About Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is an administrator, author, and speaker with a background in teaching. His articles receive over a million hits per year and have appeared in a variety of publications. He is co-owner of the small business Theta Hill, and he also writes for The Popular Teen, The Popular Man and other sites.

Teaching Soft Skills

friends on a pathMany of my teaching colleagues were amazed at how easily I interacted with students. Since they related to me, they liked me as a teacher and learned more. I often heard comments about how my attitude and outlook made them better students. The reason I had such success with my teenage students was because of my “soft skills.”

Soft skills are those characteristics such as hard work, communication, time management, positive attitude, and other intangible skills that help a person function effectively in employment and social settings. They are contrasted with “hard skills” such as adding numbers, conducting scientific experiments, welding, etc.

Since our educational system is geared mainly toward “hard skills,” employers often lament the lack of soft skills among their employees. When was the last time any school offered a class on having the right attitude, flexibility, or any other soft skill? It’s a shame because with the generally lousy job market, soft skills could really make a difference to our students and give them a big edge.

The question of why they aren’t learning soft skills isn’t a hard one. I think it can be chalked up to the calcified nature of the educational system. We’ve gotten so used to teaching certain subjects (and their variants) that we refuse (on an institutional level anyway) to consider teaching other subjects, especially ones considered “fluff.” And, now the state has stepped in and mandated content, effectively leaving no room for the teaching of soft skills even if a school wanted it. Some schools are even starting to focus more on soft skills (often labeled as social skills) since studies are showing their importance in future success.

Fortunately, educators can teach soft skills without having an actual class dedicated to them. How? Through modeling them. By being good communicators, keeping a positive attitude, and showing students how to use soft skills in the real world experience of a classroom, teachers are educating students on how to effectively use soft skills on a regular basis.

After all, when I hear from former students about how my teaching impacted them, they rarely talk about the subject matter I taught them. They talk about how I taught them about life and how to be successful.

Granted, as a religion teacher, I could focus more on modeling these skills, but I still consider myself a huge success in this regard. Even my work on this website and its companions (The Popular Teen and The Popular Man) are dedicated to soft skills.

So, if you are a teacher, try to integrate some soft skills into your lessons. The best way to do it is to model them.

Teachers and Micromanaging Bosses

woman with headache

Image courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One year, at my former school, the administration wanted to focus on teacher leadership. We were put into small groups and told to come up with creative initiatives, which we gladly did. Halfway through the months long exercise, the school’s leaders decided they didn’t like our ideas and shifted the focus to student leadership. Sadly, that was typical of their micromanaging style.

Micromanagement isn’t just an educational phenomenon. However, in the regulation-heavy and rule-loving world of education, it is often a bigger problem than in other institutions. And, it’s horrible for staff morale. Anywhere you find a micromanaging leader (whether a school, business, church, etc.) I promise you will also find stressed out employees not living up to their potential.

Micromanaging teachers is counter productive, but not all administrators realize that. We spend the time in the classroom, have a feel for the kids, and know their needs. We’d be happy to have a conversation about anything, but being told what to do, and constantly monitored, down to the smallest level, is an insult to our competence and intelligence.

It also leads to burnout and frustration. It’s no surprise that over half of my departmental colleagues no longer teach at that school. Oh, and all of that group are out of teaching completely. That’s how bad micromanaging is for teacher morale.

You may not even notice it in the beginning. And, many times micromanaging is veiled through expression of “good motives.” Your principal may offer to “work with you” or “help you.” Where I taught, being offered that kind of help meant you were in for a long ride of misery.

I don’t want to be too negative. In many cases the micromanager in your life may think he or she is genuinely trying to help run the school in the best fashion. That person may not even be aware how destructive he or she is for the school’s morale. However, short of an intervention by a higher authority, the micromanaging behavior isn’t likely to change too much.

It’s really hard to reach your potential as a teacher when everything you attempt to do has to go through a boss or a committee. If you’re teaching at a public school and you have tenure, then you have recourse to the union or arbitration if it becomes too stifling. Don’t put up with it to the point that it affects your mental and physical health (or hurts the quality of your teaching)

If you teach at a private school, then you should likely look for another teaching job. You’ll typically have no protection and standing up to a micromanaging boss frequently will lead to punitive results. Micromanagers like control. They probably aren’t going to put up with your independent ways.

Hopefully you don’t have to put up with a micromanaging boss. But, if you do, then hang in there.

Our New Years Posts

Our companion sites have a lot of New Year related tips and activities. So, instead of reproducing the material here in another form, we thought it would be best to link over to the websites instead.

A teacher should always be attempting to become the most excellent person possible. After all, educating our children to be excellent is only possible if we provide excellent examples. So, without further delay, here are the links:

New Year Resolution Ideas

Tips To Set New Years Goals

A 2012 End of Year Review

Have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve. Enjoy the remainder of your break and return to school happy, refreshed, and a better, more excellent teacher.

Making Everyone More Bland

Christmas tree with decorationsYesterday a friend was telling me about how her son’s elementary school essentially banned holidays and birthday parties. It was done in the name of not being offensive and making sure that no one felt left out. I don’t know if they caught the irony of offending hundreds of families and leaving out hundreds of children by canceling Christmas, Halloween, and birthdays.

Sadly, this seems to be the trend among some educators. I can’t say the exact reasons, but I’ll list three of my guess why below.

Political Correctness

Many teachers have been educated in college programs that emphasized political correctness. As a result, they think their classrooms must be as non-offensive as possible to minorities. Rather than respecting and honoring minority traditions, they neuter the majority in the mistaken belief that this is somehow inclusive.

Bland Is Easy

It’s much easier to be bland rather than actually take the effort to manage individual students. For example, banning Christmas for all requires the stroke of a pen. Dealing with a few families who don’t like a particular holiday can be time consuming and a headache, especially if they’re vocal. Canceling on the silent majority is a lot easier.

The Weakness of the Current Model

The current model of education is a big reason why blandness reigns. We are still stuck in a one size fits all system. With the digital and internet age, there’s no reason why we have to cram a bunch of kids in one space and expect them all to conform. But, we do. Combine that with a diverse student body and trouble starts. Respecting diversity and insisting on conformity leads to the current trend of blandness.

I hope this blandness in education can be stopped. As a child, I loved the holiday activities and still recall them fondly. We had Jehovah’s Witness students who didn’t celebrate them. But, they managed. It’s a shame that some schools and their leaders can’t.

Make the Most of Election Day

I voted OhioWe’ve already discussed the importance of being non-partisan in the classroom. Today, we want to talk a little more about the importance of voting and how to impart that to your students.

It’s Not Just A Social Studies Thing

If one of your students started bleeding in your math class, you wouldn’t send him to the health teacher. No, you’d deal with it. Well, the same is true of teaching the value of voting. It doesn’t matter what the class you teach: you are a citizen or resident of your country and should want to teach those values to your students. How can you do it? For starters…

Integrate It Into Your Curriculum

No matter the class, there is a way to bring the value of voting into your lesson plans. You may have to be creative, but that’s what you get paid for!

For example, a health class can talk about the healthcare crisis and how voting can impact that. A math class can discuss the accuracy of polls and the statistics. Make sure that the students understand that they, as a group, can impact the future.

Show, Don’t Tell

Don’t just talk about voting; actually do it. Let your students know about your voting process. Although I don’t recommend promoting one candidate over the other, it’s good for your students to know that you participated in the process. Even if you’re cynical about the government, at least let your students think they can make a difference.

Remember to cast your vote. The political process isn’t perfect, but it is a system that has served the United States well for over two hundred years.

Teachers Should Care About Health and Fitness

a running track in the countryWe’ve talked a lot in the past about the importance of being excellent as a teacher. Students admire excellence in areas that they value. For example, I have a cousin who teaches. He’s also a guitar player and when he plays in class, the kids absolutely love it. They admire him because he’s good at a skill they can appreciate.

Another area where students value excellence is in athletics and general fitness. Even if they don’t play sports, most students still like those activities. Many of them also have athletes as their role models (for better or for worse).

What all this means is that, as a teacher, you have to be conscious of your physical appearance. This relates to dress, makeup, etc. but also to the way you keep your body (or don’t). This is why we make health and fitness an important part of this website. Popularity outside of school involves a level of health and fitness. The same is true of teachers within a school.

First, it’s important that you avoid being too overweight. Fat teachers do get mocked. I’m not saying this is right, but it is a part of the teenage mentality to look down on authority figures in any way possible. Don’t give them any extra ammunition.

Second, being fit and athletic is a plus. When I would help out in gym class and cover for other teachers, the fact that I could keep up with the students was highly valued. In addition, I would discuss my athletic endeavors. It really helped connect with them.

If you are out of shape or overweight, we will occasionally be discussing tips on here to help you out. Check back regularly for more advice. In addition, we address health and fitness tips on our companion blog The Popular Man.

Canceling Halloween: Group Punishment Gone Wild

A glowing plastic Jack o'lanternA Pennsylvania school recently made the national news for canceling Halloween. They cited lower attendance rates, costume safety issues, poorer students feeling left out, and a lack of consistency with the celebrations.

Rather than address each issue individually, the school deals with it in the typical educational way: punish everybody. Write up skippers? Nope. Address unsafe costumes with individual parents? Nope. Help poorer students find costumes? Nope. Talk to teachers about being consistent in their parties? Nope. Take the easy (and joy killing route) and cancel Halloween! Yes!

If I sound passionate about this topic, you’d be right. It’s not so much the issue of Halloween, but the educational tendency towards group punishment. Throughout school, I was a good kid who rarely got in trouble. However, I experienced many group punishments. In many cases, I had no control over even being in the group. The teacher would put me in a group, then punish me when some of the group misbehaved.

I rarely use group punishment in teaching because it’s extremely unjust. I understand that teaching is extremely difficult and group punishment is sometimes a quick and effective way to discipline. However, I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be to be punished even though you’re genuinely innocent.

I think the School District is making a similar mistake, just on a smaller scale. They’re letting genuine concerns that occur because of a few people ruin the Halloween fun of the vast majority who play by the rules. Finding and implementing solutions would be more difficult, but it’s worth it. In the end, excited kids shouldn’t have to sit through a “fall festival” simply because the school’s leadership isn’t creative enough to figure out solutions.