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Core Skills Help You Succeed at School

You may be attending a post-secondary school to learn technical or work-related skills. To succeed at school and create a positive learning environment for yourself and others, you’ll also rely on core skills.

Personal management, communication, teamwork and other similar skills are often referred to as core skills, transferable skills or soft skills. Practising these skills at school will prepare you to use them at work.

Employers place a high value on your core skills, especially your ability to get along well with others. They often ask instructors and student advisors for references because they know your conduct in school can predict your success in the workplace.

Your success at school depends on your course work and attendance, but it also depends on your conduct. Students who lose their funding often do so not because of their academic ability, but because they haven’t followed their school’s conduct guidelines. Effective core skills will help you ensure your conduct is appropriate.

This article looks at the core skills and attitudes that will help you succeed at school and at work. Look over the statements in the following sections and consider the areas where you want to improve.

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Personal management skills

The following statements describe personal conduct appropriate in a school setting. Which ones describe you?

  • I interact with other students, instructors and visitors in a professional way. I use every opportunity to develop acceptance, open-mindedness and respect for individual differences.
  • I dress appropriately for school. Because I know that employers often visit our school, I dress as if I could be called out of class for an interview or a work placement opportunity at any time. If my school has a dress code, I follow it.
  • I try my best to leave my family and personal issues at home when I come to school. I’ve arranged for child care as well as back-up child care.
  • I try to arrange my schedule so I can arrive at school well rested and ready to learn.
  • I know swearing, vulgar language and inappropriate humour don’t belong in the classroom, workplace or any other public setting.
  • I’m aware that if I come to school under the influence of drugs or alcohol, I’ll be asked to leave and may be expelled from the program.
  • I realize using school computers to access inappropriate websites usually results in disciplinary action.

Respecting diversity

At school, you’ll have the opportunity to develop skills that will help you get along with people who have diverse backgrounds and social values—skills you’ll also need in the workplace. Which of the following statements describes you?

  • I'm aware that it’s important to treat everyone with respect, regardless of age, gender, status or position.
  • I accept that everyone has different life experiences. The other adults in my classes may live, think, talk and act in ways very different from mine.
  • I can let other people express opinions I don’t share without debating or arguing with them. This doesn’t mean that I agree with their opinions. It just means that I respect their right to have them.
  • I know I don’t have to like someone to learn from them or work with them.

Core skills in the classroom

The classroom is a lot like the workplace—you’re expected to work effectively in the same place, with the same people, every day. Developing good personal management, teamwork and communication skills can make your time in the classroom more enjoyable. Which of the following statements apply to you?

  • I know I need to attend class. If I have a valid reason for being absent, I let my instructor know. I take responsibility for catching up on work I’ve missed.
  • I get to class on time, I have my work completed and I’m ready to contribute.
  • I don't interrupt other students or the instructor or talk while someone else is speaking.
  • I don't take more than my share of the instructor’s time or attention. If I need more help and the rest of the class is ready to move on, I make an appointment to meet with the instructor outside of class.
  • Paying attention, focusing on my work, talking with my classmates after, rather than during, class—my behaviour in class shows respect for my instructor, guest speakers and other students.
  • Unless the instructor assigns a group project, I know most work is done individually. I’m aware that if I’m found helping other classmates during exams and tests, I will be disciplined and may even be expelled.
  • I realize the instructor decides whether food or drink is allowed in class. If I bring food or drink to class, I try to eat and drink quietly and clean up after myself.
  • I turn off my cell phone in class. If I need to keep my cell phone on during class because of an emergency, such as a sick child, I let my instructor know. Then I put my phone on silent or vibrate and take any calls or texts outside of the classroom.
  • I’m aware teamwork is part of almost every workplace. Group work with other students gives me an opportunity to practise teamwork skills. I learn to be open to other people’s style of working, to depend on others and to contribute my share.
  • I realize rudeness and gossiping have no place in the classroom or the workplace.

Getting along with instructors

Interacting with your instructors lets you practise skills you’ll need to work effectively with supervisors or managers. Consider the following statements:

  • I know instructors and students often address each other by their first names. This isn’t a sign of disrespect. It reflects the informal nature of Canadian society.
  • I choose to learn from my instructors, regardless of their age, gender, personality, background or appearance.
  • I find out whether my instructors prefer to be contacted after class, in their office, by phone or by email. When I do call or meet with an instructor, I’m organized and prepared to ask questions or discuss assignments.
  • I’m professional. I submit my best work, complete and on time. I know it’s the instructor’s job to give me feedback and mark me fairly. I accept constructive criticism and learn how to improve.
  • I take responsibility for my own learning. For example, if a class bores me, I can ask my instructor outside of class time to help me understand why the content is important and how it’s relevant to the course and to my goals.
  • I take responsibility for my attitude. I realize how I sit, what I say and how I look says a lot about my attitude. I know my positive attitude can have a positive effect on other students.
  • I don’t expect my instructors to help me with my personal problems. When I need help with a personal issue, I find out about the services available at my school and in the community.

Practise workplace core skills while you are at school

Good personal management, communication, teamwork and other employability skills will help you stay focused, keep a positive attitude and get along well with other students and instructors.

After you’ve finished school, you’ll take these skills with you into workplaces, where they’ll increase your effectiveness and help you succeed. 

Additional Information

For more information on critical skills you’ll need in the workplace, visit the Employability Skills 2000+ on the Conference Board of Canada.

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