--NEVER. A speaker or teacher only has to deal with some of the people some of the time. You cannot use the same exact approach to every different group of people. Approach is content-independent to an important degree.

          However, you keep blaming the "content" for everything, just like incompetent teachers blame the students for everything (I've seen it happen).
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        Mar 6 2014: same.

        it depends on what level of education you're talking about.

        i certainly do blame content when so much of it is taught merely for the sake of tradition.

        when you're chained to a restrictive curriculum or syllabus, then, of course it falls onto the teacher to enliven the duller, less relevant content but you've missed my point (maybe that's my fault as communicator).

        i have been teaching in a variety of roles for 16 years and i just do not see these incompetent teachers that politicians and the general public keep mentioning. not on the scale that is constantly implied.

        most of the time it's just politicians using education as a cheap way to garner public support or parents who have some sort of clash with a teacher and so label them incompetent when they should only be saying that they disagree.
      • Mar 7 2014: I completely agree with you that incompetent teachers blame the students for everything.Quality teachers are biggest problem, the profession of teaching is seen as the job of unemployed people. Means one who cannot get a job becomes a teacher.

        There is a famous quote who said it I don't remember his name :

        Those who can , they do. Those who cannot , they teach.
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    Mar 11 2014: Educators and business leaders "must realize and accept that clear communication is always a two-way process. It’s not enough to speak clearly; you have to make sure you’re being heard and understood. To facilitate this, use the following two-way communication primer:"

    1.Prepare how you’ll communicate
    • Clarify the goal of the communication.
    • Plan carefully before sending it or meeting in person.
    • Anticipate the receiver’s viewpoint and feelings.

    2.Deliver the message
    • Express your meaning with conviction.
    • Relate the message to your larger goals.
    • Identify the action to be taken.
    • Confirm the other person understands.

    3.Receive the message
    • Keep an open mind.
    • Identify key points in the message.
    • Value constructive feedback and use it to grow.
    • Confirm your understanding.


    http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/12675/communication-most-important-key-to-leadership-success

    Last but not least, educators and leaders should "Walk the talk and talk the walk" or, "Talk the talk, walk the walk".
  • Mar 2 2014: Consider it a matter of talking with your audience. Make it as much a two-way discussion as possible,factoring in your audience's many different views, rather than one-way communication of rhetoric promoting your agenda.
  • Mar 2 2014: I try to tell my students to have a checklist:

    1) Content: have SOMETHING OF INTEREST to tell (at least to you)
    2) A tale or plot: how will you tell this story
    3) Know your length: how long will your story go
    4) Channel: what to use to make the message more attractive (it should be interesting if you are up to this point)
    5) Produce: build a text, presentation
    6) Rehearse, try and improve
    7) Summarize: Leave a short coherent message

    8) PLEASE PLEASE STOP AT ANY POINT IF YOU LACK A MESSAGE, COURAGE OR CAPACITY TO WORK AT THIS TIME

    And it works fairly well (I teach engineering)

    Great initiative, learnt a lot!
  • Mar 1 2014: I believe the answer lies in the inability to empathize with the needs, wants and desires of the audience they communicate with. Understanding the subject and audience is key to communicating with the reader. Instead of writing about what they know, acquired or were told to communicate, students need to learn to create a positive experience that reflects the needs, wants, desires, or learning of their audience. To make their writing something more than just a story that informs. Involve your audience in the discussion, make them part of the article, show your compassion and passion for the subject and compel your audience to act.
    • Mar 6 2014: Nope. I have autism. I don't do empathy. I am a very effective public speaker (although I am a terrible conversationalist). I usually have no clue and very often don't care about the "needs, wants and desires of the audience". Nevertheless, I am remembered, and what I say is usually remembered. It's a technical skill, not some kind of silly touchy-feely thing. Such attitudes actually interfere with effective public communication. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were equally effective public communicators. Did they have equal empathy for the audience? Churchill was famous for his complete lack of empathy--he simply didn't give a damn. He was an amazing public communicator.
      • Mar 6 2014: As a successful, now retired, marketing communications manager I discovered when learning the automated and computerized shade control business, that empathizing with my audience enabled me to triple sales in only five years.

        As for Clinton and Reagan. Clinton empathized with the needs and desires of those who sought affordable health care. Reagan empathized with the desires of those who wanted less government intervention when he made his welfare queen speech. Rush Limbaugh empathizes with the desires of his extremist radio audience each time he goes into an outrage. Churchill's return to government was though his experience as Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Air. Thus, when war arrived, his rough "didn't give a damn" attitude empathized with the needs and wants of a nation at war. A nation that needed to make many sacrifices and needed a rough leader to get them through a crisis.

        What you don't say is what you are so effective at communicating. Since you made an issue of your autism, I assume that autism as a subject is why your are such an effective speaker. Your audience I assume is comprised of parents like me who have children with a language impairment who seek an understanding of the issue. Thus, if autism is your specialty, then you are empathizing with the needs and desires of your audience. My son has a language impairment, both speech and written, yet he learned from me to use empathy to communicate with his customer.
  • Mar 1 2014: I think the single most effective strategy to engage students in communication is developing confidence and making students realize that their ideas are worthwhile . Low self esteem is arguably the most common hindrance for many people in becoming better communicators.
    Also more emphasis is to be given to content instead of style. Style is something the communicator learns and embodies over time and practice.
    Students can be made to communicate by involving them in activities they love. When a person is passionate about something he/she breaks all the mental barriers such as low self esteem and start communicating.
  • Mar 1 2014: Value and Respect for each other.

    Each group needs to see the value in the efforts of the other group. This is in place of placing blame which often happens in these situations. The right group of people who values the efforts of the other group could make great strides.

    Respect has become a significant issue as well. There is a lack of respect towards educators in general and the quality of their work. Just look at the questions that are asked on TED Conversations as one example. BUT, there is also a lack of respect towards business in this situation as well. The immediate suspicion of "why do you want to get involved in education?" and the lack of respect towards educators by business people and others, has created a hostile environment.

    Break through those two issues and you could see some significant changes. Get these two groups on the same page and you could see impact in education and the business world very positively long - term.
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      Mar 1 2014: I like your emphasis upon respect. Often, I feel that this attribute is the key piece in successful collaborations of any kind, especially in the education world which is rife with emotion and high stakes.

      What do you think could lead to a breakthrough in this situation?
      • Mar 1 2014: Sorry, my reply went farther down.

        Start small with people that are in your community. People that value the idea and are willing to work towards a common goal. You will find the most success. In addition, the connection between teacher and business leader will be more powerful.

        Anything worth doing is worth starting small and succeeding. High stakes, high power educational leaders and business people are very often far disconnected from the classroom. The big names in business and education of bring their own agendas that are not as connected to the classroom you want to improve. Start with the classroom teacher and small business owner from the same community that are passionate about improving education and you could have a powerful connection with amazing results. At the very least, you have a really good start between two people who know the kids and have an interest in seeing them improve.
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    Mar 1 2014: Jacob brought up a good point in that it's important for students to know that good communication and presentation skills are necessary in almost every sector of the workforce...well, of life, really. Bringing people in to schools to discuss and demonstrate ways in which communication is critical to their success - whether they are CEOs or artists or landscape designers or what-have-you - would probably be effective in helping students realize what a valuable skill it is across the board.
    As far as acquiring the skills - bringing in people who are good at what they do and who can model it for students, and having teachers create tied-in workshops and practice opportunities might very well be the way to go.
    From my experience with the school system so far, the challenge would not be in acquiring mentors, but in getting teacher buy-in to reach critical mass so that partnerships with "the outside world" become the norm, rather than the exception. I wish I had a solution - looking at how the relationship could benefit the teachers, in addition to the students, may be a place to start.
    Thanks for posting this conversation, Karen. It is giving me lots to ponder!
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      Mar 1 2014: I think you have a really valid point in terms of teacher buy-in. Thanks for making me think! I'm lucky enough to work in a school that has a plethora of parents who would love to come in and share their skills with my students. I just might have a new project to pursue.
  • Feb 28 2014: I think I would like to follow Fritizie's question with an observation. Lawyers are pretty effective communicators by the time they graduate from Law School. If you ignore the material and focus on the technique, I believe they are constantly being asked to prove something, to make a case, to justify an argument, to support a position. I think this type of communications rigor belongs in more classrooms. I recall many classes where the whole game was to take copious notes during lectures and regurgitate them on tests and exams. This seemed to occur in humanities more than sciences. While there was ample opportunity to demonstrate with written communications skills with papaers,there was very little of the discussion or debate that you might see in a legal classroom. In the sciences, the homework problems and labs gave exposure to application of skills, but it wasn't until Senior year when there was much emphasis on actual application or collective problem solving, such as design projects or working in teams.

    Some of the best communicating instructors I ever had came out of the military acadamies. While the discipline and intentional application of decision making under pressure at these places is not for everyone, I think this experience also creates strength of conviction, the ability to defend a position or argue a point, and the expectation of clarity of thought and action.

    Do college professors still call on students to go to the board to solve a problem or be asked questions on the spot? or have we gone to a kinder and gentler educational experience that lets students learn stress free at their own pace? Time was you had to go and ask people questions to learn or get things done. Similarly, for following up to see things actually were done. Now it is assumed that an e-mail or internet search solves all problems, no direct human interaction required.

    I wonder if poorer communications skills is a by-product of these activities?
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      Mar 1 2014: High school teachers call students to the board all the time and ask kids on the spot to offer a position or to respond to a prompt. Many college teachers do as well.
      • Mar 1 2014: Would you say that is the exception or the rule? I remember classes where a debate was generally discouraged, often at the student's expense. I also remember classes where the professor was more concerned about meeting breadth of material objectives, covering chapters, or re-emphasizing his/her perspectives than encouraging inter-active learning.

        You can easily understand how a class designed for lectures might get derailed by debate, but yet it is an important facet of learning. It is almost as if lecture classes needed a debate workshop of some sort after the lecture, studying, and homework had been completed to complete the cycle of idea formation and argument defense. I guess essay questions are one means of this, but I do not see T/F or multiple choice tests accomplishing this goal. Although debates in every subject would be hard to regulate and add a lot of time to programs, I think they would probably be a better communications development method for inter-personal communications and "on your feet" response requirements.
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          Mar 1 2014: I understood from the reference to "back-to-basics" and reference to readers/writers workshops that the questioner was mostly focused on k12. I answered more for k12

          I would say that in the United States in k12 discussion and interactive pedagogy are very much the dominant form and lecture a small minority. At university there may be more of a mixture, because the old format of lecture by the prof followed by separate discussion sections still has its hold, particularly in large classes. So a course at university could well have three hours of lecture per week, with students raising hands and asking questions in the lecture hall and then an hour in which students are broken up into groups of twenty five or fewer for "discussion section."

          If you are asking specifically about debate, I think discussion in classrooms typically doesn't take the form of debate per se. Look, for example, at this: http://tools4teachingscience.org/pdf/DiscoursePrimer.pdf There is class discussion with the teacher facilitating to bring out alternative views and theories and their support or different ways a solving a problem.
    • Mar 6 2014: Generally, lawyers are poor communicators and good conversational railroaders. The forensic model of exposition, while effective in a courtroom and useful for bullying a non-lawyer, is not good communication. It's only effective in shutting someone up. That being say, I have met lawyers who are excellent communicators, but they speak very differently in a professional context.
  • Feb 28 2014: Businesses and universities demonstrate that half of students have below median IQ.
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      Feb 28 2014: Which mathematically makes sense :D haha
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    Feb 28 2014: My short guess would be, more exposure. English is not my native language nor did I receive any formal training in using it during normal discourse. One of my recent jobs was to invite people to apply in our call center, thus requiring me not to have good English but great English. Being an introvert and not being good at speaking in general, I was shocked. I had to talk to people I didn't know and cannot see many times a day. But after awhile I got my practice and I got used to it. Like they say, experience is the best teacher.
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    Mar 9 2014: What actually is a 'clear and effective communicator' universities and businesses are missing so much?

    My experience, so far, is absolutely different from what you describe, because as more 'clear' one communicates, as more efficient it turns out to become an instant career stopper in both worlds, academia & business ...

    Whoever clearly asked his/her professor about the true necessity and value of his/her syllabus in the 'real world' may not survive the next exam in good conditions.

    Whoever clearly asked his/her boss to change poor working conditions or flawed company structures may never receive another paycheck in that company ever again.

    Is 'effective communication' hereby understood as to only say whats expected to be said or wanted to be heard? Is that the 'clearness' missing?

    Looking at recent whistle-blower cases, communication quality still seems to be a top-down decision of what is to be considered 'effective' and what not. Anything else is either treason or inadequate criticism ...

    So whats your take on 'clearness' and 'efficiency' in the given context?

    Ah, or is it the ability to shrink complex realities onto a single PowerPoint slide for decision makers who love to have little to none to read because they are that 'busy' ... ?

    One colorful picture or clip-art included, of course, on that single slide!
  • Mar 8 2014: For this question, I can easly say; They have to give a chance for students, for example student can learn in school but they dont know how the real life, They need to make pratic in their life. So, educaters and business leaders should set up a field for students to practice their knowledge.
  • Mar 8 2014: For this question, I can easly say; They have to give a chance for students, for example student can learn in school but they dont know how the real life, They need to make pratic in their life. So, educaters and business leaders should set up a field for students to practice their knowledge.
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    Mar 7 2014: Effective communication starts with basics like grammar, spelling and punctuation. Those issues should be addressed first.

    Once that is in place, learning to engage your reader or audience is more of a soft skill. I was taught that long sentences with big words would lose your reader. I continue to be surprised at how many people don't know how to effectively use acronyms or technical phrases.

    As a mentor, I try to give my students useful feedback. Tell them, for instance, that they lost you at the first sentence. They certainly won't hear that from prospective employers.
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    Mar 7 2014: Karen and others in this convo - I saw this post today and thought of the conversation here. Just wanted to pass it on and share. Cheers - Niki
    http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/03/the-value-of-interships-a-dose-of-the-real-world-in-high-school/
  • Mar 7 2014: I often get CV's from the people with funny objective statements.These objective statements are often written in merry go round style sentences with high sounding and bombastic words to which only the CV writer can understand.

    Is it necessary to use high-sounding and bombastic words to show that a person is highly educated.Why can't simple ,clear and to the point statement be written.

    While speaking over the telephone I don't understand that why the speaker speaks at such a fast speed to which only he/she can understand.

    Does fluency means that a person should speak as fast as he/she can? Does it means that one who can talk in high speed is educated person and those who cannot talk in high speed are un-educated.

    The communication should be such that it should instill confidence in the other person,build trust and credibility as well.
  • Mar 7 2014: Rodrigo,

    Thanks for the article on 10 Characteristics of Effective Communicators, I could not have said it better.
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    Mar 6 2014: These are excellent suggestions. Thanks so much for such a detailed list!
  • Mar 6 2014: As someone in industry who has been complaining for many years on this topic (almost every engineer/computer science major/programmer had to be sent to presentation, writing, listening, and sometimes reading courses).

    1. starting at an early age, probably k - have students give presentations to the entire class,
    2. stage plays where everyone has a speaking part, not just the chosen favorites of the teacher
    3. Debate teams, clubs and debates in class
    4. in math class, have students present solutions to problems or proofs
    5. Have students lead experiments instead of the teacher
    6; Major discussions
    7. Written reports on everything
    8. Have classes listen and then write reports on what was said by other students/teachers/guest lecturers with opinions

    we talk about communication but ignore 50% of communication - listening and answering the questions asked. Too many people are thinking what they are going to say to make themselves look good, rather than listening and adding to the discussion.
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    Mar 4 2014: Karen, I became very interested in the PISA Exams and why some countries are accelerating and others declining. In the case of the accelerating they have one area that we have ignored .... practicum.

    This gives the student a real world immediate application and feedback on what was todays textbook lesson.

    A effective communicator can give you real world cause and effect. I may look good on paper to do X but in real business the true answer rests in X, Y, Z and others.

    In math we are only concerned (USA) in the correct answer (C) to the math problem ... In Singapore they are interested in how to apply that formula (application). That results in real communications.

    I can pump a lot of hot air I read about ... or I can model and resolve issues based on working knowledge.

    True communications occur when we understand the issue. Lets start there.

    Further most schools no longer have debate or speech classes as we had years ago due to reduced funding. Thus reducing the public speaking skills. As a Engineer, state and federal public servant I have also noticed the inability to express themselves in wrtten communications.

    Yep we got problems right here in River City ..... the cure is not in either funding or immediate concerns as STEM and CORE are driving the bus here.

    Be well. Bob.
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    Mar 3 2014: I think the skill of communication is crucial to one's career. With regard to its development, it grows while people keep practicing,keep communicating. Whilst teacher and business leaders can be helpful to encourage them,and facilitate it when students feel intimidated. The teachers and leaders can create such environment for them to practice,and cooperate with students to form a mindset better applies to communicate with people.
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    Mar 2 2014: Technically, I haven't heard universities or businesses talking constantly about "how so many of their students or recent hires lack the ability to clearly and effectively communicate." Where exactly are you hearing this?

    I have to deal with a lot of young workers in various businesses (for instance, if I need help at the supermarket), and they seem to communicate okay?

    What is it that you want young people to communicate that you think they aren't communicating?
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    Mar 2 2014: Instead of focus on theoretical study one must focus on practical study.
    Educator can give the idea of what to speak and how to speak. Business leader can tell where to speak.
    If both work together then anything can be achieved by students but the problem is that nowadays everyone focus on theory.
  • Mar 2 2014: Hi Dear Karen:)That's really a good idea for us to think of how educators and businessleaders to consider about their social resposibility to build a good circle of circumstance to help young students to join in our society as well as adapted themselves to serve the society.

    The environment of learning here is hardly doing in China.Because the education oreintation in China still focus on Exams.And as well most of people's counscience of studying mean staying at schools,sitting at classrooms,listening to teachers,taking part in exams,getting goos scores,that is all about young students should do.Last week,I asked my students :can you cook?there are sixty-students in the classroom,just around ten students said they could.Then I said:don't you think cooking is one kind of very necessary studying too?they said:no,then I asked:then what do you think of studying is?they said:got good scores .then I asked:why do you think so?they said:because only good scores can help us to get into good university but good cooking.I said:oh,yes,that's true...:)
  • Mar 1 2014: Excellent ??? BTW. I feel my remarks apply best to the last two ???'s. Less is MORE. Text books should be pamphlets and a quick synopsis of the event or events. Students should be encouraged to communicate the broadest ideas with the least amount of verbiage. I read that Berkshire Hathaway the conglomerate lumps its multi business reports into one broad report. Have the student write a two page report then synthesize it into one sentence. This becomes their mission statement. Offer the students articles on business from the respected business news hounds. Often the headline is the whole story.

    Students love to doodle. Take that form of communication and apply it to the topic they are studying. The art of business is using language as a billboard for all their stakeholders. Google's "Do No Evil" Disney "The Happiest Place on Earth." GE "We bring good things to life" UPS "Synchronizing the world."

    Education is fraught with PhD's who like to write a lot but I would have the students reply to every ones answer from the same set of questions. This works better in smaller groups but it's effective for getting critical thinking going with a group. Don't value the remarks it works better as a participation point.