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Archieved Messages from the Superintendent

Consider Soft Skills When Making Your Education Decisions

Picture three schools:  The first is a beautiful two-story building, complete with air conditioning, state of the art equipment, and technology to meet the needs of everyone in the building.  Now picture a roofed building but without walls, equipped with benches for seating, and books for the instructors but not for all.  Lastly picture no buildings, just trees for shade with lessons completed in the dust.  These very different schools have an essential in common: people.  People make the school.  Students and teachers of all kinds, like coaches and band directors and counselors, are more important than anything else and anyone else in the school. Yes.  They are more important than a superintendent.

Experiencing schools internationally and across the US has taught me that, even though they do bring added value to education, schools are not the buildings, equipment, and supplies.  Schools are people.  Schools without people are just buildings filled with stuff.

“Knowledge is power.” - Commonly attributed to Francis Bacon

Hard skills are easily demonstrated and usually developed through schooling, training, certification and apprenticeship. Hard skills are obvious to us. They include specialized knowledge and abilities like writing an android app, using Java, operating machinery, understanding finance, driving a tractor-trailer, and correctly completing math calculations. When one talks of going to school, the idea is usually to master hard skills. Hard skills are obviously vital to personal success and a thriving economy. Schools must provide opportunities for students to gain hard skills because “knowledge is power”. But…

“Knowledge without integrity is dangerous.” - Samuel Johnson

Soft skills are not always obvious. They are revealed through the challenges of life when qualities like integrity, positive attitude, initiative, empathy, teamwork, decisiveness are found precious. Which soft skill has been proven valuable by your life experience? No matter your age, what kind of person do you hope to become? What soft skills do you desire?

Soft skills are more often caught than taught. A multi-session class on empathy can start a student on the right road to greater concern for others and desire for justice. But empathy is more likely developed when the student is frequently in the presence of leaders who could dominate others through harsh authority and manipulations but chooses to lead by motivating excellence supported by patient encouragement. Being in the presence of humility does help us become humble. Students who spend their school day with wise teachers and coaches see the value of thoughtful action and are more likely to thoughtfully act.

Employers know that the difference between adequate job candidates and the ideal candidate is found among the soft skills.  The leader of a leading tech company said, “Send me the right kind of person. I can teach them the job.”  Put another way, the leader meant, “Send me a person with the right soft skills. I can teach them the hard skills.”

People with knowledge but lacking soft skills can become dangerous. Repeatedly, tyrants throughout history and misguided leaders of our businesses, governments, homes, and even churches have been intelligent, knowledgeable people with excellent hard skills untempered by soft skill qualities like integrity, empathy, generosity and peacefulness. “Knowledge without integrity (really) is dangerous.” So…

When choosing a school, please consider what important abilities and knowledge (hard skills) your child can gain. But also look closely and deeper by considering the character (soft skill) of the people your child will regularly encounter. Look for people who naturally demonstrate the qualities you desire for your child. Ask yourself, “Do I want my child to be like them?”

As I take on the thoroughly rewarding role as superintendent of Rockford Christian Schools, I see that RCS cannot be satisfied with what others are doing, cannot flow with the shifting sands of modern US education and cannot be satisfied with what RCS has always done. Instead, Rockford Christian must be a next generation school where leaders keep their eyes on two generations. They must see the current generation of students needing hard and soft skills for success in college and career. They will be our next generation of leaders for home, work, community and church.  RCS leaders must also see the next generation of children to enter the school who will experience a world yet to be determined and requiring a different mix of hard and soft skills. While holding to timeless Christian values, Rockford Christian Schools looks for continuous improvement with vision through the most qualified (hard skills) candidates who are honorable people (soft skill) grounded in the Christian faith. Put another way, RCS will recruit qualified faculty and staff with qualities to be admired and guided by the teaching and example of the Master Teacher Jesus Christ.

Watch for our soft skills.  You will be pleased.

Paul Brandt (as it appeared in the Rockford Register Star - January 2019)