Developing Social Skills for Life Success

“Soft skills” such as sociability, punctuality, conscientiousness and an ability to get along well with others, along with participation in extracurricular activities, are better predictors of earnings and higher educational achievement later in life than having good grades and high standardized test scores, states Christy Lleras, professor of human and community development. (Science Daily, Mar.26,2009 Social Skills, Extracurricular Activities In High School Pay Off Later in Life)

“That’s not to say that academic achievement in high school doesn’t matter – it does,” Lleras said. “But if we only look at standardized test scores, we’re only considering part of the equation for success as an adult in a global marketplace. Academic achievement is part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. You’ve got to have the social skills and work habits to back those achievements up.”

High school sophomores who were rated by their teachers as having good social skills and work habits, and who participated in extracurricular activities in high school, made more money and completed higher levels of education 10 years later than their classmates who had similar standardized test scores but were less socially adroit and participated in fewer extracurricular activities

If high-stakes testing is the only remedy for low-performing schools, Lleras said, “then we may fail to help those students develop the soft skills they need to successfully complete higher levels of education and secure a better job in the
labor market.”

I found a great example of an experience to build desired skills and attitudes at Morgan County High School (MCHS) in Georgia- Morgan County Citizen Feb 12,2009

Inspired by the multi award-winning documentary film “Darius Goes West,” (DGW) which chronicles the journey of then 15-year-old Athens native Darius Weems, who has been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), and 11 of his friends across the country to California to have Weems’ wheelchair customized by MTV’s “Pimp My Ride,” students at the school felt led to begin a local effort to aid Darius’ cause of DMD research.

Emily Malanowski, a senior at Morgan County High School, shared the following personal report with me:

Several months ago, no one in my school knew who Darius Weems was. That changed when all the English teachers began showing the film, Darius Goes West (DGW), in their classes. This low budget film, documented the fulfillment of a young man’s dream to find a cure for the disease that was killing him, Duchene Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Darius is currently a 19 year-old and when he was a freshman the preparations for the journey of his life started. He had never left his hometown of Clark County and had never really thought about what he could do to make a difference until his brother, who also suffered from DMD, died. Darius then became determined to bring the public’s attention to this 100% fatal illness. College students that volunteered at the camp Darius attended, jumped in to help his efforts. Soon they had a trip planned that would take them across many different states on their way to California and back again. During this excursion, the DGW crew shed light on the lack of wheelchair accessibility throughout the country and how little the “Average Joe” knew about DMD. At the end of the documentary, they share a goal they have set for themselves: to sell 1 million DVDs before Darius’ next birthday in September.

The impact this challenge had on my school would have never been predicted. The minds of my fellow students were on fire with ways to help DGW meet their goal. Brainstorming sessions were held and the secretary was bogged down with slips of paper that had suggestions on how to help on them. After all this support Dr. Wilson, the principal, was compelled to create some way all of the students’ energy could be focused to make the most difference. About a month after the airing of the film, it was decided. The students of Morgan County High School would hand-write letters about DGW to EVERY public high school in America, approximately 25,000.

The day was known as Darius Goes West Day. Shirts were made and classes were postponed. The school news crew played the “deleted” and the “making of…” scenes from the DVD and also had special guests which included our system superintendent and one of the mothers of the DGW Crew. The local Chick-Fil-A even set up a place where students could purchase food during their lunch break. The surprising thing was how there was no complaining from anyone during the day. Hands were sore but hearts were joyful.

The process did not stop once the letters were written. The packaging process still needed to be accomplished. That meant that all 25,000 letters needed to be placed into a labeled envelope along with a free copy of Darius Goes West. The whole school got into this also. Tables, which lined the upper floor of the gym, were stacked with boxes, envelopes, labels, and, of course, hundreds of letters. Down below, students worked avidly on reaching the goal of hand-writing a letter to every high school, even after the school day had ended.

At last the letters where written, the envelopes were stuffed, and the boxes were ready for the mail truck. A feeling of accomplishment filled the school because every student knew that the goal was completed on time for the evening mail. Without everyone’s participation, this monstrous goal would have never been met.

Dr James Malanowski, a teacher at MCHS, shared, “I have to admit that I was rather skeptical that we could pull off a feat of such magnitude. From moment one, though, my advisory was totally invested. The kid who has a dream of one day being a Marine sniper, a student who struggles to turn in assignments in my government class, as well as the leaders in my advisory were invested for the whole time. While our closed-circuit TV played “Darius Goes West” in the background, I sat in the back of the classroom dutifully writing my letters…with tears in my eyes…not just because of the cause, but because of what I saw in my students.”

Interesting side note, Dr. Mark Wilson the principal of MCHS was featured in a earlier posting when he was named the National Principal of the Year.

I found the following in a web posting for Talent Management writing to corporate HR professionals:

Company-supported community/volunteer programs also can significantly increase employee morale and productivity, ultimately enhancing skill sets and work performance. Thus, some organizations include an element of community/volunteer involvement as part of their internal employee assessments. Whether formally or informally, talent managers should make an effort to understand and capitalize on the skills employees learn through volunteer activities.

In my work with groups looking to increase student achievement I have groups explore what the definition of student achievement is for their school…. then what would students need to do to reach that achievement …and then what experiences do we need to provide for the students. If “soft skills” are in your definition, are you finding ways to provide those experiences? Many students find those experiences in their extra curricular activities. I am wondering if it is common for our schools to limit time for these “soft skills” learning activities from the very students who may need them most for building future success.

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2 Responses to “ Developing Social Skills for Life Success ”

  1. Paul Moranville Says:

    From my experience it seems that the limiting of social skills is a direct consequence of the overemphasis on tested knowledge and the skills to show them.

    It has been interesting in graduate classes to reckon with the idea that our students will deal with a completely different world as adults. The ability to find information will be preferable over an ability to retain it, theorists are now saying, due to the exponential growth of information and its availability at the click of a mouse. With that in mind, logic would say we are certainly barking up the wrong tree.

    Perhaps we should be challenging students to search for information on a variety of topics that interest them, to learn how to share the resources with others, and to spur one another toward greatness in their abilities to use foundational skills in new and diverse ways.

    Tomorrow’s success for today’s students will not be in what they can amass in their knowledge banks but in how they can USE their knowledge (and, even more, the knowledge of others) in a world of diversity, according to the research that you have stated together with what I have seen.

    Paul Moranville

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Paul

    Go to you tube and search for Not on the Test by Tom Chapin…. lots of reinforcement for your thinking.
    steve

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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