We recently dove into some of the most important skills that learners (and teachers) of the future will need to embody for growth and success in both personal and professional environments.
However, it isn’t just practical skills that learners of the future need in order to succeed. There are also personal qualities and traits that will help learners grow into more successful members of society, whether in the workplace, or in social or home situations.
As with the skills we talked about, some of these qualities are often thought to be inborn. But they can absolutely be taught and learned, and many modern schools and course providers are looking at how to encourage skills just like these in their learners and staff.
Here are four of the most important personal qualities and traits that we can teach and nurture in learners (and teachers!) of all ages to equip them for the future.
#1 – Adaptability
All students and teachers in our modern society can benefit from adaptability and agility of thought and behavior. This skill will only become more important in the future of learning. Adaptability primarily revolves around how well we deal with change.
In the constantly changing world of today and tomorrow, students will need to be prepared to adapt to shifts or updates, whether technological or otherwise -in education, their future employment, and in their lives in general.
Practicing being prepared for change and solving problems in a safe and supportive environment such as a classroom, with teachers or course advisors on hand to advise and assist, will help students become more comfortable with the stress of change, and what to do in a situation that requires adaptation.
When it comes to teachers and education providers of all kinds, adaptability is a critical skill to develop in order to be able to respond to the needs of students, especially as learning becomes more personalized in the future. Practicing adapting a lesson plan, an assignment, a classroom environment or even feedback to reach different kinds of learners will help prepare educators for any learning need or change in the classroom.
We can see how critical adaptability was as a quality in the shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This required a very different approach from both teachers and students, and importantly, people grew better at it over time, as they learned how best to modify their approaches and achieve what they wanted to get done.
#2 – Creativity
Creativity is rapidly becoming one of the most important skills for success both professionally and personally. While this is one of those traits that has been popularized as simply being “born with”, every human has a creative streak that can be nurtured and encouraged.
In this case, creativity refers to the practice of creating, whether that be in the realm of art and media, or perhaps innovative solutions to problems, new ways to communicate or complete a task, the discovery and exploration of something original.
If an athlete figures out a new way to kick, dive or dodge an opponent in the boxing ring, that’s creativity. If a business manager finds a new way to communicate a tough idea to somebody on a long email chain that then illuminates the problem for everybody, that’s creativity.
Society has trained people to think that creativity means paint on a canvas, but there are so many opportunities for creativity each day. Both students and teachers can benefit from unleashing their creativity in the classroom and their coursework.
As with adaptability, the classroom is a relatively safe environment to demonstrate and explore creativity while still maintaining accuracy and solving problems. With teachers as guides, students should also be encouraged to work together, generating ideas and evolving creative solutions as a team, so they can be exposed to how others think and act, and how people can influence each other.
#3 – Empathy
Empathy is a powerful tool when it comes to how we work and live together, such as in learning and teaching. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, and so it is vital in diverse and inclusive classroom and workplace environments, not only at the leadership level, but also in peer relationships.
Students who strive to or are encouraged to improve their empathy often enjoy great success. They are more cooperative both with their peers and their teachers, they have better relationships which leads to more comfort and positivity in their environment, and they are more engaged with not only their classmates but the material they are learning.
It is an important skill for students to learn with regards to their emotional growth and wellbeing, and how they interact with the world and all the many people in it.
Further benefits of teaching and learning empathy include decreased aggression and diminishing social prejudice, both of which are surely worth pursuing for students both in their time in the classroom, and beyond, when they move into the wider world.
When it comes to teachers, empathy is a key skill to practice, as it enables teachers to understand students’ perspectives, read their nonverbal signals (such as cues in body language, tone of voice and behavior), and react promptly when students are in need of help, intervention or reassurance and support. While practicing empathy, teachers can still hold students to a high standard of behavior; empathy gives them the toolset to understand why a student may not be meeting expectations.
Empathy is one of the tenets of active listening, wherein the listener puts aside what they want to say and focuses intently on what the other person is saying, rather than simply waiting for their turn to talk in the conversation. This can be of benefit both to teachers and students.
#4 – Curiosity
Curiosity is another one of the traits that people are often said to be ‘born with’, but it is something that can be encouraged, trained and learned for the betterment of the self at any age.
When students and teachers are curious, they go beyond what is stated in curriculum guides, for example, asking why, investigating connections with other material, developing an understanding of how people, facts and material co-exist and correlate. This is the kind of skill that is useful for many future careers.
When students are curious, they are more likely to remember the material they study, due to forming a level of engagement and connection with the subject matter. Since the mind is like a muscle, exercising curiosity, asking questions and seeking answers, the more a student is encouraged to do it, the more they are likely to be able to do it in the future. They become trained to look out for new ideas and independently figuring out the why and how behind them.
Teachers can encourage curiosity in their students by demonstrating it themselves. Teachers often already do so instinctively, asking questions to further students’ understanding of topics. When they position themselves as co-learners on projects (e.g. admitting sometimes they don’t know an answer to a question, and investigating the answer alongside a student), they demonstrate that it is not only okay to ask questions, it’s an important part of continuing education as an adult.
This is a lesson that students can carry with them into adult life and into the workplace, where asking the right questions will set them up for success in their careers not just once, but over and over again throughout their working lives.
It’s also great for teachers themselves not just to model this lesson, but believe it themselves. It is the best way for teachers to be open to learning new methods and new material to incorporate into their coursework. Very few subjects are stagnant; most teachers, if not all, will need to incorporate new facts and thinking throughout their working years. The best way to do so is to be open and curious!
While personal traits and qualities like adaptability, creativity, empathy and curiosity are often thought to be things people are born with, they are truly more like skills that can be demonstrated and learned. They help people in many situations, from the classroom to the workplace, to social situations and the home, and beyond!
These important qualities will help learners (and teachers) of the future become more engaged, thoughtful and innovative leaders as we chart paths into the future we hope to build together.