The Unspoken Education Conflict About Soft Skills with Infographic

by | Feb 19, 2018

There are two major approaches in education. Both are stressed as foundational to the success of students now in school and later in their chosen futures. Chances are you have encountered them both and that your school places them as a priority, but rarely positions them together.

I’m talking about the Data & Soft Skills.

If you’ve spent any time in education then you are familiar with the push for data-driven results and the increased attention on soft skills.

Both of these approaches are fuel for intensive professional development, staff meetings, and learning communities. They have wiggled their way into report cards and teacher evaluation criteria.

However, they are rarely broached in the same conversations.

The reason?
They are competing – not necessarily conflicting, but definitely causing some friction.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

The Drive for Data in Education

data driven results - testing

The drive for data in education is flanked by the support of stakeholders and teachers, both wanting to use data to create and validate the success of schools.

Education has stakeholders, be that taxpayers, parents, administrators, etc. And stakeholders want to see results. They want to see the line graph sloped up and the school’s efforts paying off. This is done by collecting data, providing data (through testing), and using data to make decisions.

At the same time, educators want to do the right thing. They want their students to succeed, obviously. We respond to terms like “research-based” and “industry-proven” favorably because we know that these approaches work and we want to do what’s best for the students. We collect data to make the best decisions and follow industry trends by hopping on and off of educational bandwagons all under the guise the following the data.

The Push for Soft Skills in Education

Soft Skills in education

Although the term “soft skills” may not be as familiar, you most likely are very familiar with “21st century skills”, which is a packaged version of soft skills.

Soft skills are the backbone of class and school culture. They are the desirable traits for future employment and a healthy society. Skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, trainability, and empathy (see infographic at the end of this article for more) are emphasized as schools recognize the need to overtly teach social- and life-skills.

The Friction

Like Clark Kent and Superman we rarely hear “data-driven” and “soft skills” in the same sentence. Why?

You see an emphasis on data is a push for the tangible.

We can track this back to when discipline-based methodologies took precedent and we made all decisions based on the annual standardized test. (some of you may still be there)

A drive for data speaks to a need to track results, make informed decisions based on numbers, and to monitor progress. These aren’t bad intentions and there is value in knowing this information, but a focus on “soft skills” speaks to a very different approach.

A curriculum that features soft skills recognized that all progress is not tangible.

We can’t easily track a student’s empathy or give them a score of their ability to accept feedback. What we can do is provide them with experiences and opportunities to practice these skills and communicate the importance of developing them.

Unlike data, soft skills can’t be reported to stakeholders or be presented in impressive line graphs. The value in teaching soft skills is more subtle.

What We Know as Educators

Educators know the value of teaching soft skills. We understand that in order for the needle to move on the data, a variety of soft skills need to be in place. Students need to have the framework that allows them to communicate and interact in ways that build success and foster a culture of support. We understand the importance of creating opportunities for developing soft skills, whether they are part of our curriculum, evaluation system, or report cards. 

The Impact of Teacher Resilience

While data and soft skills aren’t conflicting, per say, they are competing – competing for class time, curriculum focus, and support.

There is a mixed message here.

When professional development time during one week is spent pouring over data, plotting points, and making decisions based on numbers and then the next week’s staff meeting is focused on how essential 21st Century Skills are and the importance of building relationships with students  through advocating self-efficacy and providing them opportunities to take ownership of their learning, well, what’s a teacher to do?

When our plates already seem to overfloweth with work, our brains sleeplessly swim with how to meet the varying needs of all of our students, and our hearts are already heavy knowing that there is not enough hours in the day to do it all – we shouldn’t need to worry about picking and choosing between test scores and social skills.

This does not build resilience. It does not support teachers. And, does it really support students?

Often teachers are left to incorporate soft skills in-between teaching for the test. That’s what we do. In spite of obstacles and roadblocks, teachers give their students what they know they need. So, here’s to the teachers that make it work!

Check out the infographic below on the 40 Essential Soft Skills Every Educator Should Teach.



40 Essential SOFT SKILLS Every Educator Should Teach

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