A long term substitute, who’s currently in a credentialing program, recently made this observation.
“In my program, I’m shown all these activities and my professors assume students want to participate. They (professors) don’t tell us what to do when students don’t want to engage.”
One of the more challenging responsibilities a teacher has is creating a classroom culture where students want to participate and feel safe participating. To attain this climate, teachers can commit to teaching their students soft skills. Some soft skills
are (but not limited to) helping students:
- Communicate effectively
- Manage time
- Make decisions
- Work as a team member/group dynamics
- Problem solve
Teaching soft skills is a daily commitment. Some teacher moves required are overt and others subtle. Consistency is key.
Attending to Soft Skills
I was assisting an 8th grade teacher implement cooperative groups
. For cooperative groups to be successful, commitment to soft skills is necessary. The posed question was: What can we do to help kids get along?
Background: I had spent 2 days with this teacher. Day 1 focused on introducing the concept of cooperative groups. Day 2 started off with a team building activity, followed by a content activity. On the second day, we were both busy circulating the room working with groups. Although we touched base regularly, we were too focused on students to observe the other in action. In response to the question, What can we do to help kids get along?, I compiled a list of concrete examples from the second day. All names have been changed.
Angela’s group: They were the first group to finish listing their 5 commonalities. I mentioned this and applauded their cooperative behavior. Discussed how productive they were when they were cooperating instead of antagonizing each other. They took pride in their accomplishment. Soft skill: Working together as a group
Bill (and Carlos’ group). The girl who sits across from him always answers in a condescending tone. Bill mentioned this when I told him to ask his group for help instead of asking me. At that point, I spoke with the group about Bill’s (and as it turns out Carlos’) hesitation with asking for help. The girl apologized on her own. I thanked her for apologizing. I hope she has more patience with her group in the future. Soft skills: Working together as a group & communication skills
Diana kept asking me for help. I sat with her group and discussed how they have to work together. I said, “Diana has a great question” I looked at Diana and said,”Will you repeat it to the group?” Diana repeated the question. I then stepped in and said to the team, “I’d like you to help your group member. I’ll be back to check in.” When I checked in, Diana was progressing. I thanked the entire group. Soft skills: Working together as a group & communication skills
Everett/Frankie/Gabe: I tactfully called Everett out on his behavior. He made the decision to participate appropriately. I praised him and his group every time I saw them be productive. Soft skills: Working together as a group & making decisions
Henry/Isaac/Jared: Isaac can be fragile at times. If he gets irritated, then he wants to be left alone. Henry wants to ask if he’s ok, which irritates Isaac more. Henry doesn’t back off. Isaac gets angrier. We talked about giving Isaac space and what that means. We discussed that it would be best not to talk to Isaac until he feels better, therefore he should work with Jared for now. I thanked Henry for being flexible and working with Jared. Soft skills: Working together as a group & communication skills
Keith: Sat with Keith’s group multiple times. Always highlighted positive behavior and addressed distracting behavior. If we are consistently highlighting positive behavior and calmly addressing negative behavior, I believe Keith will turn his behavior around. Soft skills: Making decisions & working together as a group
Laura: I noticed that a group member graphed the line for her, so I asked Laura to describe how it was graphed. She couldn’t. I gave the group instructions to help her and told them I’d be returning to assess their progress. I had to return three times because the group was off task. Laura was able to explain how the line was graphed the third time I returned. I thanked the group for completing their assignment. Soft skills: Working together as a group & making decisions.
These examples describe covert ways of teaching soft skills (in my opinion). Although I was direct when speaking to students, only the targeted students received the message. Each message was personalized to address the presented concern.
Facilitating academic skills and nurturing soft skills simultaneously is not easy at first. One must consciously work to make the practice a habit. Like most practices, some days are easier than others.
When tired or irritable, I’ve learned to identify and acknowledge positive student actions. My go to sentence starter is, “Thank you for …”
- Thank you for getting out your materials
- Thank you for helping your group member
- Thank you for being patient
- Thank you for being productive
- Thank you for being flexible
- Thank you for sharing your thinking.
When it comes to giving thanks, NO action is too small. This gesture turns my mood around, works wonders with students and reminds me that attention to soft skills maintains the cohesive nature of my classroom.