Ask almost any employer what they want to see in potential hires and you hear a common answer: soft skills. Hiring managers can teach people to operate a machine or set up a software program. What’s much more challenging is finding workers who can collaborate with their co-workers, persevere in the face of obstacles or simply be responsible enough to show up for work on time.
That’s exactly why Carolina Voyager Charter School is focused not only on teaching academics and technology, but also social and emotional skills that will benefit students well into their adult years.
“We’re focused on reading, writing and arithmetic, but we also realize these social and emotional skills are going to be as important as academic skills in the real world,” says Harry Walker, school leader at Carolina Voyager.
Each month, the school focuses on a core competency, including traits like responsibility, grit, gratitude, integrity, tolerance, relationships, empathy and perseverance. The school guidance counselor teaches kindergarten through fifth grade on the month’s selected competency, but the instruction doesn’t stop there. Teachers are provided a list of activities and suggestions for how they can integrate and reinforce these social and emotional skills into everyday learning.
New this year, students will have “Make a Plan Monday” to set weekly goals for the selected skill, Walker explains. At the end of the week, they’ll assess their progress as part of “Feedback Friday.”
Three times a year Carolina Voyager surveys its students on social and emotional learning to gauge how the program is working, how students are improving and what tweaks need to be made. Parents are also surveyed twice a year and results have shown a good correlation between how the children see themselves and how the parents view the children.
Beyond informing parents about what’s being taught a school, Walker says they plan to better engage parents in social and emotional learning, giving them specific tools and strategies to use at home.
The overarching mission is to create resilient learners who have that internal grit to keep trying – even when they fail, Walker explains. Creating resilient learners now means these children will become resilient learners all through their lives.
“We want to develop kids who see themselves as being able to overcome challenges,” he adds. “You try your best, and most of the time, you don't win. When you’re not successful, that’s where your true spirit comes in. You try again, try harder, try a different way. Be good problem solvers. Kids need to recognize when they encounter difficulties, you don't just throw your hands up. That’s an important lesson to learn.”
Walker recognizes the challenge other school districts face when it comes to balancing preparing students for academic testing and instilling in them these critical soft skills.
“Math and reading are being tested, so that’s what is being taught,” he says. “But educating kids is much bigger than just reading and math.”