Adaptability is Key

Nobody is more aware of the constant state of flux in our world than the young people that are wading in it, often knee deep, navigating the ebbs and flows — adjusting to the hurricanes and wildfires. Every new generation tries their hand at documenting it, dreaming about it, and even preparing to contribute to or create it. Our young generations are eager to share their experiences, challenge what doesn’t seem to fit, and search for opportunities to carve a unique niche or path forward. 

Ah, to be young again. Yet the opportunities awaiting them look different in a world that places greater emphasis on innovation, creation, updated technology, problem solving and even empathy as attributes of success. 

If we live in an era that is changing its rules and re-focusing its priorities, it’s our job to adapt to new techniques and values that allow us to keep up. How we adapt, after all, is how we succeed. And this couldn’t be more true than within our K–12 education foundation. Educators are tasked with the responsibility of preparing our youth to be successful in life outside and beyond the classroom. According to hiring managers and college admissions professionals, the candidates they’re looking for have a unique new set of skills — they’ve gone soft.

Sought-After Soft Skills 

A 2018 survey conducted by Cengage/Morning Consult Group found that nearly 3 in 4 employers say they have a hard time finding graduates with the soft skills their companies need. Soft skills here refer to critical thinking, communication, listening, innovation, problem solving, creativity and interpersonal skills. In fact the Pew Research Center survey notes that the most valuable skills of the future are those that technology and machines can’t yet perform, and they suggest that young people need to “learn how to learn” if they hope to adapt to a fast-changing employment environment.

There is a clear ask from our future workers and innovators. And it’s our job, as educators, to listen and deliver. 

So how do we support young people in developing these sought-after soft skills that translate into success after high school? It starts in K–12 classrooms and the educator’s first task demands that we receive data-driven insights to highlight strengths and areas for improvement. We need data that measures problem solving and critical thinking using real world scenarios that cannot be graded in a traditional assessment or state level test. Multiple choice answers simply won’t cut it any longer. 

What Can K–12 Educators Do? 

As we move forward from more than a year of chaos and disrupted learning, it’s important to heed the lessons we’ve learned from this less-than-desirable climate in order to deepen our understanding of what student’s need in order to be successful. Educators have the unique opportunity to dive in with strategic new assessments like the CCRA+ that can be used as a litmus test to inspire updated versions of current curriculum or simply help support supplemental activities that work to strengthen soft skills, right now.  

So as classes resume this school year rather than focusing solely on the areas of content knowledge where students have fallen behind, be encouraged to seek creative ways to adapt. Rework lessons to develop the abilities students have actually been working on during school closures like social-emotional tools, time-management, self-directed learning, and online acumen.

Teachers can offer new ways of teaching that open the doors for soft skill development while also allowing students to express their feelings and share their experiences in ways that support their social-emotional and behavioral growth. These ways include anything from essay writing, storytelling, journaling, digital reports and portfolios, video essays, to any assignment or activity that allows for innovation, creativity, and problem solving. 

Content knowledge and soft skills go hand-in-hand — educators simply need to listen, adapt, and implement new and thoughtful ways to support this ever-changing climate. If we do this, we’ll be sending more young people into the real world with a fully-stocked toolbox. Colleges and the job market will continue to rely on the adaptation and development of these soft skills as we continue to place greater and greater stake on them. The only question is, what will your K–12 institutions’ role be in facilitating them?

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