I can’t even count the number of teachers that I have heard say something along the lines of, “if it’s not on the test, I don’t teach it.” I don’t really blame them. We have created a culture in our schools that is completely focused on testing. Teachers are often reprimanded if they diverge from the tested content. But what is the result of this? Kids who know a lot of facts and academic content but often do not have the “soft skills” to use and apply that knowledge.This doesn’t seem very logical to me since we can find pretty much any fact we need using this thing called the internet. In order to succeed, our kids will need to be able to ask the right questions.They will need research skills, the ability to synthesize information and think critically, and an aptitude for communicating effectively with others.So here are eight valuable “soft skills” to start working on with your kids today:
1. Set Goals for Your Own Achievement
We have a quote from Yogi Berra hanging in our office that says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” I agree that sometimes the joy is in the journey, but there is not much joy in a never-ending journey on a road that leads to nowhere. Without goals what do you base your decisions on? How do you even make good decisions if you don’t know where you are headed? Goals help us define our path in life. The goal setting process makes our priorities clearer so we are able to make day-to-day decisions more easily in a logical and stress-free manner. Try to set specific and measurable goals and break them into manageable steps.
2. Effective Time Management
Once you decide what you would like to do, whether or not it is accomplished will be based on how effective your time management is. People with good time management can take a large task and split it up into manageable chunks.Try to estimate how much time each piece of the task will take and schedule it in on the calendar. Then also put these items on a daily to-do list so that the minutiae and chaos of everyday life does not interfere with getting more important tasks accomplished.
3. Stay Focused When You are Surrounded by Distractions
Scheduling time to complete a task is the first step, but your ability to stay focused will determine how quickly you can get it done or if it ever gets completed. Life is full of distractions. Learning to focus, with a goal in mind, is key. Try clearing your work space of potential distractions. Set your cell phone to silent and move it somewhere it is not visible. Try an app for your computer that blocks out potential distracting websites. Then start with the most difficult or creative task that you have to do. Set a timer and stay fully focused on that task during that time. Start small, like 15 minutes, and then extend the time as your focus improves. If you are distracted during the time, reset the timer. If you stay focused during the time, take a short (timed) break before setting the timer again.
4. Self-Motivation and Resilience
To succeed in life we all need motivation, drive, and initiative that comes from within. Children and young adults who have always received incentives to perform daily activities may have difficulty in the area of intrinsic motivation. Rewards have been shown to not only decrease motivation for activities that we don’t really enjoy, they also decrease motivation for activities that we do enjoy. Instead of rewards, try engagement. Studies have found that kids (like most people) like tasks to be interesting. They are willing to work harder and longer on boring tasks if they know why they are doing it and have learned some background information (cool stories) about the real-world application of this skill and how or why it works.
Regardless of how motivated we are, we will all fail at some point, probably many times. Learning how to bounce back from that failure is an important life skill. Instead of teaching your kids to focus on the results (straight A’s) or being good at everything, teach them to focus on the effort that they put in or on the process.
5. How to Take Effective Notes
In school and for most jobs you will need to be able to take effective notes during a PowerPoint presentation and also during a lecture. The key to good note-taking is becoming a good listener instead of worrying about writing everything down. Imagine that the speaker is reading from an outline. Listen to recreate that outline. Try the Cornell Method for note-taking. It creates a study guide. When you are taking notes, remember to handwrite your notes for better retention. This method works well for reading too, or you can add reading notes to lecture notes if you leave extra space.
6. How to Study When You are Not Provided with a Study Guide
The key to successful studying is not to treat it like a task to be completed right before the test. It is much more effective to study for 15 minutes per day, reviewing the material that was learned in class in a new way. Turn concepts from notes into questions and create a study guide, make flash cards or a game using a site like Quizlet, or teach the information to someone else.
7. Research Skills and How to Learn on Your Own
As adults, we must be capable of finding new information on our own. In order to do this, we must have research skills. Much of the research that we do in our day-to-day life is now online. Thus the ability to determine a credible source has become especially important. There are so many articles with false information because anyone can publish something on the internet. It is important to teach kids how to tell a credible source from a non-credible source by asking questions such as: Who is the author and what are his or her credentials; Was the article published in a peer-reviewed journal or reputable news source; Is there bias or is the author trying to sell something; and Do they cite their sources so the information is verifiable as accurate?
8. Communication and Self-Advocacy Skills
Successful people surround themselves with a network of people who help them learn and grow into the person that they want to be. They seek out relationships or find the “tribe” of supporters who will best facilitate their personal and professional growth. In order to do this, one must be aware of their needs and able to speak up in order to have those needs met. This type of self-advocacy fosters independence and self-confidence as it allows kids to find and implement their own solutions to problems. When a problem arises, give your child a chance to solve it before stepping in. Be supportive by helping them to think of ways that they could work through the issue themselves. Teach them social skills and give them the opportunity to interact with a variety of people. Expect them to talk to adults and the people that surround them instead of distracting themselves with a phone or tablet during meals or other potentially social situations. And encourage them to surround themselves with friends who reflect the qualities they value in themselves.
So there you have it, eight life and study skills to teach your kids what they may not learn in school. Parents, what do you wish your kids learned more of in school? Students, tell us what you think about what you are learning in school. Are you learning the skills you will need most to succeed in life and your career?
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.