Get outside to teach soft skills

Blog written by Greg Brookes-Clayton, Educational Director at Challenge Academy CIC

The employment of ‘soft skills’

In terms of educating our young people, I find it encouraging that there seems to be a recognition of the need to develop positive learning cultures through the development of ‘soft’ skills. I know from my experience that the development of soft skills through experiential collaborative learning (teamwork) activities can be transformative with young children and adults. However, how powerful would this learning be if it was started at the formative age of around 7 or 8 and was continuously developed with emphasis on the transference of the skills into the classroom and ultimately into life?challenge academy 1

We have a responsibility to find time in the curriculum to do this effectively. I understand the pressures on the school timetable. However, time spent on specific collaborative activities (teamwork) becomes value-added if the learning approaches, attitudes and skills are referenced and reinforced throughout the general school curriculum and become part of the ethos of the school.

Too often we hear the rhetoric; we need teamwork.  A task will be given and completed and the young people, when asked what they did, will reply “We did teamwork”.  No! This word is meaningless if the young people are not able to identify the awareness, skills and attitudes they have developed or identify the elements of their approach and behaviour which were essential for the team to work effectively.

Only by having an explicit understanding of what these are can they utilise this knowledge to develop the essential skills for life and work, i.e. to apply themselves with confidence and commitment and the ability to confront challenge and difficulties with clarity and emotional control. In short, to be mentally tough.

Be more confident” “You need to challenge yourself” “Show more control” “Be more committed.” How often will these phrases come out of the mouths of some educators, parents, employers? “Ok…thanks I’ll be more confident now…” It’s a ridiculous notion, it means nothing, and we are doing our young people a disservice if we aren’t actively helping them to develop these skills. The lip service paid to the concept of teamwork and team development by many institutions is a missed opportunity to do exactly that!

How do we develop confidence, challenge, commitment and control (the 4C’s) in our learners? All of these require ‘soft’ skills, many of which are developed through interaction with others. Control is about relationships with others; emotional control is a response to a situation created by an interpersonal reaction. Challenge will often be about, or involve, a relationship to an individual or group of people. Team development activities provide a unique and fertile learning ground for the development of these 4C’s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How can we convince young people and their teachers of the need for these ‘soft’ skills?

If young people are skilfully facilitated in fun, engaging activities, which allow individual and group mind sets to develop, where the ‘nuts and bolts’, the ‘mechanics’ of a team, are not just understood but practised again and again, and where helpful and unhelpful attitudes, behaviours and skills are recognised, reviewed and refined, then they will convince themselves of the positive effects of:

  • Communicating effectively
  • Experiencing what it feels like to trust and to be trusted
  • Assessing and managing risk and seeing the benefits of taking risk
  • Being included and being inclusive
  • Feeling free to be confident and develop creative ideas
  • Resolving conflict; they recognise that effective teams care enough to have conflict and can self-regulate through resolution
  • Recognising that even with a shared vision and enthusiasm, it may require several attempts to improve performance and that this is part of the process
  • Engaging fully ‘in the moment’ and being involved in shaping outcomes
  • Developing emotional intelligence and an emotional lexicon that enables support and empathy
  • Employing a Plan/Do/Review/Improve/Apply process

Educators will experience for themselves that the development, application and practice of these skills do improve performance, and by the very nature of this learning, they will be developing resilience and mental toughness.

Wouldn’t we love all our learners to be able to develop the mental toughness and resilience to be able to commit to tasks, to accept challenge by being prepared to take risks, to have confidence in their abilities and approach and to have the emotional control to cope if setbacks occur? Can we rely on the National Curriculum, to do this? Will the National Curriculum alone prepare our young people to be effective, valuable, competent members of society? Will it give them the awareness, attitudes and skills to reach their personal potential within Education and Society, be happy and healthy and get the best out of their lives? I think not.

The best place for learning such as this to occur is outside the classroom, where students and teachers will be freed up to take risks with their learning. Children need to push themselves from individual and group ‘comfort zones’ into the ‘stretch zone’, where learning takes place. Repeated opportunities for experiential learning opportunities, where there are no ‘right or ‘wrong’ answers (where the value is in the process), which are then reviewed using meaningful, structured methods to complete the learning cycle, develop young peoples’ resilience, curiosity and resourcefulness are essential.

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Challenge Academy are a Community Interest Company based in the West Midlands. They were one of the first organisations in the UK to be awarded the LOtC Quality Badge which they have held for the past 9 years. Challenge Academy support a number of National projects across a range of sectors but particularly in education, providing schools, FE and HE with approved resources and training.

For more information on Challenge Academy activities, challenge equipment and training visit the Challenge Academy website: https://challengeacademy.co.uk/. You can follow @challengeAcad on Twitter.

About the Author:

greg brookes-claytonGreg Brookes-Clayton is the Educational Director at Challenge Academy CIC, based in Baggeridge Country Park, Staffordshire.

Greg was a teacher for 17 years working predominantly with young people with SEBD (Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties). His teaching career included posts in Crewe, Glasgow, Liverpool and Derby and culminated in head of a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) in Derby City.

Greg joined Challenge Academy in March 2016 to become Director of Education. Challenge Academy is a Community Interest Company set up to deliver challenge and empower young people to engage, learn and lead.

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