Some employers have noticed that a part of the current generation of workers seems to be, in some sense, lacking. Not the general desire to work or support themselves, but more in some of the gentler and more abstract abilities required for cultivating crucial items such as customer relations, promptness and politeness and the general approach to human relations summed up under the rubric of emotional intelligence (EQ).

Professional success can often be traced to both EQ and creativity, but these are difficult to not only to quantify, but also less to teach and encourage. What’s a teacher to do?

Professor Stacey Henderson, chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at College of the Mainland, has an idea along these lines: Engage students with projects of their own choosing that cause them to cross barriers, stretching their emotional and communication limits and recreating a new view of self.

“With my counseling background, I realized that college students needed to have the opportunity to learn essential life skills in order for them to be successful in college,” she said. “Professors could no longer make the assumption that college students knew how to manage strong emotions or that they take responsibility for their actions or even feel empowered over their life. Our Psychology for Success class teaches soft skills such as personal management, emotional intelligence, personal responsibility, communication skills, growth mindset, interdependence, self-motivation, attitude and self-awareness which enables individuals to be successful in life.”

Concern for others and creative approaches to meeting needs are the start for a recipe to make good employees, but communicating that takes more than a syllabus and a textbook. It takes hands on interaction, in this case with both men and mutts. (see box for examples)

“While I was teaching the Psychology for Success class to dual-credit students in Dickinson, I began to realize that these young college students had a great amount of interest in helping others,” Henderson said.

“About halfway through the semester, I assigned a project to the students that morphed into something very unexpected and unique,” Henderson said. “The students developed many ways they could help motivate and encourage their fellow high school students. They worked together as an entire class to make a difference in their school.

“The pride and ownership they took for the project was energizing,” she said. “They were very creative in their thinking and at that moment the idea of incorporating some type of service project into all of the classes became my goal.

Another essential ability in today’s business world that society alone can’t supply? The ability to work well in teams of markedly diverse employees.

Henderson’s course also models this in hopes of inspiring the next generation to productive and profitable harmony in their future careers.

“Students are encouraged to build a sense of family within their team and encourage their team members to complete necessary all work, stay motivated, have a positive attitude while focusing on their goals,” she said. “The teams are encouraged to be creative and find something they have a passion for that they can interact with, meaning, they need to have activities that will take them into the community and make a difference in the world.”

Given the fun her students seem to be having, why does creative teaching often seem to take a back seat to teaching the text or test, or to more traditional, didactic forms?

“Being creative in the classroom allows students to grow as individuals, future leaders and responsible citizens,” she said. “As educators, we must understand that learning does not happen on a sheet of paper and is not necessarily right or wrong. We are responsible for giving students the opportunity to learn and to think for themselves.

“They begin to understand the concept of working for the greater good and that sometimes, we may not personally like some of the people we work with, but that cannot become a barrier to getting the job done.”

Creativity is not always neat and measurable and it often does not take place in a classroom.”

Sometimes shifts in educational thinking can appear not only creative, but downright counterintuitive, as in the popular Freakonomics books by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. So it may not come as a surprise that one of Henderson’s suggestions for educational success is to be a bit fuzzy about your assignments.

“I have also learned that the more freedom the students have in completing their project the more outstanding their projects become,” she said. “I am very vague with the project assignment which causes them to become very creative in their thinking. Honestly, they come up with ideas to interact with society that I would have never thought about. As each semester comes to an end I know that these college students will be more prepared and ready to positively interact with the world.”

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