Hard facts about soft skills, and how academic life coaching can fill the gap
By Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.
No so long ago, my son had mono and even though he was too sick to sit upright, he emailed all his professors to let them know and ask for any work he would be missing until he was cleared to go back to school. Most of his teachers told him not to worry about the work, just relax and get better, except for his freshman composition teacher. Her email read something like, “Ethan, do not ever address a professor in an email with ‘Hey Dr. D.’ as the greeting.” To which I had to sit on my hands for 3 days not to reply with, “Hey Dr. D., the kid’s temperature is 103, drinking water feels like swallowing broken glass, and he’s been sleeping 20 hours a day and he still emailed you, so maybe we can give him a tiny break, huh?” But I didn’t, because, and it pains me to say this, she’s right, which is why he now has an academic life coach.
Soft skill are the skills needed to function on an adult level; time management, responsibility, commitment, the ability to make decisions and problem solve, effective communication skills, teamwork, etc. (get a full list of soft skills at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_skills) and most students are a quart low on these. You would think kids would naturally pick these skills up, and some do. However, an alarming amount of my bright academic coaching students who are in high school and college have no idea how to address a letter, figure out where the tutoring center is, or how to appropriately approach a teacher for help in a class. I had one academic coaching student who was kicked out of the dorm because he never checked his email and missed urgent notices to immediately register for classes, although he had been going to them for a month.
Back in the day, we didn’t need an academic life coach to teach soft skills because they were taught at school, at your part-time job, and at home. I learned how to write a check in eighth grade where I also learned how to sew a gingham apron and make Chili Con Carne. Life skills! Now teachers have to worry about high stakes testing, no time for silly skills that students will need to succeed in the workplace. Students are too busy building their resumes to work part-time. There is a reason why I always tell parents that academic coaching is a holistic experience. I sometimes spend less time teaching study strategies than I do teaching students how to respectively communicate with their teachers, handle working with a group on projects, practice interviewing for jobs, and convincing them not to drop a class, or drop down a level because it’s hard.
The good new is, kids are relatively pliable and most of our academic coaching students get it with some practice, and when they do it’s a beautiful thing. I was recently leaving the dentist’s office and was informed I needed to pay for the filling Ethan had filled a few weeks before. I had no idea he even went to the dentist. He made the appointments and took care of it himself. It was all I could not to bust out in a rendition of I/He Will Survive! right there in the waiting room.
— Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Academic Coaching Associates, LLC, the first company on the East Coast to combine academic and life coaching, creating an extraordinarily effective holistic approach to student achievement. With a proven record of improving academic success for students, both nationally and internationally, Sue is committed to helping students realize their academic potential and achieve their goals.
Sue is also a sought-after speaker on many educational subjects, and has published numerous articles on education and parenting. She wrote a weekly education column for Patch.com, appeared on Huffington Post Live, and the WXLM radio show to name just a few. Prior to opening Academic Coaching Associates, Sue was a classroom teacher and holds teaching certificates in both Connecticut and Illinois.
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