Building Soft Skills

Equipping students to thrive in personalized learning


What is it? Personalization is learner driven. In a personalized learning environment (PLE), the teacher is no longer the hardest working person in the room. Learners are involved in designing the "what and how of learning".


Even the name STUDENT doesn't fit in a personalized learning environment. With learners taking an active role in their learning, their responsibilities need to shift. Students take ownership of their preferences and need as well as how they access and engage information and express their learning. Learners set goals and are self paced. They collaborate and tap into their network for guidance, support, and feedback. What is the teacher doing? The teacher is facilitating, orchestrating, critiquing, and building along side students. The hardest thing of all, is asking the teacher to relinquish some control and allow students to take the reins (Bray and McClaskey).

How can learners be truly successful in a personalized learning environment?

The idea of personalization is poetic. Students leading the learning? What a beautiful image! For students to be able to function, or better yet, thrive in a personalized learning environment, however, there are skills they need to have. These skills are often called soft skills because they are the counterpart to the hard skills or cognitive academic skills of school or a job. While the name soft skills sounds arbitrary, these skills are really at the heart of success both in school and one day in their future careers.

Some examples of soft skills needed in PLE are perseverance, collaboration, critical thinking, motivation, organization, curiosity, diligence, and the list goes on! Check out the link below to a word cloud of core dispositions students need and use in a personalized learning environment. Feel free to add your own ideas to our word cloud!

One of the roles of the teacher in a PLE is to foster these soft skills through modeling, guiding, and creating a classroom culture that encourages and breeds these skills. Personalized learning is the ideal environment to build up students soft and hard skills simultaneously.



Goal Setting

One of the most important tools a PLE learner needs is the ability to set and monitor goals. Through the help of the teacher, students need to understand 1. What they know 2. What they are working to know next 3. How they are going to get there 4. How they will know when they get there 5. How they will show off and share out their learning. Teachers need a firm understanding of learning trajectories to help guide this goal setting process. The ownership of the goals, however, rests with the learner. By students staking claim in what they are working toward, motivation and ownership of knowledge skyrockets.

The teacher's role as facilitator is critical here. The teacher provides continuous feedback to support students in reaching their goals and "compel them to action." According to Allison Zmuda in Learning Personalized, feedback should be regular, student-friendly, action-oriented, and allow students to be reflective. The focus of feedback is on the process and effort, not the outcome. Teacher feedback should spur on thinking (Dylan Wiliam).

Through setting goals and intentional feedback, learners will hold a growth mindset over a fixed mindset.

Genius Hour

Want to start small? Try Genius Hour! Genius Hour is like a personal PBL, where students create their own driving question about anything that interests them. During this set time each week the students get to dive in and research this question. They prepare a way to share out their learning with the rest of the community. This idea of Genius Hour stems from Google. Google employees spend 20% of their time working on a side project that interests them. As a result, productivity on other tasks goes up and actually 50% of Google's products come out of these random side projects. Incorporating Genius Hour allows students to build these soft skills in a highly motivating and engaging time. Students get complete voice and choice in what they learn as well as how they access, engage, and express their learning. In addition to building soft skills, students are learning to research, create presentation, and speak to a specific audience. Check out more information on Genius Hour here.


BE BRAVE is the only rule in Matt B Gomez's kindergarten class. This one rule sets the tone for what learning and relating to one another in school is all about. In a personalized learning environment, learners need to feel safe to take risks and make mistakes. In fact, learning through mistakes should be celebrated! Remember the whole perseverance thing? While it may seem vague and rose-colored, what you as the teacher believe about your students will be what they believe as well. If you treat and encourage your students to be competent leaders up for a challenge, they will rise to the occasion. A great place to start is to sit down and write out a list of the characteristics you want to describe your students. Then create a culture that encourages those characteristics to flourish.


This newsletter is a conglomeration of several books and articles. I encourage you to check out these resources and people!

Learning Personalized by Allison Zmuda, Greg Curtis, and Diane Ullman

Make Learning Personal by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey

Learning by Choice by AJ Juliani

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

Mindset by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey

Tracy Clark @TracyClark08

Learner Sketch for understanding preferences and needs

Genius Hour Resources

AJ Juliani Blog

Amber L Sawyer

I am the TPaCK Coach at Mooreland Heights Elementary. I work alongside teachers to strengthen the connections between technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge.

“It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” Ann Launders