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®.