Career Ready Skills: Nature or Nurture?

Drawn and digitally photographed by Dr. G. McGough
Drawn and digitally photographed by Dr. G. McGough

Just the other day, I was discussing my podcasting project with a colleague. Our conversation focused on whether career skills are pre-programmed, genetically-inspired personality traits or abilities that can be taught and/or fostered: nature vs. nurture.

According to, a soft skill is…

An ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities or job functions involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and/or people (interpersonal skills).

Can school students learn to develop the “soft skills” that are called for by most businesses and industries?

In the argument of nature versus nurture, I tend to side with “nurture” because of my belief in the presence of a “hidden curriculum.” There is a stratification of learning that occurs when a concept is taught in a public space. The social piece of delivery and assessment has a very subtle yet profound impact on the learner and his/her ability to work through new learning with compassion and thoughtfulness. Those individuals who want to teach “soft skills” need to be mindful of the “hidden curriculum” of their learning space.

I would like to dedicate this blog post to taking the 1Skill mentioned in my first podcast episode and demonstrate how to teach this “soft skill” …at least one employer thinks it is important. (If you would like to hear the podcast, please click here.)

During my interview with the student services coordinator, she mentioned the importance of “teachability.” Granted, there are some students who are just better suited to be learners, but can “teachability” be nurtured into existence?

The 1Skill podcast episode defines “teachability” as the ability to learn from one’s experiences and from others within an organization. How does one design a learning plan to teach and assess the skill?

Ahhhh, it is not WHAT one teaches rather it is HOW one sets up the assessment protocol.

Take any open-ended assignment that you currently teach and allow for “radical formative assessment,” the idea that the learner continues to fine tune the assessment until s/he finds success. Literally, they are encouraged to redo any aspect of the assignment for FULL credit. The teacher should just provide side comments that “hint” at the changes that need to be made. Allowing students to return to assignments to demonstrate learning of a concept fosters the attitude that one can learn through repeated trial and error and tutoring from those who understand.

When an educator establishes an environment where learning is open-ended, the “hidden curriculum” will help learners develop the soft skill of “teachability.”

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger & Podcaster

1Skill Podcast – GEOStar Product Line Director

Interview with Dr. Joanne T. Woestman, GEOStar Product Line Director of Orbital ATK (11/14/2015)

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Dr. Gregg McGough (CRI Blogger/Podcaster)

Summary: This podcast asks the vital 1Skill question, and Joanne explains how “estimation”

is an important characteristic/skill for a person in the aerospace field.

For more information on Orbital ATK, please click here.

1Skill Podcast – Customer Experience (CXUniversity)

Interview with Dr. Mohamed Latib, Founder/CEO of CX University (11/10/2015)

Business & Finance

Dr. Gregg McGough (CRI Blogger/Podcaster)

Summary: This podcast asks the vital 1Skill question, and Mohamed explains how “cultural sensitivity”

is an important characteristic of an individual trying to create a better customer experience within a business environment.

For more information on CXUniversity, please click here.

Don’t Try to “Teach” Soft Skills

not-teachingEfforts to teach soft skills frequently lead to teacher frustration and disappointment. This is not because these critical aptitudes can’t be developed, but because the “teaching” approach used often mimics teaching content knowledge.

Soft skills – or as I prefer to call them, Life/Career abilities are the behaviors, mindsets and character traits that contribute to students’ life readiness. Life/Career abilities is a positive label to identify this important domain of student learning. Regardless, of what you call this domain, it is an integral part of learning along with acquiring knowledge and developing skills. Educators must emphasize Life/Career abilities, but embrace a different mindset and not attempt to “teach” these in a traditional sense.

This is because a traditional approach implies that “teaching” is simply imparting new knowledge with expectations that students will retain and recall that knowledge – Present-Practice-Test. This simplistic model may work well when teaching basic vocabulary or other forms of rote learning. However, as learning becomes more complex, experienced teachers understand that more enhanced teaching strategies are required, including developing the context for students, providing applications of knowledge, and using engaging approaches such as inquiry and discovery. While there is some knowledge that is essential to the domain of Life/Career abilities, this domain is primarily focused on behaviors, for which even an enhanced teaching approach will not necessarily result in desired student behavior.

A model for describing and practicing the teaching mindset required for developing Life/Career abilities is that of the parent. Any experienced teacher, who has also been a parent, (or, uncle, aunt, grandparent or other caregiver) recognizes the overlap in skills between effective parenting and quality teaching. This is particularly important when focusing on the behaviors of Life/Career abilities. A better term to apply to this type of instructional mindset is perhaps nurturing: just as a parent nurtures a child’s development, teachers need to nurture the development of Life/Career abilities.

There are five elements that are critical to nurturing; relationships, expectations, providing experiences, modeling and feedback. Any attempt to influence behavior is deeply influenced by human emotions and frequent, positive interaction builds relationships essential for nurturing behaviors. Another essential beginning element is establishing expectations. Using such “presets” – i.e. having students think about a behavior before being in the situation to exhibit that behavior – greatly influences a student’s decision-making and therefore his or her response. A parent also nurtures developing behaviors by providing experiences and opportunities for children to practice those behaviors. Providing richer experiences can take many forms, such as creating play dates with other children, enrolling children in arts or sports activities, traveling as a family, or even assigning appropriate work chores around the home. Throughout our own development, we regularly – consciously or unconsciously – imitate some of the behaviors that we observe in others. Consequently an essential way for teachers (or parents) to nurture Life/Career abilities is to model the expected behaviors. The final element of nurturing is providing feedback, not in the form of a grade, but as constructive and consistent reminders when learners’ behaviors do not meet expectations.

Soft skills can be taught, but not in the traditional or stereotypical sense of teaching facts. Begin to use a nurturer mindset to evoke the parenting role in developing a child’s behavior. Using such an approach better defines teaching practices to develop students’ soft skills or Life/Career abilities.

Don’t Fear Change…Fear Your Inability to Adapt to Change

My Stack of Non-Fiction Picture taken by G. McGough
My Stack of Non-Fiction
Picture taken by G. McGough

I am a YouTube junkie! Sometimes I find myself searching, selecting, and streaming one-man film festivals. During my latest iCinematic experience, I happened to be binge watching TEDx videos, and I was inspired by Tai Lopez who delivered a talk titled, “The law of 33%.” My one mental take-away from Tai’s talk was his system to set his own reading pace so that he can read a book a day. In his video, he claims that many non-fiction books have a single truth that can be reached through a series of power-skimming techniques.

After ransacking the used bookshelves at the local Thrift Store, I began devouring non fiction books one day at a time. During my month long experiment, I found a book that would profoundly alter my perception of moving people to accept change, bounce, The Art of Turning Tough Times Into Triumph, by Keith McFarland. The one truth contained in the pages of this 166 page book is that one should not fear change; rather, one should fear what might happen if s/he doesn’t adapt to change.

High school seniors, for the most part, live in a zone of relative comfort. As a result, they tend to fear the change that is going to disrupt their comfortable high school routines. If asked, the students would claim high levels of anxiety because of their fear of an unknown future outside the safety of the schoolhouse walls. Instead of fearing the change that is going to disrupt their relative state of calm, they need to understand what might happen to them if they do not adapt to that perceived change. By focusing on the adaptability factor in change theory, one has the power to alter the future rather than fall prey to its chaotic pin-balling between a seemingly unknown series of events.

Skim-reading the book bounce allowed me to put a theory behind a practice that I have been using for many semesters. I have always attempted to design learning plans that place an emphasis on the learner’s ability to apply the concepts or skills to real world situations. In an effort to introduce my career readiness unit, I have the students calculate their projected budget for their first year out of high school. There are many generic programs that provide stock templates, but my Google Sheets program was tailored to my particular economic region, south central Pennsylvania. The rather sparse yet dynamic nature of the presentation of my Google Sheet Budget Calculator creates a feeling of individuality that is appealing to my students. They take the document and tailor it to their specific needs. This lesson is all about adaptability and planning for a better future. Once they see what the world looks like through the lens of a budget…they are more open to increasing their career skill abilities.

If you would like to use my Google Sheets Senior Budget with your students, please see my easy to follow instructions at the end of this blog. (You will need a Google account.)

The Common Core State Standards focus on college and CAREER ready skills…how are you incorporating CAREER skills in your classroom?

(Follow-up discussions about this blog topic can occur in the various CRI communities…see you in the virtual neighborhood!)


Dr. McGough’s Senior Budget

1. Click on the above hyperlink to my Google Sheets

2. Click on the drop down menu titled “File”

3. Select “Make a Copy”

4. Title it with Your Name (Make it yours!)

5. Save it to your *Google Drive and share with your students.

*If you don’t have a google drive account, you can sign up for one here.

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger & Podcaster

Check out the 1Skill Podcast that will explore what employers are looking for in an employee from four career pathways: health & social services, business & finance, arts & communications, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Education for Life Readiness: Measure What Matters

In the past, preparing students to graduate from high school and move on to college used to involve preparation in terms of a relatively small number of skills.   Students needed to be able to read and comprehend,cartoon measuring write cohesively and convincingly, and demonstrate a variety of analytical skills. In the past, these types of skills could be assessed effectively through standardized testing procedures. Twenty years ago, this constituted the basis—as well as the source data—for any sort of data-driven instruction decision making.

In today’s educational climate, preparing students to be college and career ready has “upped the ante.” Numerous 21st-century skills cannot be—and should not be—appropriately measured by means of archaic pencil-and-paper formats. Students’ abilities to demonstrate these kinds of skills are much more appropriately assessed through the use of authentic, project-based learning and performance-based assessments. If we expect our students to be successful both in college and careers, then we need to prepare them with the appropriate skills. Educators typically view this as meaning that we are teaching them the appropriate skills. However, we must also provide them with opportunities to demonstrate in diverse and various ways that they have mastered the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary in order to be successful.   In other words, we must assess them in a variety of ways, in order to gather multiple measures and indicators of what they are capable of doing. This will give us a much more accurate picture of how well we are preparing them to be successful.

It is vitally important for educators at all levels to invest time and energy when it comes to designing your assessment system that makes use of multiple measures. Please share your thoughts on using multiple measures for student progress, learning, and success. For more information and to read the entire chapter titled, Are You Measuring What Matters?  Another resource related to measuring student learning is the new white paper, Learning Criteria for College and Career Readiness.

Entrepreneur Education Plan (EEP): A New Perspective

Image captured by G. McGough (1/29/15)
Image captured by G. McGough (1/29/15)

While scanning the local paper the other day, I stopped to read several interesting articles in the Business Section. Apart from sharing space on the same newsprint page, there were some common themes that would be of interest to anyone concerned with college and CAREER readiness. Many of the featured, young business people in the newspaper have an entrepreneurial spirit that causes them to view work and workspaces in different and unique ways.

For example, one young writer re-imagined his workspace by joining Warehouse 210, a co-working space that allows solo entrepreneurs a common office space with other independent workers. Although their jobs take them in separate directions, they can all mingle in a common space and build much needed workplace relationships.

My guilty conscience finally got the better of me for pleasure reading during my planning period, and I returned refreshed to one of my “start of the semester” teacher tasks…analyzing IEPs (individual education plans). The juxtaposition of these two separate reading tasks created a unique metaphorical realization. There are a small population of students with brains that are wired differently or minds that are on a different developmental timetable than the mainstream student body. These perceived delays can be overcome by individualized educational plans (IEPs) that include specifically design instructional interventions meant to help these students to function in classrooms. These special education students can learn and develop college and career-ready skills in the right environment and under the right conditions.

A few of these special education students have multiple labels that span both ends of the academic spectrum: gifted and delayed. These gifted and talented students have exceptionalities in some areas combined with developmental delays that can sometimes impair their functioning in a mainstream classroom. They view work and task completion in a slightly different way than the mainstream students.

Instead of having exceptionalities and delays, could they just be blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit?

Ultimately, what struck me was the transition plan developed for the gifted and the delayed by the district for life after high school. ALL students would benefit from a team of adults who take the students’ current academic development into account and plan interventions that will lead to success in school and life beyond.

Why don’t ALL students have a type of transition plan for life after high school?

Having been in education for twenty years a simple two-part answer echoes in my mind: time and money. School districts do not have the time or the money to develop educational plans for ALL students.

Why not teach students to develop their own plan?

The individual entrepreneurs who were celebrated in my local paper obviously view work and their roles within the economy using a slightly different perspective. These individuals are self-aware and understand the risks and rewards of seeking out cutting edge solutions to life’s problems. This spirit must have been evidenced somewhere in their schooling experience. It might have just been misunderstood or under-nurtured.

Schools that focus on college and CAREER readiness must help these young entrepreneurs develop specifically designed instruction and after high school transition plans.

What about the time and money?

Schools could leverage these young people’s entrepreneurial spirit by teaching them how to develop EEPs (Entrepreneurial Education Plans). Students could design plans that would create the best learning environment for their life experiences. They could approach those teachers who are open to change and innovation and ask for options on assignments and the chance to try something new. They could also be taught how to leverage their strengths to plan for entrepreneurial-style careers. This form of engagement could help society cultivate the type of entrepreneurial spirit that pushes innovation and the advancement of human civilization.

How does your school help to kindle the entrepreneurial spark that burns in some of your students?

Please follow us on Twitter: @CareerRI

Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger

The Signature: Cursive Writing’s Last Stand

Image created by G. McGough
Image created by G. McGough

In seventh grade, Mrs. Burkhardt, my traditional English literature teacher, explained the reasoning behind why the class was required to learn cursive writing. Her explanation was actually very simple, “Intelligent people write in cursive and then there is everyone else.” It is amazing how certain snippets and passing comments randomly collect in one’s memory.

Today, as I read aloud to my own tenth grade college preparatory students about the death of penmanship & cursive writing, I was reminded of those immortal words of Mrs. Burkhardt. Does an intellectual still need the skill of cursive writing and fine penmanship? The article that my class and I read dealt with the current research about the link between cursive writing and brain activity. One example of this research is reported in the NY Times article, “The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing” by Suzanne Baruch Asherson. My tech-savvy class understood the brain’s need for manual writing but still called for the end of cursive writing. Should I get with the times and abandon cursive writing practice and embrace the text message?

Although I teach in a 1:1 classroom and believe in the transformative power of technology to connect and help to promote innovation, Mrs. Burkhardt’s words still echo in my consciousness. Intelligent people in the 21st Century still need to create a great first impression in one area of penmanship…signatures. A signature is one’s final defense against identity theft and is still the preferred formal method of formally completing official documents. Can your students provide you with a formal cursive signature of their birth-certificate name? Ask your students if they possess this low-tech 21st century skill and reply with your results in the comments.

Please follow the Career Readiness Institute on Twitter @CareerRI.

Gregg McGough, Blogger & Social Media Strategist


21st Century Resume (Part 1): A Bold First Step

LinkedIn Screenshot by G. McGough
LinkedIn Screenshot by G. McGough

The hotel room held a faint acrid smell of the iron cooling in the corner. The final check mark on the hotel stationary TODO list marked the end of a long day of traveling and preparing for a professional development seminar in Birmingham, AL. The dim lights from downtown Birmingham provided the perfect backdrop for a peaceful night of sleep. One last task, that is more of a habit than most people would like to admit, I quickly glanced over my social media outlets on my iPhone. I scrolled through Facebook and read the various comments of the people who make up my personal and professional life. One short message held my interest because it announced the opening for a Director of Content Development position for very company who hired me to inspire change in the Birmingham City Schools. The position was posted on LinkedIn and all applications and resumes were to be submitted using this professional network. A sense of urgency, which is the result of the instantaneous gratification that social media interaction creates, caused me to get out of bed and take action. Instead of turning to the LinkedIn app, I drafted an email to one of my contacts at the company asking about where to send my application and resume. It is sometimes so easy to slip into old routines. Sleep came quickly, and the dreams played out the various conclusions this potential shift in career pathways could possibly provide.

The morning provided a clarity that had eluded me in the twilight hours of the night before; hiring practices have evolved, and I was operating under an old set of paradigms by inquiring about where to send my materials. The application and resume were to be submitted on the LinkedIn app and not through traditional human resource channels. This was not a new concept to me. I had been curating posts and articles about 21st Century resumes and hiring practices for the Career Readiness Institute’s Pinterest account. It was at that moment that the theoretical became practical. If I was to apply for this new position, I was going to have to radically change my mindset and the ten-page resume that had been collecting dust in my sock drawer. (By the way…keeping an updated resume in a sock drawer was once great career advice because you knew where it was, and it was always safe and dry.) The company had sent a very clear message that they were looking for cutting edge applicants willing to use social media to apply for jobs. If they were going to take me seriously, I was going to need a bold 21st Century resume…

…Stay tuned for Part 2 – Pinterest: Beyond Just Curating Content

Please follow the Career Readiness Institute on Twitter @CareerRI.

Gregg McGough, Blogger & Social Media Strategist


Locked in a Cell of Paradigms

Corridor of Eastern State Penitentiary Picture taken by G. McGough

My wife and I recently visited the Eastern State Penitentiary on a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The corrections facility was opened in 1829 and was, at one time, the international model of a modern penitentiary system. What made this particular facility unique was its radical architectural design and humane approach to handling prisoners. Instead of incarcerating prisoners in large holding rooms, which was the norm at the time, this particular penitentiary broke from this custom and isolated the law-breakers so they could ruminate about their transgressions and truly reach a state of “penitence.” This new approach to the retraining of in-mates also took into account the need for learning a trade or career-ready skills. The system became an international inspiration and is still credited as being the first modern day penitentiary. Institutions such as this are constantly shifting between two mental frames of mind: surviving or thriving. Eastern State Penitentiary was thriving and was so celebrated internationally that on a trip to the United States Charles Dickens toured the facility. He was less than impressed with the isolation of the prisoners and was one of many voices that began to call for the end of this type of imprisonment. Times changed and soon the shifting public sentiment and increase in the intake of prisoners pushed the facility to lose its focus on problem solving.This once innovative facility continued to react to the changing world outside its 40-60 foot walls and soon lost its pace. Instead of innovating…it adopted a survival mode frame of mind and just existed.  Finally in 1971, it transferred the last of its population to other prisons and closed its doors. Sitting vacant, nature slowly entered and transformed the facility into a secret forest. Today it has been reclaimed from nature and reopened as a tourist attraction with a deep and rich history.

Guard Tower at Eastern State Penitentiary Picture taken by G. McGough

While touring the facility, it was easy to hear the many lessons about humanity and leadership this silent structure whispered to its visitors. The narrative that was whispered in my ear told a tale of an innovative institution that ceased to celebrate creative problem solving. The various tour stops shared glimpses into the innovative practices that occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century. The facility was so revolutionary in its original development that its ability to thrive appeared to be able to stand the test of time. Instead of continuing this type of progressive leadership practice, the institution locked itself in a cell comprised of its own aging paradigm and began to just survive. It was the inability of the prison’s many leaders to foster and celebrate new innovations that ultimately led to the closing of its massive steel gates. Institutions that want to thrive must have leaders who foster innovation and problem solving as a matter of progressive development, so that the institution can evolve to meet the changing demands of new ages. One of the most important career skills an innovative leader can have is the ability to recognize and foster the capacity for new innovation in others. How have you inspired innovation in those around you?

Please follow the Career Readiness Institute on Twitter @CareerRI.

Gregg McGough, Blogger & Social Media Strategist