A Unique Conflict Teachers Face Each Year

Recently, I spoke at a conference for educators, in which I built the case for why we must prepare our students for the jobs they’ll be encountering once they graduate. During the Q&A time, one teacher asked me: “How does a teacher balance building life skills and employability skills in kids, while at the same time giving attention to what they’re measured on—academic scores?”

photo credit: via photopin (license)

photo credit: via photopin (license)

It’s a great question. I hear it all the time in various ways. How do you incorporate both “scorecards” in an already full schedule of lesson plans, disciplinary actions, tests to be graded, and classrooms to manage?

I recognize schools are measured on test scores and graduation rates. No doubt, these are important. I believe, however, that we must find a way to meet a student’s real needs, even if they’re not academic in nature. Horace Mann, the creator of our public school system, originally called his school a “normal” school, because he believed the purpose of school is to prepare students for the norms of society. They started with bells or whistles, just like a factory in the industrial revolution. He tried to emulate working conditions as much as possible to equip them for a job.

Ready or Not?

My question for you is this: are we still doing this today, in the 21st century? Or do we still operate in a system that prepares kids for life a century ago in the industrial age…not the information age? Does our current education system equip kids for their future jobs, many of which don’t even exist today?

I have always believed the principle: what gets rewarded gets repeated. When teachers get raises and schools receive more funds for academic improvements it’s easy to neglect the “life skills” kids need and just pay attention to the academics. Please hear me: I am not saying academics are irrelevant or unimportant. I am only saying that they’re incomplete if they don’t lead to skills kids can employ as adults. Each course should enable a student to think better and achieve something more than a good grade on a piece of paper at semester’s end. Have our schools really furnished multiple skills?

Seven Ideas to Employ

Below are some simple ideas any school can utilize to keep score on life skills:

  1. Determine the timeless life skills your grads will need.

Recently, I offered a list of these capabilities, coming up with eight of them:

* Problem-solving skills * Values and ethics
* Critical thinking * Creative processing
* Emotional Intelligence * Executive Functioning
* Resilience and resourcefulness * Leadership perspective
  1. Decide which current environments are best suited to teach these skills.

You may decide that problem solving is best covered in math class, with application beyond arithmetic. Perhaps values and ethics may be covered best in social studies. Science might just be the most natural place to cover critical thinking. You get the idea. While these skills should be part of the language and taxonomy of the entire school, you can use certain courses to run point on insuring they are introduced.

  1. Offer facsimiles of real life situations.

I know high schools and colleges that invite business executives to talk about the soft skills they look for in job candidates. Some ask employers to host mock interviews with students, then help them interpret the best way to represent their personal brand. Some schools emulate trading stocks, buying homes, writing checks, using credit cards, and even applying for credit. These are simply projects inserted into already existing classes. Students become very engaged.

  1. Embed your list of life skills throughout the curriculum.

Make sure students don’t get the idea that values and ethics are only a category or topic that makes up part of their day. It should prevail throughout all their interactions and decisions. As John Maxwell said, “There is no such thing as business ethics. You are either ethical through and through, or you are not.”

  1. Keep your antennas up for serendipitous conversations about these skills.

Some of your most life-changing conversations this school year may take place in a hallway, for five minutes that you never planned on having. Yet in a teachable moment, you leverage a discussion with a student that might just change his life and perspective forever. While on campus, always be ready for such interaction.

  1. Consistently remind students what matters in life.

I grieve seeing smart students who graduate with a 4.0 GPA but don’t have the people skills to keep a job afterward. They were good on paper, not in person. I have told students: Success in college is 75% IQ and 25% EQ, but in life, it’s often just the opposite. Keep reminding students to master both relationships and results.  

  1. Utilize Habitudes to spark conversation and discovery.

If you’re not aware of what they are, Habitudes® are images that form leadership habits and attitudes. They enable you to seize a conversation and guide it as a student discovers an important life or leadership truth through the power of a picture. We believe it really is true: a picture is worth a thousand words. These images can be placed on a PowerPoint slide, on a poster, through video lessons, or used digitally. To check them out, you can click here.

Horace Mann once said, “Building a person’s character is just as important as reading, writing or arithmetic. Instilling values such as obedience to authority, promptness in attendance, and organizing time according to bell ringing prepares students for future employment.”

He was spot on a hundred years ago. How do we achieve these goals today?

Looking to develop leadership and life skills in students? Check out

Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


A Unique Conflict Teachers Face Each Year