The Teachers’ Lounge Podcast – Chris Pears
The Teachers’ Lounge, a Youth Frontiers podcast hosted by Sally Koering, dives into meaningful topics relevant to teachers, parents and those invested in the growth and well–being of young people. Our 15th episode features a conversation with Chris Pears, an educator and pioneer of career-oriented curriculum in our schools with an emphasis on incorporating soft skills in the classroom.
Chris has 14 years of corporate experience at Credit Suisse and Cargill, followed by ten years teaching at Minnetonka Public Schools. This unique blend has allowed him to develop and implement educational programming that not only provides a strong academic foundation for students, but also gives each student the real and relevant experience necessary to succeed in a professional career.
The following are some highlights from our conversation. Chris’ responses are paraphrased with direct quotations in quotation marks.
On moving from business to education:
I began by doing a lot of work at Cargill, specifically running a research group that was involved in teaching and training new analysts. After doing this for a number of years and a successful career, I decided it was time to start giving back to my community and I started teaching U.S. History in Minnetonka, Minn. where I taught for 10 years. Within the learning sphere, and all that it encompasses with adults and children, there are mechanical pieces we need to learn but I also saw the importance of this whole other piece: social-emotional learning. “The question I’m always asking is: is what we are doing in schools congruent with what is happening in the professional world?”
On why teaching soft skills matters:
The company I work at now, Apriton Educational Advisors, is looking to create career-oriented programs where we teach soft skills. It’s not easy to teach soft skills and we want it to be rigorous and real. One small activity we do to practice personal skills is, whenever we have a guest speaker or instructor, we have a student introduce them before and a different student thank them at the end. Traditionally, teachers are the ones who will welcome and thank the guests, but this is a great opportunity for students to practice a soft skill as well as a trait that holds great value in the workplace. Another approach we are taking is based on the principle of giving immediate feedback. “In the professional world there is a shift right now seeking to move away from the annual performance review. All you’re dying to find out is what your pay increase will be, you’re not focused on looking at growth and improvement. In the school model you’ve had the same thing, you give a student an essay back and all they look at is the grade.” We want what we’re teaching in our schools to reflect what you need in the workplace and welcoming guests and receiving feedback are just two examples of important soft skills.
On the importance of feedback in our schools and beyond:
We all have a tendency to take feedback a little too personally. In the workplace many adults struggle with this too and if we can learn how to receive and give feedback a little bit better while in school, we would all be better off years down the road. “Being able to give and receive feedback in a mature and intelligent manner where you understand it’s not personal and is not about the individual but rather what you’re trying to learn is something we all need to improve on.” Feedback is very naturally relational but it can become easy to lose sight of the fact that those giving us feedback are doing so because they want to see us succeed.
On listening to students:
If you want to challenge someone to grow or help them see a new perspective, we can’t forget that the most important part of the process is to listen. “Are we willing to take the time to sit and listen to a kid?” It helps me to think of our jobs as mentors rather than just teachers. “While there are times where you have to teach a student how to solve a complex math problem, that cannot serve as your primary driver as a teacher.” The true depth of learning comes from the relationships you develop with your students by enabling them to succeed in the world.
Learn more about Chris’ work with Apriton and career-ingrained curriculum and listen to Chris share more on the full podcast episode. You can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening!