Soft Skills (paragraph blogging)

I have been thinking about the topic Soft Skills in (ELT) Training and Development realized that I can add some thoughts on this topic. Luckily, there is now a new Blogging Paragraph style (or trend) started by Kate and supported by several more bloggers (Anna, Hana, Sirja, Anthony are those I read, and there might be many more out there!)

This quote from Anna’s post motivated me to get to writing today:

This paragraph blogging style is liberating and infectious. It’s just my hunch that it might help me turn my many drafts into actual paragraphs some day.

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Soft skills support the ‘hard’ or core professional skills. Soft skills can be interpersonal (e.g. communication skills, team work, ability to motivate others, etc.) and intrapersonal (e.g. responsibility, self-confidence, flexibility, initiative, planning, innovation/creativity, critical thinking, reflective competencies, etc.) Soft skills are features and behaviors displayed in interactions among individuals that might have an impact on the outcomes of such interactions.

All the above means (or seems to be true) soft skills that often define if a person can be a mentor (or trainer, team leader, supervisor, etc.) for his/her colleagues. Now, it is the soft skills that are not really trained or practiced at a workplace. An example from my own experience: when I first was offered a position of the Director of Studies (DoS) in the international private school I was working for, I was sent to a two-week course. The interactive sessions there included such topics as Recruitment, Appraisal, Creating a Training Session, and more. What I wish I had been aware of at that time, especially when I started to work as a DoS, were the answers to the ‘ How’- questions like ‘How do I give feedback to more experienced colleagues?’, ‘How do I talk to parents?’, ‘How do I communicate with an unhappy customer? With a new teacher? Senior management?’ etc. –  I can add more and more questions to the list. I remember I was looking for some sort of ‘personality growth’ training courses. All I found at that time was about ‘confidence building’ and ‘developing your negotiation or sales skills’ types of courses. All for business people and managers ‘in general’. All far from my context.

It has been exactly 10 years since the time I describe. Many things changed. As someone working a lot with teachers and trainers internationally, I noticed that soft skills are still not a part of ‘explicit’ training program for teachers. I wonder if I am actually missing something. I wonder if this topic is just not of a high priority for the educational industry at the moment. What has your experience been like? Do those skills come ‘naturally’ with experience in a field?

Some more questions I have about soft skills are below. I am really eager to continue this conversation in comments and/or on your own blogs.

In our job (teaching, training, mentoring), how can we become ‘role models’ for practicing those skills? (do we need to at all?)

How do you work on developing your own soft skills? Who or what helps you? What successes and challenges have you had and would like to share?

Do you/Would you teach soft skills to your students?

What questions have you asked yourself about those skills?

Thank you for reading!

About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Soft Skills (paragraph blogging)

  1. Ron Bradley says:

    When I was training the Turkish educators at the U of Mass, I ran across the following Emerson quote: “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” What this means to me is that our hearts and minds speak much louder than our words and that if our hears and minds are in agreement and in tune with the needs of others, we will be led to say the right thing that will both benefit and be accepted by that individual.

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    • Zhenya says:

      This is a great quote, Ron. Thank you for sharing it – in the context of soft skills it brings a new meaning to me. Now, as I understand, you are saying that there needs to be more trust to ‘who we are’ as trainers (or teachers) rather than applying certain skills/techniques. Or, that this ability to listen to the person is a habit, or a skill, in itself? Thank you for leaving your comment – I love thinking together with you!

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi Zhenya,

    I simply love your posts. I’ve never met you in person you but the way you write is so honest, soft and heartfelt that I dare say that I know you well. I’d like to answer the following question: “Do those skills come ‘naturally’ with experience in a field?” I used to think that yes, the more I teach the better my soft skills will probably become. The truth is though that over time I’ve only become better at teaching techniques.

    I know this because a while ago I had a serious problem giving feedback to an experienced teacher – a very self-confident colleague of mine. After I had observed her, I asked her how she had felt and the stuff, and she said: “It was all right, as usual”. My second question was: “How much do you think your students spoke?” (I estimated that it had been less than 10% of the entire talking time which is very little, as you know). Once I said this, she immediately stroke back. She must have sensed a reproach in my tone of voice or something (maybe it was really there). Moreover, she is as old as I am and she has the same amount of experience in teaching. I felt she was offended by the fact that someone like me was telling her what was right and what was wrong. From then on she refused to listen and angrily signed the document.

    This is a proof that soft skills must be learned and trained, be it the ability to give feedback or receive it.

    Thanks for the post. Once again, it got me thinking.

    Hana

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    • Zhenya says:

      Dear Hana

      Thank you for the endless warmth and openness you express – both in your comments here, and on your blog. I also feel as if we have known each other for a long time, and in person. I am getting more and more curious what we would think/say when we actually meet in ‘real life’. Maybe a ‘project’ for some time in the future… 🙂

      Wow – what an example to think about in your comment. You are describing a situation I think I can imagine: someone already experienced and confident, mature both personally and professionally, has to be observed ‘formally’ (as I understand, because she had to sign a form at the end?) by you. Even if this is someone you know well, and someone who trusts you as an observer (or as an expert), it might be still a stressful experience to have. From her answer to your first question, seems like she got quite defensive from the beginning. Maybe I am wrong, but I take ‘“It was all right, as usual” as ‘I don’t want to discuss my lesson right now’, or something like this. Your second question was about the main focus of the lesson (and possibly the ‘core’ you wanted to talk with her about). Was it asked immediately after the first one? Did you have time to chat before that? Was it the very first time you had to observe her? And that group of students?

      I see a shower of questions. Sorry. I think I am talking to myself in the past right now – to the time I had to observe that colleague who was much more experienced than me (and 15 years older than me). When I was giving my very first feedback to her she just asked ‘Is there any advice you could give me?’ and then simply discarded every point I had (‘Yes, this is clear, I have tried it before’ or ‘No, I don’t think this would work with these kids’, etc.) I was trying to be ‘helpful’ by giving my suggestions. It took me exactly 4 years to build a real rapport with her (and I also became a teacher trainer which was ‘official’ approval for her that yes, I can say something useful about her class) One lesson I took was that experienced teachers need to be observed not to get a new ‘tip’ or technique or ‘advice’ from the observer, but to have a meaningful respectful conversation about the students, the teaching, the objectives, and other things. After all, an observer can’t always tell you what’s ‘right’, and even more so, what’s ‘wrong’.

      After saying all the above, I am wondering if feedback skills (giving and receiving) in the context of teacher training are ‘soft’ or ‘core’ (ironically, wanted to write ‘hard’ – they are sometimes). And if they are core competencies, how can someone be expected to ‘magically’ have them, even being very professional and experienced?

      Thank you for your comment. Thank you for letting me remember and put ‘on paper’ those questions I keep asking myself from time to time. Looking forward to reading your blog!

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      • Hana Tichá says:

        Thanks for your encouraging words, Zhenya. It feels good when you know someone’s been through the same negative experience. Actually, my colleague had warned me in advance that the students (18 year olds) are quite reticent to talk, especially in the morning (this is when I came to observe the class). She had given me an excuse in advance, so to speak. However, during the lesson I saw there were endless opportunities for speaking (be it just sharing answers in pairs, for example) which were left totally unexploited. There was no pair or group work – something which often encourages teens to speak – and the only questions from the teacher were those that required yes/no responses (sometimes she even answered herself). I felt had to tell her. The way I chose was not the best one, I admit. We both knew where the problem was, and thus she clearly struck a defensive post from the very beginning, as you point out. By the way, yes, it was a formal observation; as the head of the English department it is incumbent on me to observe my colleagues twice a year.

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        • Zhenya says:

          Hi Hana

          Thank you for adding more details — yes, I see how she was ‘building her defense castle’ even before the lesson. From what you described, it seems to me she was not really interested in hearing your perspective on ‘Why’ the students were not speaking, and what could have been done or tired. Not a pleasant relationship for an observer (especially, if this is a formal observation).

          I was re-reading Josette LeBlanc’s post on iTDi recently http://itdi.pro/blog/2013/11/22/the-observation-issue-josette-leblanc/ and loved what she wrote about being ready for feedback (and asking if a person wants to hear any feedback at all) I think I will try this idea in the future to really give a choice. Maybe sometimes just signing a form is a ‘right’ thing to do — just as you did.

          Hope your next observation experience with this teacher is different. By the way, one of the ideas I had tried with the colleague I was writing about was inviting her to see my lessons (or a part of the lesson) — our relationship got ‘warmer’ after that.

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          • Hana Tichá says:

            Funny … although I haven’t read Josette’s post (I’m definitely going to right now!), I was just thinking the same – that next time I’ll try asking the observee if they want to hear any feedback at all. 🙂 Thanks.

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  3. Pingback: Difficult Conversations | Wednesday Seminars

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