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Tim Elmore

On Leading the Next Generation

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Life Skills: The Class Some Students Are Asking for

After teaching the art of communication to some high school seniors, I turned them loose to apply what they’d learned. In groups of three, students stood up front to speak on a topic they felt passionate about. One group specifically caught my attention.

The group members spoke about how much they wished for a class on life skills.

Respectfully, they praised their faculty for teaching calculus, literature, biology, and history. They recognized the need for academics. They felt, however, woefully lacking in the skills that would help them apply for college, handle a job interview, negotiate a loan, change a tire, and rent an apartment. I think their request makes sense. Horace Mann, the father of our modern school system, said the purpose of school is to prepare able citizens to be people of character and to make a contribution to society. Somehow, learning algebra or geometry isn’t enough. I think if Horace Mann were to visit us today, he’d immediately get involved in CTE–Career and Technical Education. Life and career readiness was the name of the game in his mind, in 1837.

In times past, one could argue this was the job of parents. Today, however, too many parents I talk to are either overwhelmed with the demands of work and home or feel they lack what it takes to even pass on those life skills. More and more moms and dads want to delegate teaching ethics, career skills, and leadership to teachers.

I no longer believe Generation Z has a short attention span. (They can binge-watch a series on Netflix for hours.) They have a hypersensitive, eight-second filter. Our job is to make content relevant. And I agree with the teens–we need content on life skills.

If I Were to Teach a Life Skills Class

Imagine you and I are commissioned to create a course on life skills. We can’t teach everything, so what are the most important priorities to cover? Here’s a start:

  1. Building a Good Attitude: Stay positive, hungry, humble, and do whatever it takes.
  2. Taking Initiative: If you’re willing to go first, others will see you as a leader. 
  3. Capturing Vision: See the big picture and pursue something bigger than you.
  4. Communicating Effectively: If listeners don’t get it, you haven’t communicated. 
  5. Teamwork: To go faster, travel alone. To go further, learn to travel together. 
  6. Creativity: Learn the art of combining two existing ideas to generate a new one.
  7. Grit: Resilience and work ethic can replace what you lack in talent or personality. 
  8. Emotional Intelligence: To connect with others, understand yourself and them. 
  9. Resourcefulness: Searching and finding new answers keeps you relevant. 
  10. Critical Thinking: Seeing all sides of an issue enables you to act intelligently. 
  11. Problem-solving: The best way to influence is to serve people and solve problems.
  12. Getting Over Yourself: The clearest sign of maturity is focusing on others.

From these dozen topics, almost every micro-skill can be covered, like changing a tire, interviewing for a job, or laying out a budget. Question: could this fit into an advisement period or a class?

NOTE: These kinds of discussions can be found in Habitudes  For Career Ready Students. If you’d like, you can check them out HERE.

8 Comments

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  3. Amy on June 24, 2020 at 7:19 am

    I have followed your content for several years now and often have found it very insightful as my husband and I raise three teenagers. However, I found this article very disturbing and even disappointing. While I would have no objection to teaching students life skills and can see the merit in doing so, I fully reject the notion that parents are too overwhelmed or lack the skills themselves to also pass along these life skills to their children. In fact, I would argue that that is a significant piece of what being a parent is all about! Too many parents are escaping their responsibilities to raise capable, productive, and moral children who can contribute to society and pass along the same attributes to their children. Being a parent goes well beyond providing a roof and feeding their mouths. I can only hope that most parents would agree with me and not subscribe to the idea that they are too overwhelmed or unable to share life skills with their children. What a sad state of affairs our society is in if we are incapable of providing this for our children. If that’s where we are, then it speaks volumes to the basis for the current condition of our broken nation.

    • Ita on June 24, 2020 at 8:38 am

      I generally agree with this sentiment. I love this content and think it’s massively important but I don’t think we should be letting parents off the hook. I’ve mentored lots of students and have done a lot of life skills, but usually in service to single parent homes or 1st generation kids whose parents’ life skills set no longer apply to their new world. I think this would be great primarily targeted to parents then teachers, mentors and coaches.

    • MJ on June 24, 2020 at 9:51 am

      What Amy said.

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  5. LJ on June 27, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    I am very appreciative of the suggested topics in the article. The focus here is on and mentoring young people. If this is the type of help some students are asking for, why deny them what they need?
    I lament that some parents feel that they cannot, for whatever reason, fulfill the needs of their teens. Regardless, I would rather equip students now, rather than allow a generation to limp into the future.
    If parents and care givers need instruction themselves, so be it, but the focus of these articles are on us leading and mentoring young people.
    God bless us all as we prepare Generation Z to become the leaders God created them to be.

  6. Jason Isaak on July 1, 2020 at 10:22 am

    As always…great stuff! Thought you might get a kick out of a school curriculum based on answer to a lightning round question for AZ leaders in a podcast. Made it into a quick video. Many of their ideas fit nicely into your post. https://azoriginals.net/arizona-originals-high-school/

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Life Skills: The Class Some Students Are Asking for