The tidal shift to the online mode has made soft skills more important than ever. Crisp clear online verbal communication and presenting oneself appropriately in the virtual visual medium matters immensely. Soft skills are relevant not only for working professionals but also for students in online classes. So, how do we ensure our children acquire skills such as teamwork, empathy, good communication, problem-solving, and mental agility? By ensuring that our education system actively teaches them.
First, what’s the right time to introduce soft skills? Contrary to popular belief, soft skills should not be regarded as a finite set of skills to be learned only in young adulthood to increase employability quotient. Soft skills are life skills that form the foundation of children’s personality and their attitudes towards learning and co-existing successfully in society and in the world.
Given the criticality, they should ideally be inculcated from the foundation years of education to achieve holistic growth. Early childhood programmes and preschools that base their pedagogy on appropriate child-development foundations and developmentally-appropriate practice inculcate these through turn-taking, sharing, active listening, and assigning children responsibilities in the classroom. All this builds critical soft skills such as empathy, flexibility, teamwork, problem solving and ethics. Here are five ways to inculcate soft skills:
Modelling: Do as I do
Humans are profoundly influenced by what they see.With so much power to influence young minds, teachers need to be the primary role model of soft skills. If teachers model these skills and also explain their benefits, students are far more likely to make these behaviours a way of life.
Role-playing: Let’s practice!
Successfully working with others depends more on abstract aspects such as non-verbal cues and body language. Role-playing helps elucidate the abstract side of soft skills and put these into practice. It can be built into the teaching-and-learning cycle by using it during debates and discussions and as a tool for students to demonstrate their learning. Role-playing must always be followed by an active debrief and discussion time during which students are asked specific questions to guide their analysis of body language and communication.
Group projects: A slice of real life
These are ideal to build teamwork, leadership, collaboration, problem solving, and time management. They motivate introverted students to find their voice, and others with varying skills and abilities to find their niche, and reinforce self-regulation, discipline and time-on-task. They broaden horizons of thinking as one’s perspectives evolve through engaging with others. Plus, students learn to negotiate and manage various personalities.
Active listening: Talk less, understand more
The ability to focus on the speaker to understand not just their words but also their non-verbal cues and body language, comprehend the information, and respond thoughtfully is rudimentary to being an excellent communicator. Teachers can foster active listening by using literature to develop empathy and different perspectives among students. Using model videos where actors demonstrate how to and how not to communicate and giving students activities based on these videos will foster active listening and thoughtful responding.
Video diaries: First step to digital etiquette
As online meetings and remote working become the norm, it’s important to know how to present oneself very well on a digital platform. Video diaries are recordings of individuals sharing their thoughts, opinions, ideas and feelings. This promotes self-reflection, critical thinking, awareness of body language, and communication. Students can be asked to record themselves explaining a topic or a project, teaching a concept, or simply sharing their opinions.
The term ‘soft skills’ is a misnomer. For these are the skills that truly strengthen and complete one’s personality.
The writer is the co-founder of Learning Matters