Ten ideas for developing life-skills in the classroom

Written by: Louise Treherne | Published:
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How can teachers teach life-skills as part of their day-to-day lessons? Louise Treherne suggests 10 practical ideas

There is much agreement among educators on the importance of life-skills such as resilience, confidence, tenacity and a growth mindset when it comes to preparing pupils to flourish. But how can teachers actively help to develop these skills? Here are 10 ideas.

Vocalise feeling: Through being more transparent about feelings and emotions, teachers can help to develop emotional awareness within their pupils. Rather than hiding every emotion to remain “unflappable”, teachers can (where appropriate) talk through their feelings aloud. Through sharing with your class that you are feeling upset by some sad news you received, or slightly nervous about a presentation, pupils learn to understand these feelings are all normal, and although potentially uncomfortable, they are part of life.

Let them know when you don’t know: Admitting that you do not know all the answers is a golden opportunity to demonstrate a growth mindset. Getting something wrong in front of your pupils and being comfortable with fallibility is also a wonderful way to demonstrate humility and a mature approach to learning. When you are asked a question, to be able to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, let’s make a plan on how we can find out more”, is a great way to model the approach we hope pupils will adopt in their own learning.

Challenge yourself: Learning alongside your pupils helps them to understand that we never stop learning in life. Choosing a new skill, hobby or simple challenge and then sharing this with your pupils, allows them to see you “walk the talk”. This could be a physical challenge or learning a new language or instrument. Share with them your progress, the struggles, your motivation, your resilience and tenacity. You can encourage your pupils to also choose their own individual challenge (non-academic related) or even decide on one collectively as a class. When your pupils see you willing to try something new, struggle and then make progress, it serves as a great reminder that effort can pay off.

Recognise progress: We all know the growth mindset merits of praising the process rather than the outcome, but what does this look like in the classroom, where many activities often feel outcome-focused? Find opportunities to shine a light on progress rather than perfection. Highlight and praise the most improved as well as the top scorer, and encourage pupils to judge their performance on individual progress. Did they improve their score since their last attempt? Did they improve their time?

Hunt the good stuff: Try to embed a culture and approach in your class of “hunting the good stuff”. We are all biologically programmed to focus on the bad stuff, the threats and the negatives in our day. When things go wrong, be the voice and beacon in the class to show how we can also find the good. Sharing one good thing about your day or week, or about a specific situation can help to shift perspective. If your pupils are negatively focused on the on-going effect of the pandemic, an appropriately timed question on what positives the situation has also brought can help to bring some hope and perspective.

Ask for feedback: An important part of having a growth mindset is embracing feedback. How often do you openly ask your pupils for feedback? Inviting them to comment by asking “How was the lesson for you?” shows your willingness to embrace their constructive feedback and highlights that we are all capable of continuous improvement and progress. This could include being open with your pupils about your own CPD and areas for development. If pupils are aware that you too have areas to work on, it can inspire them to be more accepting of the feedback they receive.

Split-screen teaching: It can be helpful for teachers to think about their teaching having two screens, one is the knowledge or skill they are delivering and the other is the capability they seek to develop in their pupils. This concept is referenced in Developing Tenacity, by Professor Bill Lucas and Dr Ellen Spencer (2018), and explored in depth by David Fawcett on his My Learning Journey blog (2012). When teaching pupils a concept in maths such as place value, teachers can explicitly reference how at the same time pupils should explore building their confidence or learning from the mistakes they make. Teachers can make it clear that both the knowledge (place value) and the attribute (confidence/learning from mistakes) are equally as important.

Making time for unstructured discussion: Although time is a rare commodity in teaching, finding the time to have informal discussions with your pupils can enrich their thinking skills, help them assert their opinions and develop confidence. “Thunks” are simple questions you can pose which will often have no right or wrong answer. They can encourage your pupils to reflect and share their thoughts and build on ideas from others. Using these in your classroom can foster an environment based on curious thinking and one which focuses on how to think rather than what to think. Discussion cards or conversation prompt cards can also be a useful tool.

Remember when: One of the wonderful things about teaching is how well you get to know your pupils. In those situations when a pupil is struggling or about to give up, using “remember when” can be all they need to hear in order to continue. “Remember when you struggled with mastering fractions last term? Look at the progress you’ve made to where you are now. Use that same determination to persevere with these equations.” Teachers know their pupils well and are perfectly placed to reflect back the qualities and capabilities they see.

Reciprocity: The key to successful relationships and building self-worth in others is reciprocity. Let your pupils know there is a two-way relationship between you; they affect you as much as you affect them. This can be done through letting them know you enjoy spending time with them, that you think about them outside of the classroom and that ultimately you care about their development beyond the academic year they are spending with you. Asking for their opinion on things and taking the time to get to know each pupil personally will have a positive impact on their confidence and self-worth.

  • Louise Treherne is director of character education at Role Models. Louise has a degree in psychology, 12 years’ experience as a teacher and five years as a senior deputy head in London. She now works as a professional coach and educational consultant. Role Models is an education provider which delivers online and offline courses to develop young people’s skills in leadership, confidence, resilience, creative problem-solving, collaboration and growth mindset. Visit www.rolemodels.me

Further information & resources

Fawcett: Split screen teaching, My Learning Journey Blog, April 2012: https://bit.ly/38R7joL


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