Why We Should Be Teaching Soft Skills
Anna is an average student who is well-liked by her peers and teachers. She runs cross-country, pet sits to make money and is responsible. She will also be the first person in her family to attend college, something that is a great source of pride for her and her family. But, Anna lacks some critical skills for success in life after high school that will cause her to stumble and fail—a lack of soft skills.
What are soft skills? According to Jaime Green, they are competencies which become “employability skills, those desirable qualities that apply across a variety of jobs and life situations—traits such as integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, professionalism, flexibility, and teamwork.” Some ways to teach these skills are:
- Teach responsibility through requiring students who miss an assignment to provide an explanation for why it was missed, what they will do in the future to remedy that problem, and request an extension if they wish to complete it still.
- Teach courtesy by expecting your students to talk and to treat one another respectfully in the classroom.
- Teach teamwork by assigning collaborative projects over a longer time period. This requires them to be flexible when dealing with others, planners to accomplish the work together and on time, and reinforces courteous communication.
- Assign a project that requires professional communication to their peers or to the whole group.
One way to practice soft skills is to arrange for students to visit companies and shadow jobs that interest them. Real-life experiences are the best teacher for soft skills, especially if you discuss what they did well and what could be improved afterward.
Using games to teach and reinforce soft skills is a fun way to practice these abilities that are critical to job and business relationship success. Try some of these games:
- Building Blocks: Divide students into groups of four people. Give the groups two exactly alike sets of building blocks. Assign one to be the director, one to be the runner, one to be the builder, one to be the observer/helper. Position the director and builder on opposite sides of the room facing away from one another. The director must build a structure with the blocks, after which the runner will communicate to the builder the way the structure was built. The builder must build the exact structure within 10 minutes with verbal help of the runner and helper.
Goals: communication, teamwork, clear instructions.
- Four at a Time: Have the students sit in a circle. They must select nonverbally 4 people to stand up. The 4 people may only stand for 10 seconds and then communicate nonverbally the next person to stand up. Play the game several times with the goal being to keep it going as long as possible.
Goals: nonverbal communication, teamwork.
- Comic Drawing: Divide students into teams which will create a comic strip. All of the communication must be done before starting to draw. They must decide what the comic strip will be about, how many segments each strip will have, etc. Once they start drawing, there is no talking and no nonverbal communication. Give a set amount of time for the comic drawing and when time is up, the team with the best comic is the winner.
Goals: organization, communication, attention to detail.
Soft skills bridge the gap between knowledge and application. Responsibility, courtesy, teamwork, and communication are not part of the core subjects but certainly bring immeasurable value to life beyond high school.