But lets face it, few school contexts are going to be relevant for children who grow up to be professionals or entrepreneurs, even if they become teachers or school counsellors. So, taking an empirical approach, reflecting subjectively on my own experience, I thought I would think about the social skills needed by professionals. As a professional, I worked in several different contexts. I want to explore the first workplace today.
1) Small group within larger body, within hierarchical structure.
I was in a cataloguing group of six people, one of them a team leader, as part of a large organisation with a number of different departments, team leaders, operational managers, executive managers and the CEO. We usually worked alone on specific tasks with the cataloguing department, but needed to negotiate who would do what work. I would offer to assist my colleagues if they were overburdened or had other conflicting tasks and also because I was very quick and keen to learn new skills if I could. We interacted with other groups, mastering and editing, recording and preservation and some other technical departments. We were also recruited into large-scale projects to contact and train vision impaired clients in their homes by phone, working with the customer care group.
The social skills I needed were:
- Emotional intelligence ( perceiving stress and offering help to keep us meeting deadlines)
- Flexibility ( regular changes came from the top down and required quick adaption),
- Communication, negotiating and problem solving in a team. ( who will do this work? how will we divide it up? shall we divide up the spreadsheet of titles or all work from an online version given certain numbers).
- Managing my own deadlines and communicating where I was with these when required so we could project estimated completion times. This meant following procedures that were accessible online for me to read and use. The quality of my work was not decided by one person, but was developed by a team. I was expected to be independant, find this out myself and implement it.
- Project management. Researching, establishing, writing and some delegating of tasks. I researched and wrote a manual on music braille. Now, I had never catalogued music braille, but I knew cataloguing and I knew music to an extent. I did all the work learning music terms, finding out standards of braille cataloguing for music and put it all together. My operational manager helped polish it and we confirmed my findings with an independant expert consultant. She made minimal changes.
I don't remember learning these skills at school. I remember being told I was not listening a lot, that I would forget my head if it wasn't screwed on a lot. Even at uni our group work assignments were nothing like this workplace as the social structure we created for it were quite naive and false. Most of my master's degree was done by distance education, apart from my first year which was done in groups. However, I fitted in really well with this workplace and loved learning and working between departments and being involved in big brainstorming sessions. They were very sad when I left and I stay in touch with this department to this day. There was a hierarchy, but still a sense of engagement and the importance of our work. They had built a good work culture, had good systems and good feedback models.
So this is just an observation. But I think I learned my skills outside of my school experience, as a lot of the teaching and learning models were copying off the board, given specific things to read and worksheets to fill out or brief instruction to a large group followed by testing. Drama was probably the only class in which group problem solving was implemented and to be honest, there were so many popularity clicks in those classes that I only worked in the same groups over and over and did not engage across the whole classroom.