10 Essential Skills to Teach Students in 2020 and Beyond
Every year educators teach students not only their curriculum, but also essential life skills to help them become better prepared for life outside of school. As teachers, we know many of these skills are essential already, but sometimes understanding how to teach these skills in the blended classrooms that we teach in today gets lost in translation. So, let’s dive in and see what these essential skills are and how to teach them to our students.
This skill is very important for students to utilize as they will need to persuade someone to hire them and persuade others to listen and potentially adopt their ideas. Teaching students how to persuade others begins by looking at the different methods used to persuade, including advertising and political campaigns. Students should consider how these are used and their effectiveness.
For students to employ persuasive techniques in the classroom, take advantage of student interests. A popular topic in my school is whether or not cellphones should be allowed in the classroom. Divide students into groups and let them come up with their own arguments and solutions. They can make speeches, posters, announcements, and podcasts. This strategy of giving students the opportunity to share their ideas and voices about something they are interested in or passionate about is a great way to build this skill of being able to persuade others.
2. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence has always been important, but it’s only recently been recognized for its importance as a leadership skill. It consists of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social skills, and empathy. It mostly refers to managing one’s emotions. This skill is hugely important for students. We all have emotions, but learning how to deal with them and the emotions of others is critical.
Students need to learn how to listen to others and how to process their emotions. Reading benefits emotional intelligence. By reading texts that students can relate to, they can think about how they would react in similar situations. They can then journal about their thoughts and feelings, which helps them self-regulate. No matter how old a student is, being able to self-regulate is essential. Everyone has their own feelings; we each need to learn how to cope with them. We need to show students how to celebrate their successes by celebrating them ourselves. We also need to help them when things don’t work out as planned and when disappointment occurs. All of these are good lessons to help students improve their emotional intelligences.
3. Willingness to Learn
Many would refer to this skill as a growth mindset, and it ties in closely with emotional intelligence. Beyond the four walls of the classroom—or the screen of the virtual classroom—students will encounter numerous situations where they do not know how to complete a task, or they will be trying something new. It is important to show them that a willingness to learn those skills will advance them in life.
In my classroom on the first day of school, I tell my students that they will get frustrated this year. I tell them that they will come across information they don’t know and skills they will struggle with. But, I also tell them that I am there to help them; they just have to ask for it. Then throughout the year, I remind them of this conversation (often), offer help sessions, and check in with them. It amazes me that the students who take advantage of the extra help and ask questions are the ones who get excited about learning and learn the most by the end of the year. They also end up enjoying class more. This is just my way of reminding them of the benefits of being willing to learn.
Unfortunately, many students who encounter a problem do one of two things: quit or copy someone else’s work. Students need to be able to assess a problem and then figure out how to solve it. This means teachers need to create environments open to asking questions and seeking assistance.
Problem-solving is not just for mathematical problems. It carries over to how to help students when a challenging situation arises. Teachers can help students start by acknowledging that there is a problem, then helping the student come up with several solutions. The student then can make decisions based on their own learning style and what will benefit the student the most.
5. Creative Thinking
After graduation, students will need to be able to not only think creatively, but also think for themselves. They should be able to come up with ideas to contribute on their own or find creative solutions to their problems. The challenge for many students is that this is very complicated.
One option for using this in the classroom is to offer several different options for projects and some assessments. Students can choose more creative projects to complete and hopefully something that they enjoy.
Another option is project-based units. In my Honors class, we finish the year by reading biographies of people who faced some type of adversity in their lives. Students then work in groups to create our Peace Summit. They have to come up with an idea that they believe should be included in the Peace Document based on the person’s life they read about. They have to work together to convince others of its importance, and I just help them refine their ideas. The importance of this project is to look at the world and try to add something that would create harmony in a creative fashion. This is just one of my projects to foster creative thinking.
Teaching students not only how to communicate, but also its importance is an invaluable skill. In our world of social media and immediate access, many students interact more with their phones than with people in-person. While digital communication is relevant, we still need to teach our students the value of in-person communication—to the extent that we can, given social distancing.
We should teach them how to give presentations so they can communicate their ideas more effectively. We should teach them to evaluate sources before sharing information via social media. We should teach them how to write an email based on their audience. Kristina Smekens has a handout of conventions for students to use based on what type of writing they are doing. I share it with my students before a writing assignment so they know what I expect to see as far as conventions go. Effective communication will help students achieve so much beyond the walls of our classrooms.
The ability to work with others is a valuable skill that most students hate, because it involves group projects. Most students and teachers don’t like group projects since they are harder to assess who is doing the work. So one way for students to collaborate without being in a group is for students to use platforms like Google Docs to share information and receive feedback from other students. Teachers can also provide timely feedback via Google Docs and other such document sharing services.
Students not only need to practice collaboration, but they also need to learn how to collaborate effectively. One way I help my students do this is by making their groups for them—which they typically don’t like—and then making them sign group contracts. Students work together to create a list of how group members will work within each group. They also elect a group leader whose job is to keep track of assignments and make sure things get done in a timely manner. These groups also have the option to kick members out if they are not pulling their weight or if they are absent too much. This group work has made my groups work more efficiently and effectively while teaching my students what it means to be part of a collaborative group.
8. Design and Coding
Technology undergirds our world, so students who learn designing and coding basics will have an advantage as they enter the workforce. These are newer skills for teachers even, so teachers have to learn some basic design and code skills to help students which is challenging. Design includes web and graphic design while coding refers to creating apps and websites.
One way I incorporate some design into my curriculum is by having students create a website based on Homer’s The Odyssey. Students must create a cruise based on the text and then create a website that would attract tourists to take their cruise. This project is difficult, but the students enjoy writing in a different way, and it introduces students to web design in a fun way.
While we can argue that this is a necessary skill, it is a very involved one, too. Organization starts with understanding how each student learns and then helping them be successful. My sweet freshmen come into my class on the first day of school terrified. At least three of them have already gotten lost or been locked out of their lockers. I try my best to help them get organized from the first few days of school. I help them organize their Google Drives based on their classes. We use interactive notebooks for them to keep track of vocabulary lists, notes, and important information and dates. I also work with them to manage their time by showing them a monthly calendar on my whiteboard. This shows them upcoming assignments, projects, tests, and quizzes so they can prepare for them in advance. Helping students get organized from the very beginning of the year can help them be successful throughout the rest of the year.
Last but not least, students need to learn some basic maintenance skills. These skills include using shop class or a science class to learn how to change the oil in a car. Learn kitchen basics in a FACS class. While most students don’t necessarily use a checkbook anymore, being able to budget is a hugely important skill. These are just some of the basic life skills that students will need to use once they are on their own.
Hopefully, you found this informative, and it inspired you to add some new ways of teaching essential skills to your students. What skills do you think are essential for our students to learn? How do you teach some of these skills? Join the conversation on Twitter @Schoology!