With our continued shift to a technology driven society, few days go by that I don’t have a conversation with someone concerned about “today’s kids’ ” lack of “Soft Skills.” As the mother of 2 of these aptly named “GEN Z” babies…I can understand the worry. As an adult who has simply adapted to the culture, not grown up in it, I often find myself buried in my mobile phone rather than having an actual conversation. I’ve even recently learned a “wear your ear buds to avoid conversation” trick when I’m exhausted…from my twelve year old.
Yet soft skills remain some of the most important things employers look for when hiring according to the Jobs Can Blog https://www.jobscan.co/blog/top-resume-skills-for-2016-2/ . As educators our job is to ensure our students are prepared for success when they leave our classrooms/schools. I wholeheartedly believe a HUGE portion of this success will increasing revolve around how well our schools teach students soft skills.
Here are 5 Soft Skills that are currently the “Most Often Looked for by Employers” (Jobs Can Blog) and some suggestions on how to incorporate them into your classrooms/schools this year:
- Working together toward a common goal.
- Functioning successfully in different team roles
- Putting the “Team’s Success” before personal success
Admittedly, I was a student who cringed when the teacher would say we were “working in groups.” I would end up doing the entire project/assignment myself due to my Type A personality (among other things)! There was NO Teamwork in these groups.
Thankfully, today I can say I have seen group work done so well I would’ve asked for it when I was a student! The key to this awesome group work I’ve been has been 1) Assigning roles to each team member (which changes with each assignment/project) 2) Clear expectations of the duties to be performed by the student assigned each role 3) A system of checks/balances in place to ensure the group is functioning as a TEAM with each student staying on task with their role. GROUP WORK IS GREAT…but it takes A LOT of work on the front end to establish norms, systems, and behavioral expectations to make “Groups” into functioning TEAMS! Teaching successfully in groups is one of the more masterful arts of our profession.
Another outstanding way to promote teamwork in your school is to encourage participation in an activity, club, or sport school-wide. (For example- Many schools require all entering Freshman to participate in at least one activity.) Increased social activities along with the group activities/teamwork are great ways to build soft skills in even the most introverted student. These can be done during an “activity” period in the day, during excess lunch or recess time, or even after school (if that’s the only option).
- Making a choice based on evidence gathered
- Being definitive…based on goals
Allowing students to choose from a variety of assignment types to show mastery of a skill is a great way to cause students to begin to critically examine their individual decision-making. Instead of “just doing what my friend does” students begin to look at what they would really prefer to do or what allows them to show they have mastered the skill in the most efficient (fastest and best) way.
Another example is providing students “student voice” within the school. Give them spots on committees and other duties that require responsibility. This demands a huge amount of decision-making; 1) are they willing to do it 2) decisions they have to make through the process This is a great way of giving students a “window” into the world of the adults in the school.
Soft Skills MATTER!
- Talking face to face, making eye-contact while speaking, understanding social norms in various situations
- Appropriately using Social Media for communication
Modeling appropriate ways to communicate can go a long way. Educators must assume students are not being taught these skills at home (most are not). Assignments that require interviewing adults, peer-to-peer questioning, and other communication via non-technology means (no emails please!) are great assignments for this. Make sure you do not assume students know how to do properly do this (they usually don’t); provide live examples for them.
Telephone (land line & cell) conversation etiquette is something that needs to be taught. What you should or should not say, text, or post to social media is a very important piece of information that can impact your students’ futures long after their lives in school.
As a school why not train students to greet visitors and give tours. No better way of learning communication skills than actually putting them to use in an important setting.
4) Planning & Prioritizing
- Scheduling for optimum production over time
- Doing what is most urgent first then following with items in order of importance
Educators have a great opportunity to scaffold students’ abilities to plan & prioritize. Long-term goals provided at the beginning of a class that have multiple components and will not be due until far into the term are a perfect example.
For younger students, allowing them to prioritize what needs to be done first in a project versus giving them step-by-step directions is a great way of building students’ prioritizing skills.
As a school it’s important to plan and prioritize and your students can be part of this. Student leaders can maintain an activity schedule they create among the different clubs and activities in conjunction with school administration. Along with planning and prioritization…this also requires the other soft skills we’ve already discussed.
5) Research Skills
- Finding information from a variety of sources
- Ensuring information is truthful & meets actual research needs
- Ability to cite research
Long gone are the days of the card catalogue and the bound encyclopedia from our students’ research repertoire. Teachers are now responsible for instructing students on how to navigate “the Web” for their research needs.
Students must understand the difference between a credible source on the Web and one that may not be credible as well as where to go to find each. Along with this tall task we also must make sure our students understand the importance of citing works and how-to do this when using electronic sources. Thankfully, there have been several tools created to make this simpler.
As a school, moving to e-portfolios that require students to keep a sampling of their work for each term (with various different specifications for different schools) makes great sense. A requirement like this would not only provide evidence your students had appropriate research skills and were applying them in their classroom; it would also show the growth of these skills over time.