School Skills Training 101
How to Be a Student:
The Most Important Class
That Schools Never Offer
There could almost be a sign hanging on the front door of your school: "Students Wanted: No Training Provided."
I'm Youth Change Workshop's Director, Ruth Herman Wells. As a staff trainer who has led professional development workshops in every corner of North America, I have to say that very few school districts have a formal plan to train kids to become successful students. Years ago, parents routinely taught their offspring to look, act, and sound like students. Now, many families can't or won't give their children the motivation, attitudes, and specific School Skills they need to succeed in school. For all the research, fads, opinions, debates, and testing, this is the elephant in the classroom– that School Behavior Skills are universally expected but seldom taught.
It doesn't take years of research to determine that it is probably completely unrealistic to expect children to perform tasks they've never been taught. Schools expect a wide range of skills from students, from attendance and punctuality to recognizing the value of education, from showing respect for the teacher to wearing appropriate attire, from chair-sitting skills to homework management skills, and from class discussion skills to interacting with peers.
Can you imagine what would happen if schools expected students to know academic skills that were never taught? A plan like that could only end in disaster– but everyday, teachers expect children to use School Skills that they were never taught. Unsurprisingly, many youngsters fail to perform these untaught skills, and that is a big part of why there are so many serious, persistent behavior problems in today's schools. Having never been taught essential School Skills, it is inevitable that violence, bullying, work refusal, tardiness, dropping out, truancy, disrespect, and misconduct dominate many classrooms and campuses.
If schools did teach kids School Skills, what would it look like? Below is a quick glimpse of School Skills Training 101: How to Be a Student, the most important class that schools never offer.
Have you ever stopped to consider the massive number of skills kids are expected to have in order to become successful students? They must arrive on time, hear the homework assignment, bring required school supplies, raise their hands to be called on, maintain focus, and take tests and quizzes. That long list is just a fraction of the key skills students need to succeed, so you may wonder where do you begin to train kids to be students. You can start anywhere you want. Whether talk-outs or disrespect or tardiness is your top concern, it's fine to start there. Ideally, there would be a formal game plan for Pre-K through Grade 12, so the training would be more systematic, but in the meantime, start with whatever skills are most critical to you to successfully teach. Here is an example of one school district's Pre-K through Grade 12 School Skills Training Curriculum plan.
Whenever I train teachers and principals, there often seems to be a bit of a sense of resignation about the apathy and disinterest many students evidence, almost a "there's nothing that can be done" reaction. While most educators may never have been offered extensive training to discover effective strategies to motivate very unmotivated students, powerful, compelling interventions do exist to turnaround the rampant apathy and disinterest. Stop and think about how different your students might be if they saw the tremendous value of education. Motivation– or the lack of– underlies almost everything you attempt to accomplish with students. Talking alone probably won't improve the problem. You must choose interventions that are lively and so attention-grabbing that they can compete with cell phones, video games, TV, movies, and all the other contemporary attractions that vie for your students' attention. Our posters give you an instant look at our lively motivational methods.
Just as many educators appear resigned to their students' lack of motivation, many also seem resigned to the negative attitudes that are
equally common. Like motivation, students' attitudes color every activity you attempt to do with them. Like motivation, if the students' attitudes were improved, that improvement would have positive impact on all aspects of education because the youngsters would be so transformed. Despite the huge impact of students' attitudes, few schools have any formal plan to address the negativity, and few educators have received any practical training to learn specific strategies to engender more positive outlooks. That omission from educator training is truly discouraging, because so many forceful, effective intervention strategies exist to help students have more positive attitudes about school and education. Yes, bad attitudes may be commonplace now, but they don't have to be commonplace tomorrow. Pictured above is just one intervention (Poster #143) from our collection of hundreds. These potent, unexpected strategies are especially designed to work with resistant, oppositional students, and to work when more conventional methods would fail. Obviously, no single intervention will reverse the negativity, but this sample strategy does provide a great example of the powerful attitude adjustment methods that exist but unfortunately, may not be in wide use.
HOW AND WHEN TO TEACH
Studies suggest that the typical teacher loses 22 minutes per hour to on-demand behavior management. That is a loss of several hours per day. School Skills Training instruction requires just minutes per day but can give you back so many of those lost 22 minutes per class period in return. Some teachers set aside a block of time each day, others take just 5 minutes at the start of each class. It doesn't matter how you structure the training, so long as you offer the training pro-actively. No longer are you vulnerable to students' misbehavior because you have thoroughly and systematically taught your youngsters to look, act, and sound like students. They can become veterans at managing the behaviors, attitudes, and motivation they've previously struggled with. It's your choice: You can continue to work with untrained, unmotivated students who evidence bad attitudes, or you can turn all that around with School Skills Training, and as an added bonus start to love your job again.
The U.S. education system is perpetually stuck, darting from trend to trend, while enmeshed in unhealthy, distracting politics and high-stakes testing. A common sense, real-world approach like School Skills Training could solve a lot of what's wrong with K-12 education, but since School Skills Training can't be described in a quick sound bite, isn't a new educational fad, isn't politically connected, and has nothing to do with testing, it probably doesn't have much of a chance of ever gaining widespread national notice. That shouldn't stop you from using School Skills Training to transform your classroom and school.