Skills you need to teach your students

In this day of teaching, there is so much pressure on teachers to get their students ready for “the test” that we often forget the essential skills that our students really need.  The reality is that most of the subject specific content that we teach our students will be lost within the first five years of them graduating high school.  There are far more vital and valuable skills that we need to be teaching our students than the subject specific skills that we feel are so important. The following is a list of valuable life skills that we, as teachers, need to be teaching our students.



Listening is the most important skill we can teach our students.  It is a skill that everyone is capable of developing.  Communication requires two things.  A message has to be sent and the message also has to be received.  If students don’t listen then the message will not be received.  There is a saying that “the only requirement for listening is to be present” and if the students are present then they can learn to listen.  The first thing the students need to understand is there is a big difference between hearing and listening.  Students often hear your voice, but aren’t listening to what you are saying.  Developing listening skills will enhance the student’s learning and will be vital in developing the other skills they need to be successful.  Everyone knows the importance of listening but the question is how you teach listening.  One thing to emphasis to students is the importance to have eye contact with whoever is speaking.  Your ears are were your eyes are and there is a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth.  You need to listen twice as much as you talk.  Also, asking questions to non-volunteer students will keep students’ attention and will test whether they are listening or hearing.  If the students don’t have the skill of listening, they will not be able to learn other skills.  For strategies for developing listening skills visit 5 Strategies for Teaching Listening Skills and Whole Body Listening Skills

Following directions

Follow directions

Listening and following directions are often two skills that are combined.  Part of following directions is having the skill to comprehend and remember the directions that are given.  I have read about the Rule of 3 and I try to implement it in my class as well as with my own children at home.  The Rule of 3 says that people can only process 3 directions at a time.  For example, tell your students to “get a pencil, piece of paper, and open your book to page 17”.  In teaching math you would say “identify the question, set up the problem, and solve it”.  Coaches often use the Rule of 3, especially with young players.  When teaching a player to shoot a basketball you first teach them “eyes on the rim, toes to the rim, and ball placement”.  After they learn that, you advance to three more things such as “elbow in, hand behind the ball, and follow through”.  For more information of the Rule of 3 visit Using the Rule of 3

Be reliable


If you look at the top skills that employers want out of their employees, reliable and responsible are always toward the top.  Teaching a student to be reliable can be very difficult to do, but there are some things that you can emphasis that may help you.  First, hold your students accountable to deadlines.  For example, if the bell rings and a student is late to class you need to count them tardy and follow your schools policy on tardiness.  Also, if you have a set day when an assignment is due hold the students to that date.  If they turn in late work then there must be a penalty in missing the deadline, just as there is a penalty for missing an assignment date when they get a job.  If you can help them become a more reliable person then you will enhance their chance of getting and maintaining a job.

Be willing to learn

willing to learn

The biggest aspect of trying to develop the willingness to learn in students is to help them realize they don’t know near what they think they know.  It is a desire that most students have in elementary school, but it tends to fade as students progress through school.  We need to identify when that desire fades and try to address the problem before it becomes a habit.  Students need to know their weaknesses as a student and try to improve on those weaknesses.  In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know so you need to help them understand how to have a desire to be a continual learner.  It’s a delicate line but teachers need to encourage students to push themselves to keep learning and never be content.  The day that they don’t have the desire to get better is the day they stop learning.  Most jobs that don’t require a degree will teach you the skills you will need, but you have to have the willingness to learn those skills.

Problem solving


The top desired skill of a vast majority of employers is the ability to solve problems.  A student that can “think outside the box” and solve problems with critical thinking is more efficient and more valuable than someone that isn’t.  It speaks to the idea that it is better to have “street smarts” than “book smarts”.  The biggest obstacle for teachers is teaching the students to think instead of just regurgitating information.  Teaching problem solving in math is part of the curriculum, but it can be challenging in other subjects.  One technique to improve problem solving skills is to encourage alternative ideas on how to solve questions.  Often times the best problem solvers are the stubborn people.  It’s difficult for a teacher or parent not to say “because I said so”, but when we say that it tends to hinder students’ critical thinking skills that are vital to their growth as a student and a person.  Let them share their ideas even if you feel it is wrong.  It may lead to ideas from other students and you may learn something as well.  For more ways to teach problem solving skills to your students visit the following links.

Teaching Methods for Problem Solving

Teaching Problem Solving Skills

Work in groups

working in groups

Ability grouping is one of the most effective and efficient way of improving individual student academic achievement, but it also serves as an important way to teach communication skills.  The debate comes with how to group by ability.  Is it better to group lower students with upper students or group them as lower students and upper students?  I would argue that both techniques need to be used.  Every student needs to be able to work and communicate with a variety of personalities and groups of people.  Every profession requires the ability to work with a group of people in order to accomplish certain goals whether it be in a factory, business, or another work place.  The employee that can work better in groups are the ones that tend to get promoted quicker.  In this age of ever evolving technology the ability to communicate has steadily declined.  Therefore, helping your students develop their communication skills will help them work more efficiently in groups and become more valuable in the work place.

Definition of success


There is a huge misconception with students about the definition of success.  First, students feel that success is directly related to grades.  While I would agree that students that have earned high grades usually have the abilities to be successful, it is not the sole factor in whether a person is successful.  Secondly, students feel that success is tied to how much money you make and your possessions.  I believe every teacher would agree that money doesn’t equal success.  The problem is convincing your students that money doesn’t equal success and finding ways to teach them how to be successful.  Success is accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself.  If you can teach your students to set challenging, but realistic goals and how to reach those goals they will become successful.  To learn how successful people define success follow the following link.

9 Successful People Defining Success

The Golden Rule – Treat others the way you want to be treated

golden rule

The Golden Rule should be the first thing we try to teach our children and our students.  It is the foundation of how to teach a child proper behavior.  Teaching someone how to be a good person is often times more important than teaching them how to be a good student.  If students understand how to treat others it will help them communicate more effectively, become patient, and be more respectful and thoughtful of other people’s opinions and ideas.  Teaching the Golden Rule can be challenging, but one way to encourage any rule is to acknowledge it when someone displays it correctly.  If a student is not displaying a desired behavior it may be best to talk to that student to help them understand why what they did was wrong.  Treating others with kindness and being considerate of their thoughts and feelings will be very helpful to students in every aspect of their lives.

How to be a leader


I feel coaches often make a mistake in trying to find the leader of their team.  We should be trying to teach everybody how to be a leader.  As a coach, I don’t want to depend on one person to lead, I would want to have multiple people that I can count on as being leaders.  A majority of students are eventual going to be parents so they are all going to be put in a leadership position.  We, as teachers, need to explain and model to our students the characteristics of an effective leader.  Effective leaders are masters at communicating and are able to motivate others in order to accomplish a common goal.  Teachers can teach these skills through designating a leader when they do group work.  The leader is responsible for communicating the assignment to the other group members and keep everyone focused on the task.  There are different effective ways to lead, but the end result is always a reflection of the leader.  Make a rubric that highlights the leadership qualities that you, as the teacher, want to emphasize and give the leader immediate feedback on how they did.  The following is a link to an example of a grading rubric to evaluate leadership skills.

Leader Quality Rubric

If we are to teach our students these skills it is essential that we model these skills.  If we model the inability to listen to our students, we are constantly late to class, unorganized, or unable to follow directions our students will not have an example to go by.  We are visual people and students need to see a visual representation of these skills in use and teachers are one of the role models students are looking at.  We have been told in education that more is learned through observations and hands-on experiences than verbal explanation.  The same applies when teaching these skills.


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