Hard Facts and Soft Skills

Challenging the old adage, March came in like a lion and went out like…a lion!...with cloudy skies, cold winds, rain and snow showers belying the fact that spring began two weeks ago! While in the past few days there has been a noticeable increase in the number of buds on the trees, the biggest pop of color I can see from my office remains my beautiful purple orchid, gloriously in full bloom on my windowsill.

Down the hill in the Housatonic valley, the grass is greener, the temperature’s warmer, and the forsythia is showing yellow. The plains of downtown Kent are always a week or so ahead of our windswept campus (elevation 1,286’) in terms of letting spring really take a foothold. Every year at this time, I recall with a chuckle a conversation I had several years ago in early April while driving a handful of 9th-grade girls back up the hill from their Wednesday morning community service placement, which had involved them spending the morning in the warm sunshine planting pansies at the local nursery school. They chatted happily about working together to determine the best placement of the plants, teaming up to carry water from inside the school, using discarded rocks to form a border around the garden space, and most importantly, completing the entire project from start to finish in the allotted time. As they got out of the bus in front of the dorms, one of the girls groaned at the wind and lamented, “Why is it spring downtown but still winter up here? It should be warmer on campus – after all, we’re closer to the sun!”

I recall being tempted at the time to launch into an explanation about the relationship between elevation and temperature. But I left that to the science faculty, and I’m glad I did. My urge to “teach facts” would have popped the bubble of the more important skills the students had practiced that day, and of which they were clearly proud – teamwork, problem-solving, analytical thinking, creativity, and time management. Development of these “soft skills” and others are the focus of the 2022 “The Future of Education Report” (www.futuredesignschool.com) and much more current research in the field, which addresses the “skills gap” affecting our society and identifies the most desirable skills that employers seek in their workers. Regardless of the industry, the skills in highest demand include critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, self-management, adaptability, time management, the ability to work with others as part of a team, and – most importantly – dependability.

80% of US employers report that they already have or are anticipating difficulty filling openings due to skills gaps, and nearly half of US workers believe that soft skills are more valuable than subject matter expertise. While conveying academic knowledge holds its logical place at the forefront of Marvelwood’s mission and daily endeavors, our service, leadership, diversity, wellness, and residential programming put the development of these skills at the forefront. As with everything we do, preparing our students for success in their lives beyond Marvelwood is a priority, and we continue to actively work to identify the most effective ways of teaching these critical skills.

As you begin to think about summer employment for your student, consider encouraging them towards jobs and other opportunities that will challenge them to develop, exercise, and fortify their “soft skills.” All evidence says they’re going to need them, and their experiences this summer can align with Marvelwood’s ongoing efforts to make our students “skills-ready” to face the future with both confidence and competence.

Author: Head of School Blythe Everett P'14, '16