How can I help my students set effective communication goals?

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I started a Twitter thread this week, asking #ActuallyAutistic individuals what they want their college campuses to know about autism and the supports, programs, or resources they wish were made available to them on campus. Out of the responses, Alex Fleming, an undergraduate sciences #ActuallyAutistic student living in New Zealand, raised a great point about professor feedback.

Alex, an enthusiastic student, was often the first to raise his head or respond to a lecturer’s question. When he started receiving feedback from professors like: “I know you know this one, but does anyone else know x?” he realized that he was irritating his favorite lecturers by dominating the classroom discussions and had not been considering the feelings of his classmates.

He was not intentionally being rude — he was just passionate about the subject matter! Eventually, after observing how other students behaved in class, Alex was able to better understand the nuances of classroom participation. He even developed his own four-step process to determine if it was an appropriate time to talk in class or if he was being “that guy.” The process was not easy.

“It was entirely out of ignorance that I was being obnoxious,” Alex revealed, “and I went through a lot of embarrassment and anxiety trying to figure it out alone.”

Instead, Alex wished that his professors had been open and honest with him and told him (in a straightforward but kind manner) the structure of classroom discussion and Q&A’s, instead of him having to navigate that alone.

Likewise, if our students are struggling in the classroom, having a hard time connecting with their peers, and growing frustrated with communication limitations, there are simple ways that we can get involved to support them on their journey to better communication.

How? By helping them set (and hold them accountable them to!) effective communication goals.

Goal setting is a process that will help your student decide what communication skills they want to improve and chart their progress towards successful completion. Goal setting gives shape and the necessary direction to accomplish the achievements they wish to make, and setting goals will help them focus their time and effort to reach the desired outcome.

To help your students improve your communication skills in a structured and measurable way, follow these four steps:

1. Help your student determine which particular communication skill they want to improve.

When I was working on improving my communication skills, I found that trying to improve too many communication skills at the same time was very difficult; and therefore, I would only concentrate on improving one or two communication skills at a time. Having a smaller number of communication skills to improve on at a time kept me from being distracted and allowed me to be more motivated and persistent in my follow up.

2️. Chart your student’s progress on a weekly basis.

Whether the progress is charted daily, weekly, or monthly, good and consistent follow-up can help you achieve the goal. Tony Robbins put it best: “Decide what you’re absolutely committed to achieving, take massive action, and notice what’s working or not. Then, keep changing your approach until you’ve achieved what you want.”

3. Set a deadline.

Setting deadlines will help your student to stop procrastinating and will inspire your student into action. For example, when I was working to improve my listening skills, I set a deadline of six months.

4️. Remind your student of the goal they want to accomplish.

Along the way, your student might become frustrated and lose sight of the end goal. In moments like these, it is important that you encourage your student and help keep them on track by reminding them of all that there is to gain by accomplishing the goal. Sometimes, I would repeat the goal over and over in my mind. Other times I would post a reminder of the goal on a sticky note and place it on my bathroom mirror or on the front of my cell phone or I would set specific alarms on my phone.

Along that line: if their goals are not met at the deadline for review time, encourage them to not give up. Instead, do something about it! Becoming disheartened and demoralized will not solve the issue, and you must help your student regroup and plan a different strategy with new ideas and techniques.

Dr. William Lane is a special educational consultant, academic coach, international speaker, and best-selling author whose passion has always been improving the lives of those with special needs. A subject expert in verbal and non-verbal communication skills, Dr. Lane works with individuals who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to help develop effective interpersonal communication skills in order to increase success in and quality of life.

Connect with Dr. Lane on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Special education consultant, international speaker, and best-selling author advocating for neurodiversity on campus and in the workplace.

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