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In today’s digital marketplace, hiring individuals with soft skills is an important consideration. This is especially true for customer service industries.

But, what about education? Even more than for-profit service companies, teachers and educators need to have excellent soft skills for dealing with students, parents, administration and peers. 

While teaching credentials are a must, any educator who can demonstrate well-developed soft skills will be in demand. In many regards, the success of students in the classroom depends partly on a teacher’s soft skills.

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills have a foundation in an individual’s emotional intelligence quotient. This ability varies greatly between people. However, it is not always a determining factor to success in the workplace. People with lower emotional intelligence may be very high in other areas that may be desirable in other industries. However, educators are in the business of relating to others. Therefore, a successful teacher frequently has a well-developed emotional intelligence quotient.

In contrast, “hard” skills relate more to tangible abilities that can be measured like calculating, coding, mathematics and such. Soft skills are more difficult to quantify, assess or measure. In fact, gauging soft skills in another individual is a soft skill itself.

The soft skills for educators are as follows:

1. Integrity. You can encourage integrity by integrating group projects into peer activities. Each group member must be responsible for a specific task or outcome. After completing the group work assignment, each member can reflect on their individual contribution and how they contributed

2. Communication. Teachers and administrators can hone communication skills by writing about a specific project, participating in group discussions, and then making a presentation to the group for feedback.

3. Courtesy. Administrators should encourage an atmosphere of respect and courtesy between educators, students and parents. This includes online communication.

4. Responsibility. Educators in particular should stick to deadlines and be required to provide a valid explanation for late or incomplete work. In addition, they should be prepared to propose a solution for future work.

5. Professionalism. Administrators can encourage professionalism through expectations about being prepared, respectful, on time and adapting to the needs of others.

6. Flexibility. Educators can demonstrate flexibility by setting parameters and deadlines, yet encouraging students to be organized, self-monitoring, focused and able to problem-solve.

7. Teamwork. Teamwork should be demonstrated through collaboration and group work across an array of projects. Emphasize trust, communication, responsibility, integrity and collaboration.

Encouraging Soft Skills Development in the Classroom

Outside of the classroom environment, teachers and administrators can encourage soft skills development by seeking opportunities to collaborate with other educators. This can be done by job shadowing activities, collaborating between schools within the same district and teaching conferences. However, the most effective and authentic way to develop soft skills is to dive in and model them. Practicing soft skills will lead to stronger capabilities at teaming, being respectful towards other teachers, students, parents and administrators. Communicating clearly and empathetically can be learned, just ask being prepared and on time can be learned as well. Applying the skills to real-life situations takes some forethought and mindfulness, but it can be accomplished.

Designing Curriculum to Promote Soft Skills

Curriculum designers, standards writers and educators have spent the last several years seeking ways to bring soft skills into the schools for students as well. They are developing methods to revitalize the curriculum and classroom instruction and improve rigor in ways that actually prepare students for life in the future work environment.

Therefore, educators do need to emphasize an education that prepares a student for college and career. Frequently, students are focused on the rigors of university coursework without being prepared for the collegial relationships they must develop to succeed in the workplace. Preparation for graduate work and career success takes much more than being exposed to a robust curriculum. Of course, a solid working knowledge of advanced levels of philosophy, math and classic literature adds to young person’s foundation as they reach adulthood. However, the voices of industry leaders note a significant skills gap in soft skills, which is a gap in primary competencies rather than a gap in content.

Employers Seek Out Soft Skills in Graduates

Employers today describe a lack of soft skills in the graduates applying for jobs. These are also called core skills, key skills, employability skills or key competencies. Whatever phrase is applied, students do not have these desirable qualities that help them succeed in a variety of life situations and jobs - traits like communication, integrity, courtesy, professionalism, teamwork, flexibility and responsibility.

While parents need to instill these traits in their children, educators need to be on board as well. The best way to teach these skills is to model them. This is critical to their success in college and beyond. In fact, students who transition well from high school to university often show the ability to meet deadlines, manage their time, deal with setbacks and get along well with classmates, roommates and professors.

Educators Must Develop and Model Soft Skills

Educators can develop their own soft skills through socialization, which is learning the attitudes, values and actions of others by interacting well with them. Because relationship-building and socialization are so important in an adolescent’s life, middle school tends to be a starting ground for introducing soft skill development in the curriculum. By incorporating this critical element to classroom expectations as well as instructional plans, educators develop their own soft skills and help prepare their students for achievement after graduation.

Teachers also need to promote the idea that technical skills, which are so important in the digital age, may get a student’s foot in the door. However, the people skills are necessary for achievement after being hired. It comes down to technical competence in addition to attitudes, work ethic, communication skills, emotional intelligence and other personal attributes. 

Moreover with unemployment at historic lows, the labor market is tightening. Businesses are seeking graduates to fill openings. While the graduates must demonstrate technical capabilities, human resource managers are also looking for students with the fundamental skills of communication, critical thinking, collaboration, empathy, public speaking, time management, patience and confidence.

Final Thoughts

Rather than seeing soft skills as innate characteristics or the responsibility of the parent to teach, educators can make a significant impact on teaching soft skills. For the teaching to be truly effective, they must develop their own professional skills to model to others.

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