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5 Ways We Can Improve Professionalism in Our Students

"10 points off for turning this in late."

"I could barely read your work; since it is so sloppy, I'm not providing feedback."

"You're losing points for not participating in class."

"This is so creative, you'll receive extra credit."

There are many punitive and reward actions are taken and given in education to try to teach students about professionalism and life skills.

Many teachers thrive on wielding the power of grade reduction to make this point and in doing so often misalign grades and mastery.

Although I advocate for a gradeless classroom and suggest that life skills such as time management, punctuality, neatness, and creativity shouldn't be included while assessing mastery achievement, I do believe that these are skills can and should be nurtured in other ways.

School is a place to learn these essential lessons and they can be taught and monitored without attaching rewards or penalties to student learning, which is a different conversation.

So how can we foster these important life skills?

Here are 5 tips to bring out the best in every student:

  1. Students watch everything we do, so we must model what we expect. Arriving to class on time, prepared, and organized. Allow students into your process. Let them see how you plan; how a mess becomes something meaningful. Lead by example - in every way. We need to show students trust and respect, especially as these two behaviors are essential in maturity.

  2. Really observe kids and listen. Highlight their good qualities regularly and then empower them to help their peers. Pair them up to strength to weakness so that kids can help each other. The buddy relationship can help students learn to be responsible for someone else. This is good for organizing homework, or neatness. Have students keep track of their own progress in a way that is meaningful to them. 

  3. Foster creativity in the classroom by establishing an environment where taking risks is rewarded. The focus can't be on getting it right, but rather trying, experimenting, and innovating. Celebrate the failed attempts as much as successes so students continue to take risks, a very important skill for aiding in developing creativity. In addition to this, students need time to practice. Give them time in class to work on seeing an idea through until the end.

  4. Teach students to use calendars to help them organize and stay on time. Alarms can be set on phones using Google calendar or in a lo-fi example, color coding a planner can help aid students who need work on neatness, punctuality, and organization. Again, encourage students to find a method that works after you've shown them a few different ways. This will help with deadlines as well. Deadlines are a part of life and a teacher should track and keep records of late work. This can later be dealt with in an intervention plan first with the student and then with the parents if it persists depending on the student's age. Points should never be taken off work because it is late.

  5. Following directions is another important skill that should be taught concretely. Students should review directions multiple times with the teacher and peers. They should be encouraged to rewrite them in their own words and ask clarifying questions. Maintain open forum questions during the course of a project. This can be done with a class hashtag, tools like Edmodo, or class blogs. For more anonymous options, try a parking lot with post-its in the classroom. Students can also practice important listening skills and questioning skills while following directions. If a student goes astray, assess them on the work provided, and have a conversation, set up an intervention plan, and allow the child to revise.

Every child needs to learn these skills and they will in their time, not ours. Standards address different kinds of learning and when we assess student projects, we are looking to move student achievement against those standards.

Teachers track lots of different behaviors over the course of the day. We can continue to do what we're doing, just not punish or reward students who don't behave the way we want when providing feedback about their learning.

In what ways do you foster these non-academic skills in your classes? Please share

This post originally ran on my Ed Week Teacher blog in July 2015

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