Back to School – or NOT: Why Soft Skills Matter More Than Ever

“Summertime sadness” is always in the air around this time of year. However, that sentiment has taken on a whole new meaning and depth here in 2020 – the year that everyone is vociferously wishing away. It’s the year that nobody wants to remember, but it’s also the one that no one will forget for as long as they live. In fact, it will likely go down in the history books as one to never be forgotten.

We’ve all spent most of the year in some form of self-quarantine, restricted activities, or full lockdown yet here we are, at the end of August, and the year is now two-thirds over. How did that even happen? It’s like we held our breath or slept in later than usual and just like that, it’s all been a terrible dream and we’re finally coming out of our reverie.

The Unprecedented Stress of Back to School in 2020

Back to school ushers in a whole other layer of complexity. Not only are we all lamenting the end of summer, the shorter days, and the pending gloom of winter, but the typical mad scramble of back to school has an unprecedented sinister air to it this year. Yes, stress levels normally spike around this time of year as students fret about what they’re going to wear for their first day of school. And many are wholly anxious about the dreaded “What I did this summer” essay since it’s ripe for competition, envy, and bullying. 

But this year is different. Teachers have been putting in extra hours trying to convert existing lectures into online learning formats that still meet the curriculum’s learning objectives. That is when they’re not writing their wills and lobbying to their School Boards to not put them at risk.

School administrators have also been putting in extra hours for months trying to anticipate what back to school will look like – and developing contingency plans in case things change. They have been closely monitoring what other schools have planned: some have opted for delayed starts, others have chosen early starts, many have reached a consensus that hybrid learning – part online and part in-classroom – is likely the safest plan. All of these require strong leadership and decision-making skills.

Each plan and email announcement is tempered with the disclaimer, “subject to change,” and if anything about 2020 has emerged as expected, it’s that things WILL change. Indeed, UNC, Notre Dame University and many other schools have recently brought students to campus – then sent them packing less than a week later. In a phrase? Total chaos. The uncertainty is adding to everyone’s stress and reports suggest that as many as 1 in 5 students has taken a gap year or semester.

Odd cohort-based schedules like two days in-class then four days at-home vary within the school and are wreaking havoc on parents’ childcare and work schedules, particularly for those parents who have more than one child in school. Not to mention the challenges of parents who have lost their jobs or seen their incomes reduced this year and are now struggling financially.

It’s tough out there. Tough at best, even for the students that have the option to do online learning, have a place to live, and can afford access to a laptop and internet and everything else. Those are the lucky ones!

So what’s the bottom line in all this back-to-school stuff? There has never been greater stress around back to school than there is here in 2020. Anxiety is through the roof with prescription meds up 34% and in-home alcohol sales up 27% versus this time last year. 

The Challenges of Remote Learning: What Students and Parents are Facing

Parents are at the edge trying to juggle home school, jobs, 24/7 immersion with their families, financial challenges and more, not to mention the mental health of their children. Students are grieving the loss of friendships, sports, scholarships, the college experience, future career opportunities and so much more. More than ever, students need coaching on how to build resilience, how to adapt to change, and manage through this crisis. Parents need coaching, too. Soft skills coaching, including communication, time management, and stress management, can also benefit parents as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

The Need for Soft Skills Coaching in Times of Crisis: How STEERus Can Help

And we can help. STEERus is building a library of Coaching Capsules. Each capsule focuses on critical soft skills and is based on typical scenarios like “How do I practice mindfulness? How do I learn online? Or how do I get along with my new boss?” and other day-to-day experiences.  

We’re looking for coaches, student learners, and school administrators who want to leverage soft skills (power skills) coaching to maximize the potential for success at school, at work, and in life. 

Lead photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Article photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

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