Living Now - - Living & Learning -

skills… (More time is be­ing spent, but life skills still usu­ally come last in the hi­er­ar­chy of pri­or­i­ties, and of­ten the ed­u­ca­tion comes in the form of an in­spir­ing pre­sen­ta­tion, but lit­tle fol­lowthrough in terms of skill devel­op­ment.)

Yet how many of us, as adults, have had to deal with chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions and re­sponded with ei­ther a fight or flight/freeze be­cause we weren’t clear or con­fi­dent about how to ‘ flow’ with that situation?

How many of us have been bul­lied at work? How many of us have been ner­vous of stand­ing up for our rights be­cause we might lose the job? How many of us have swal­lowed our fear or anger or con­cern or good ideas be­cause we ‘knew’ our feel­ings or in­put wouldn’t be well re­ceived?

I know a civil ser­vant who is deeply frus­trated by the in­ef­fi­ciency in her or­gan­i­sa­tion, but the sys­tem is so con­vo­luted and stuck that she feels there is lit­tle she can do. I know some­one whose boss is such a soft touch that he is un­able to dis­ci­pline the man­ager who is mak­ing ev­ery­one’s life a misery. I know stu­dents who are fed up with teach­ers who talk at them, and talk end­lessly and repet­i­tively.

When and where do we learn to deal with these chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions? Surely the sooner the bet­ter. Af­ter all, skills don’t turn up mag­i­cally; they are de­vel­oped through prac­tice and re­hearsal. In my cre­ative writ­ing classes, the very first thing I do is ‘bust the ta­lent myth’. There is no such thing as ta­lent; rather, it is an abil­ity that is re­fined through reg­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion be­cause the per­son en­joys and val­ues the ac­tiv­ity. Our best abil­i­ties and qual­i­ties are ac­quired through prac­tice and pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment.

If we want our kids to learn how to com­mu­ni­cate suc­cess­fully we must al­lo­cate time to devel­op­ment of this skill. The most pro­gres­sive ed­u­ca­tors state that soft skills are way more im­por­tant than hard skills: em­ploy­ees can learn how to use com­put­ers on the job but if they turn up to work with de­struc­tive at­ti­tudes, they will cause far more trou­ble for the com­pany than if they are thought­ful, en­thu­si­as­tic, hard-work­ing, and not the best at cer­tain soft­ware pro­grams.

So… imag­ine a school hall filled with kids in groups of three: • Each three­some is given lit­tle sce­nar­ios to act out that cover a range of sit­u­a­tions they would be very likely to en­counter. These might in­clude other chil­dren mock­ing them or even adults telling them to do things they don’t want to do. • One child plays the role of the ‘bully’, an­other plays the role of the ‘bul­lied’, a third plays an ob­server role. • To be­gin with, they are sim­ply act­ing and then dis­cussing the sce­nar­ios; as they be­come more ex­pe­ri­enced, they are given sit­u­a­tions only and asked to im­pro­vise the scene them­selves. • Class dis­cus­sion in the larger group af­ter­wards can fa­cil­i­tate deeper thought and in­sight. • The roles are shared around equally – the per­son ev­ery­one recog­nises as the class­room bully gets to play the bully and the bul­lied, and gets to ob­serve; the per­son ev­ery­one recog­nises as the class­room ‘bul­lied’ gets to play the bully role as well, etc.; the per­son who is usu­ally qui­etly ob­serv­ing gets to fi­nally be heard and to take a more ac­tive role. These sce­nar­ios are drilled so reg­u­larly and con­sis­tently that the chil­dren fi­nally be­gin to: (a) recog­nise abu­sive be­hav­iour, (b) come to re­spect and value them­selves and oth­ers, (c) learn the pat­terns of good com­mu­ni­ca­tion, (d) de­velop the re­silience that fol­lows ask­ing for what you want, re­ceiv­ing a ‘no’ an­swer, and bounc­ing back, (e) dis­tin­guish be­tween un­think­ing re­ac­tion/re­bel­lious­ness and thought­ful, in­tel­li­gent re­sponses.

Do you want your kids to be able to say no to cig­a­rettes, al­co­hol, drugs, dan­ger­ous es­capades? Do you want them to be able to stand up for their rights in their new job? Do you want them to feel em­pa­thy for oth­ers? Do you want them to learn to value them­selves? Do you want them to re­spect oth­ers sim­ply be­cause they are hu­man be­ings?

If you think reg­u­lar role plays in which kids get to prac­tise these im­por­tant life skills might be use­ful, sug­gest them to your school lead­ers – and of­fer to at­tend and sup­port the process! ( You might gain some use­ful dis­tinc­tions from the ex­er­cise your­self.) n

© Lil­iane Grace 2016

Lil­iane Grace is an au­thor, speaker, teacher and writ­ing coach, and cre­ator of The Mas­tery Club®.

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