You may be tasked with specific learning objectives and student learning outcomes that have to be met as students walk out your door with a passing grade, but what about those less concrete objectives that you want to ensure are met as students graduate and go out into the world representing your institution? How can you ensure that your students learn those soft skills as they meet those objectives? Here are a few ways to integrate soft skills in your classroom:
- Demand proper spelling and grammar: In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, the authors write that though it isn’t incumbent upon you to teach grammar or spelling in your course – or even appropriate – that doesn’t mean that you can’t demand it. For some students, it will be impossible to create and turn in a nearly mistake-free paper; however, the skill that they need to acquire is the ability to seek out a resource that can help them reach that goal. Who doesn’t value resourcefulness in an employee? (Svinicki and McKeachie, 225)
- Set the expectation for proper e-mail etiquette: In Soft Skills at Work: Technology for Career Success, author Beverly Amer advises that though e-mail offers a faster way to communicate, writers shouldn’t assume that anything goes in this medium. She warns that people instinctively form impressions based on the e-mails they receive, and being overly casual or inappropriate could backfire. Tell students that you won’t respond to unprofessionally-written e-mails and that they should consider their audience when writing e-mail, use proper greetings, and avoid “text message language” or excessive abbreviations. Do you want to respond to student e-mails that start off with “hey” or overuse emoticons? Sounds like a great opportunity to teach some soft skills. (Amer, 44)
- Include teamwork: Many times, being a working professional requires that you be an effective team player. Amer writes that for professionals, choosing not to be a team member doesn’t mean not getting a ribbon or a receiving a bad grade, it could mean being passed over for a promotion or worse. Teaching students the importance of teamwork by including group work or group projects is another way you can easily integrate soft skills in your course. Who hasn’t regretted choosing a group member for the wrong reasons or had to deal with personalities they would otherwise avoid in team situations? These are life lessons for all involved. (Amer, 57)
- Don’t tolerate lateness: I once had a professor who made it crystal clear that should you walk into his classroom after he had begun his class, you would regret it. One person made that mistake in 10 weeks. Demanding respect in your classroom by setting a simple ground rule like this one helps students learn professionalism and, sometimes if they’re that one unfortunate person, consequences to unprofessional behavior.
By including any number of these soft skills-building methods in your approach, you can feel confident that you’ve done more than your part in ensuring your institution’s future graduates were pointed in a professional direction.
Reference: Content adapted from Amer, Beverly. 2009. Soft Skills in a Digital Workplace: Technology for Career Success. Boston, MA: Course Technology, Cengage Learning.
Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.