School has an opportunity -- arguably, a responsibility -- to teach students much more than facts and figures. While skills like reading and mathematics are important, we must remember we are preparing children to be functional adults, not data processors.
Preparing Students for the Real World
As teachers, as adults, as humans, there is a kind of inherent responsibility to those who come after us: To model good behaviors, to offer guidance, and to help provide the younger generations with the tools and skills they'll need to navigate the world around them.
Of course, we can't predict the future, but using our own experiences, we can determine that there are certain skills that are incredibly useful to have. Skills beyond reading, writing, history facts, and the ability to do research projects. While these are all useful, there are many real-world skills we should ensure our students are at least aware of, so that they may cultivate these abilities and grow into their own.
Here are a few skills that are incredibly valuable and, frankly, quite fun to incorporate into your class plan.
1. Public Speaking
An amazingly useful skill for all people to have is the ability to speak in front of a group. With the internet and services like YouTube, we find ourselves with not only more opportunities, but a higher expectation to be able to speak publicly.
Because public speaking is one of the biggest and most pervasive fears among humans, it's important that students practice this early, often, and in a safe environment where they can grow into their ability without judgement or fear. The crippling anxiety experienced by many when speaking before a group relates directly to our ancient survival instincts, with a fear of failing at a speech equating to the fear of being rejected by the group, which, in ancient times, would have resulted in certain death.
Of course, 'death' is no longer a possibility, but that instinct remains. When children are younger, their fears haven't fully developed yet, so the sooner we can introduce this practice, the better. And even for students experiencing nervousness, there are excellent ways to work through the nervousness and develop a powerful skill.
Eva Buyuksimkesyan provides some excellent strategies for bringing public speaking into the classroom, as well as some information on why it's so important to make this part of your teaching style. By implementing her ideas, which make public speaking fun, interactive, and student-driven, teachers can make public speaking a powerful and engaging part of the learning process.
2. Creative Problem Solving
Another tremendously valuable skill is the ability to solve problems as they arise, creatively, and utilize the resources around them. Creative problem solving is a skill, not an inherent trait, and can be taught, learned, and cultivated.
Presenting students with situations where answers must be created, where there is no fixed 'right' or 'wrong' solution, creates opportunities to exercise their minds and to understand the concept of problems that are not fixed, but fluid.
Results will depend upon their own ability to think through the issues, utilizing the simple steps:
These steps will allow students to examine situations thoughtfully, see different angles, and understand that they have the power to affect their environment by thinking through problems.
3. The Art of Mistakes
If you watch a small child learning a new skill--walking, speech, to write their own name, or to put on socks--we see them do the task incorrectly many times over, making errors, trying many times before they begin to even come close to doing it correctly.
When dealing with toddlers, we're usually quite gentle regarding mistakes. We encourage them to try again, offer our own insights, and assure them that they'll get the hang of things if they keep trying.
The school system, while it tries to preserve this attitude, has a hard time encouraging mistakes and perpetuates the notion that mistakes are negative. That failure is a mark against us as people. Grades are contingent upon getting more correct marks than incorrect marks, and more mistakes than successes can result in failure, which is usually met with disappointment.
Teaching that mistakes are part of the learning process is one of those life skills that can stay with a student forever, and literally change their life.
Both the above skills are wonderful opportunities to bring the art of making mistakes to life in the classroom, and show students that mistakes can be positive and wonderful when they are used to advance learning.
But those are not the only ways. Any tasks and assignments that are presented with the purpose of working through the problem and learning to explore the world around us can contribute to this important life lesson. It can also be something you discuss, perhaps opening with a lecture and then moving into an open discussion. Students can discuss their past mistakes, and how those have ultimately helped them. Teachers can look for examples from successful people the students might relate to--like J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, or other familiar names--of failure and success, and how failure is not the opposite of success, but a step on the path toward it.
Bringing Real-World Skills Into The Classroom
It is so easy for us to get caught up in the curriculum--standardized tests, class projects, required assignments--and the mechanics of running a classroom, tending to all our students, and managing our schedules. These deeper concepts can be a challenge to incorporate.
But if we can build real-world skills into our lesson plans, if we can take time to ensure we bring these ideas to our students right from the start, then we can do a lot more than just provide them with knowledge and skills they'll need; we can pass along wisdom, strength, and confidence that they'll carry with them for the rest of their lives.