The ‘must-have’ skills every student must master

Child drawing in classroom

What are the essential skills students need to succeed?

Our economy and the industries that fuel it are changing rapidly. As we move further into the information age, schools need to rethink what it means to prepare students for their future.

This is a big reason why President Obama recently proposed a $4-billion investment in coding education in the nation’s K-12 schools. And it’s why more schools are exploring the  benefits of project-based learning and makerspaces.

A changed economy demands a strong grasp of science, math, and computer skills. But that’s not all it demands.

Students also need to master the writing, communication, and social-emotional, or “soft,” skills required in everyday life.

Here’s why soft skills should be a focus in your classrooms, and how to help students translate those skills to real-world success.

Power skills

While so-called soft skills are essential to nearly every interaction we have, fewer and fewer job candidates demonstrate these abilities, cautions Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, a provider of online courses to university students.

In a blog post on EdSurge, Agarwal outlines a conversation with Philip J. Hanlon, president of Dartmouth University. These skills are so essential, Hanlon told Agarwal, they shouldn’t be called “soft” at all. Instead, Hanlon calls them “power” skills.

Writes Agarwal:

“Power indicates something much more important and meaningful. It creates a sense of necessity—soft skills sound like a mushy nice to have, but power skills sound like a must have.”

Where soft skills were once considered ancillary, in today’s market these same skills could give students a leg up on their competition.

Can soft skills change lives?

If preparing students for the job market isn’t reason enough to emphasize soft skills in your schools, consider this:

A study from Duke University found that teaching elementary students soft skills, including collaboration and self-control, can help prevent students from falling into criminal behavior. That’s according to Lynne Shallcross for Mind/Shift.

The study examined a program called Fast Track, which works to support at-risk students.

Duke researchers discovered that lessons focused on emotional intelligence were more effective at stemming aggressive or criminal behavior compared with other more academic lessons.

Putting the power back in soft skills

Schools across the country are employing innovative approaches to help students master soft skills, such as teamwork, empathy, and collaboration.

Whether you call them power skills or soft skills, students’ ability to write, speak, collaborate, and work in teams are vital to their future success.

What steps are you taking to equip your students with the skills they need to succeed in a changing economy?  Tell us in the comments.

For more about how to integrate soft skills, such as social-emotional learning, in your schools, read In search of better social-emotional learning.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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