Expanding Curriculum Beyond the Academics


Schools today are teaching more than the three R’s (readin’ ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.) Increasingly schools are expanding the curriculums even beyond the academic. They are focusing on teaching so-called ‘soft skills.’ What are soft skills? And why would schools need to be in the business of teaching them?

“..Back in my day…”

Nearly all student who lived a generation ago had a job at some point in their teen years. It would have been highly unusual for a teen not to at least have a summer job. Although, now, many teens don’t have jobs. They are busy with extracurricular activities and other commitments. A job often doesn’t fit in their schedule. Unfortunately, this leads to teens (even pre-teens) missing out on skills that are essential to later success in the workforce. Because of this, schools are starting to incorporate these soft skills into their curriculum. The list of potential soft skills to teach is extensive. So, which skills are most important to focus on? How can we incorporate them into our classrooms?


Conflict Resolution/Getting Along with Others: Resolving conflicts (and avoiding them in the first place) is a soft skill that most teachers are probably already incorporating into their teaching because not only is it vital in the workforce, but also in the classroom! This is a skill that can be explicitly taught. It can also be taught well using social stories, role-playing, and literature.

Communication (Especially face to face): Kids are on their phones All. The. Time. The other day I asked my teenager to call her grandpa. She complained that she hates making phone calls and why couldn’t she just text him? She rarely makes phone calls and I realized that this is a skill she is lacking that was essential not too long ago. Kids need to practice answering the phone and making phone calls. Face-to-face conversations are an important skill to practice as well. Teach students to make eye contact. Teach students to be assertive rather than overly passive or aggressive. They also need to ask for what they need but in a respectful manner.

Social Norms/Hierarchy of the Workplace: Some of the social norms of the workplace are different than situations students have encountered before. Students, especially those who already lack social skills, may not realize that talking back to their boss is a fireable offense. They need to be taught concepts of giving and taking with coworkers as well as what is appropriate and inappropriate to talk about. One fun way to help develop these soft skills is to put students into groups and assign them different roles as if they were in a workplace. This way they can practice these skills rather than just learning about them.

Interviewing: Interviewing is a specific set of skills that are vital for all students, regardless of what they plan to do in life. At some point almost all students will be interviewed. Set expectations with students for interviews from what to wear down to specific questions. Give students opportunities to ‘interview’ for specific ‘jobs’ in class, such as being in charge of a class pet. Teach students how to talk positively about themselves in a respectful manner. Also, teach them to come up with their own questions to ask a potential employer. role play interviews. Practice answering a variety of questions. How to talk positively about yourself without feeling like you are bragging. Questions to ask your employer. 

Time Management: Another skill that students are often lacking is time management. This includes anything from being on time to being able to use time wisely. Too often we look at time unrealistically which can lead to being chronically late. Teach students to realistically estimate time spent on assignments or other tasks. Teach them to leave themselves a little extra time as things often go wrong in life.

Teamwork: In many job situations students will need to work as a team with others. This means that students need to learn to listen to others’ ideas and respectfully agree or disagree. They need to learn to speak up with their own ideas. Having hard conversations also plays into teamwork. Students need to learn the value of pulling their own weight and speaking up when others aren’t pulling theirs.


Is it possible to teach these concepts in my classroom? … YES!

In conclusion, life skills are hard to teach! We weren’t promised a manual on how to avoid difficult situations. However, here at the James Stanfield Company, we offer a program that makes learning life skills EASY without the repercussions. Take a look at our Making the Effort program curriculum.

Making The Effort is a motivational program that will teach your students the importance of perseverance and grit in accomplishing their goals. Based upon the motivational Theory of Attribution (how people behave is dependent on what they “attribute” their behavior may or may not bring), Making The Effort will teach your students that THEY determine whether they succeed or fail in reaching their Transition goals.

Teach your students that of the three elements of success- effort, luck, and talent- EFFORT IS THE ONLY ONE THEY CAN CONTROL.

Making The Effort, a two-part program for LD, EH, and ID secondary students, teaches the relationship between working hard and acquiring soft skills in attaining work and social goals. Students learn to see that their own efforts are the primary causes of their successes.

Making The Effort was developed to help students develop adaptive motivation systems — social skills and behaviors that will bring them success. Attribution theory suggests that we feel more motivated if we have a sense of control over our own lives. Consequently, Making The Effort makes a systematic attempt to help students develop a greater sense of control.


By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

Categories: Developmental Disabilities , Featured , Life Skills , Parenting , School To Work Skills , SEL , Social Skills & Fitting In , Transition Skills , What Stanfield Is Reading , Work & Employability
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