As teachers we have the unique opportunity to help shape the lives of our students beyond the curriculum we teach. Yes, algebra and literary analysis and the scientific method are important for students to learn -- but the classroom also provides an excellent arena in which to incorporate life skills that will be beneficial to students in "the real world," in all areas of life.
How you teach life skills will vary based on the grade and subject you teach, but there's likely quite a bit of room to organically incorporate the following aptitudes into your teaching and collaboration. Whether and to what extent you discuss these life skills explicitly or simply work them into the overall culture of your classroom, think about which of these life skills you can best integrate.
As we're all too aware, life is fast-paced and incredibly busy. Getting things done requires the art of time management. In your classroom, you can model time management by changing modalities frequently (e.g. breaking a class into a lecture, a group discussion, and solo work) and giving students tasks to accomplish in given chunks of time.
You can also model keeping an assignment notebook for them, breaking down each homework assignment and how much time to designate to it. For students who have a hard time staying on task, there are a variety of time management tricks, for example, the Pomodoro technique, which entails working for 20-25 minute increments with short breaks in between.
What exactly does self-advocacy mean? It means speaking up for oneself and one's needs and best interest. The better able students are to advocate for themselves now, the better they'll be able to do so down the line.
One of the best ways you can foster self-advocacy in your classroom is by encouraging your students to come talk to you if they have any questions or concerns about your curriculum, classroom culture, college readiness, etc. The more available and receptive you are to your students' feedback and questions, the more comfortable they'll feel advocating for themselves in your class and beyond.
If your students are shy or have reservations about coming to you, consider your accepted methods of communication. Can you issue a quarterly feedback survey? Keep specific office hours? Do regular one-on-one check-ins? In what ways can you open the channels of communication with your students and therefore encourage self advocacy?
Also, if you communicate with your students via email, encourage proactive (vs last-minute) emailing. What do we mean by this? Let's say that a student knows they will miss class; they should email you ahead of time to let you know and ask for the assignments, not after the fact. The more proactive communication you can foster, the better your students will be at self-advocacy.
A Process-Over-Product Mentality
We all know that much of the work we assign to our students has an "end game:" a final exam, a project, an essay, etc. And furthermore, we will assess our students on the culmination and demonstration of their knowledge and mastery in the form of a letter grade.
But one of the greatest gifts you can give your students is an appreciation of the learning and creating process. One way to do this is to give credit for steps in the process of completing an assignment. For example, giving credit and feedback on rough drafts, study sessions, etc.
You can also assign self reflections to students upon the completion of a particular project, paper, curricular unit, quarter, etc. Ask them to reflect on how they believe they've grown, their strengths and weaknesses, their favorite and least favorite parts of the process, and their greatest takeaways. This helps students focus on the overall meaning of what they're working on -- not just the end goal of earning a particular grade.
Your students will retain more information and perform better in your classes if their stress levels are in check. In what ways can you foster your students mental health, especially during times of transition and upheaval? Consider the following suggestions:
- Allow short breaks of time in between classroom activities
- Incorporate short mindfulness techniques into your class period like 3-minute meditations, breathing exercises, stretches, and so on.
- Encourage reflection during in-class journaling (whether about curriculum, current events, or just feelings in general).
- Have a day of the week that you don't give homework or a set number of homework or quiz "passes" so that students can occasionally opt out if they're overwhelmed (without being penalized).
- Direct students to on-campus resources that can help support them: the school guidance counselor, the writing center, specific library resources, and so on.
- Foster your own wellbeing, which will naturally allow you to model for your students (check out these 5 stress management techniques for teachers).
Also, check out these classroom strategies specifically designed to help reduce students' test anxiety.
Empathy and Compassion
Encourage your students to strive for greater understanding of and compassion for their fellow classmates. This is a trait they will undoubtedly take into the world at large. To do so, incorporate class discussions and active listening as a means of sharing diverse experiences and insights.
Also, check out this guide to addressing sensitive topics in the classroom as well as this educator toolkit for teaching about racism and social justice.
Teaching Life Skills: A Final Word
It's important to note that it's not your sole responsibility to teach life skills at school (nor should you push your personal values onto your students). But many of the most critically important skills your students will need in life can be authentically and naturally worked into your classroom. Happy teaching and good luck!