Why Do Soft Skills Matter? Plus, Seven Ways to Teach Them

As you begin setting your hard-earned money aside for your child’s college fund, you envision a grand future for them.

They would go to work day after day, sit in their cubicle, do monotonous tasks that a superior tells them to do only when they are told to do it, wait for the next pre-approved break, and thankfully leave when the clock finally says 5:00pm. Worth every penny of your investment, right?

More probably, do you see your child as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? An inventor? A visionary? A humanitarian who makes a charitable impact? A vanguard in whatever their field may be?

You see your child as someone who thinks in innovative ways and is not afraid to speak their mind. You see a future where he or she is not afraid to change the status quo if it means a more effective and efficient way to do what has been done for hundreds of years.

 

A Disconnect Between Career Readiness and Teaching Practice

Unfortunately, as we send our students off to a more traditional college environment, they are being asked to learn in a lecture or “sit and get” style. Projects and assignments are straightforward and linear for ease of grading by a teaching assistant. Topics are learned at a predetermined pace. Students are being told the exact time to come and go, minute by minute.

Almost our entire educational system is set up like that… “Your lunch period is from 11:41 to 12:16”.

As educators, we all have one thing in common, we only want success for our students. How do we nurture those creative minds to have confidence and know that their ideas have value?

In a college setting, someone who challenges the ideas of their teacher would be considered a nuisance. Conversely, in your child’s work future, if they only do what they are told, they will not likely advance to a leadership position. With the onus on us to prepare our students for their futures, how do we equip each of them with the necessary skills when there exists such a dichotomy?

 

Prioritizing the Soft Skills

Schools need to teach and prioritize soft skills in their curriculum. Recently, Google released the findings of Project Aristotle where they studied their most productive teams across the company and found that these teams did not have the highest level of scientists, programmers, or mathematicians. These teams had members who exhibited strong traits in soft skills like generosity, empathy, equality, and emotional safety.

Basically, success does not come from a 4.0 GPA or a 1600 SAT score. It also does not come from being top of the class in math, English, science, or social studies.

 

Types of Soft Skills and How to Teach Them

Soft skills are an overarching category that addresses the non-academic subjects that speak more to a person’s emotional quotient or fortitude and grit moving forward. Soft skills can fall into several different categories.

 

Character Building

These are the skills that make a student a better and more conscientious person overall.

Examples:

  • Core Values
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Control
  • Enthusiasm
  • Attitude
  • Grit
  • Self-Advocacy
  • Professionalism
  • Social Etiquette

Possible Activity: Give students an opportunity to brainstorm core values. Have them prioritize which values are most important to them. Create a word cloud around their own name with these core values that they can put in a prominent place as a reminder to exercise these values.

 

Communication

A student needs a way to convey their messages to others in the most effective means.

Examples:

  • Empathy
  • Conflict Management
  • Nonverbal Cues
  • Public Speaking

Possible Activity: Give students conflicts for them to roleplay and try to resolve but put limits on their communication such as only texting or nonverbal. They can practice their communication skills but will also realize the importance of each method of delivery.

 

Technology

In our ever-evolving world, students can welcome new advances but still need to be vigilant.

Examples:

  • Safety
  • Technological Responsibility
  • Etiquette

Possible Activity: Give students an opportunity to google themselves or pair them up and let them try to find each other. Participants are usually shocked by how much of their personal information is readily available to the public. Then help students by going over appropriate privacy settings.

 

Student Success

These are the executive functioning skills that our students need to set themselves up for success.

Examples:

  • Organizational Skills
  • Goal Setting
  • Study Skills
  • Research
  • Extra-Curricular Activities and Service

Possible Activity: Teach students about SMART goals and let each brainstorm a goal that they can work on for the year. Help the students break down their goals into smaller manageable steps. Give students the scaffolding they need to achieve their mission.

 

Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

Our students will be entering a world with problems that we cannot fathom. They need to take on the challenge of the unknown.

Examples:

  • Out-of-the-Box Thinking
  • Solving Short- and Long-Term Problems

Possible Activity: Give students a seemingly simple task like solving a jigsaw puzzle. However, blindfold one team member and they become the only member who is allowed to touch the puzzle pieces. The team must figure out how to put the puzzle together. You can add other obstacles such as, not being allowed to touch the team member, not being allowed to use real words, or not being allowed to be within eight feet of the team member.

 

Teamwork

It is inconceivable that people in the future would work on anything in a vacuum.

Examples:

  • Leadership
  • Being a Team Player
  • Collaboration
  • Negotiation
  • Compromise

Possible Activity: Give students a logic puzzle with one solution that they must complete but do not give them all the clues. Spread the clues out among the students so that they must all work together to complete it. Because there is only one solution, students must work well together to come to a single conclusion.

 

Networking

The relationships created and fostered will keep our students truly successful in their future.

Examples:

  • Building Relationships
  • Maintaining Relationships
  • Exchanging Information
  • Mentorship

Possible Activity: Put students through a speed-networking event and give them each a minute to introduce themselves to their partner as a professional. After each two- to three-minute round, the students move around the circle to a new person and do it again. Give students time to reflect on a proper introduction and professionalism. Ask students what they would each do to improve for the next opportunity.

 

What This Means for Our Students’ Futures

Imagine a class where a teacher coaches a student through the networking process and shows them exactly how to work in a team while communicating effectively with their peers.

It is imperative that we place just as much importance on these skills as we do the core subjects of math, English, science and social studies.

If we can develop these abilities in our future workforce while they are still in high school, then we have truly supplied them with career survival skills. Likewise, colleges need to allow for more opportunities to exercise these talents. Students will become equipped with skills like grit and problem-solving to surpass any pitfalls and have limitless potential in any field they attempt.

Insights By

Kristina Vuong

Kristina Vuong has been teaching for 18 years and is currently a director at Socrates Preparatory School, a progressive private school in Casselberry, FL. She has her M.S.Ed with a focus on teaching children with severe disabilities and her B.S. in Chemistry. Kristina has a personal mission to reshape education to meet and surpass the needs of all students in an ever-changing landscape.

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