Getting children to talk up their talents in self-deprecating UK: Andrew Bernard

In the UK we have a strange relationship with modesty and being proud of ourselves. From an early age we are encouraged to try new things, to practice, get better and demonstrate our prowess in any number of tasks – walking, speaking, writing, drawing, etc.

Are children in the UK too shy of talking about their abilities?

But then from about the age of four or five years old we’re told to “stop showing-off” and so we live in a state of limbo where we develop skills and abilities but we’re encouraged to keep them to ourselves.

At primary school we love art, drawing, languages, PE, music and all the other great things we do and then at secondary school where peer-pressure kicks in we tend to try and blend-in and not be one of the ‘swats’ or ‘nerds’ so our true skills can become hidden and shoved crumpled to the bottom of the rucksack along with that letter about dinner money, trying to speak French in the correct accent or put our hands up too many times in class.

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So, if practice and performance are the building blocks to our skills and how we present them to the world, what happens if we’re explicitly or implicitly told to dim our lights? We hide, we cower and confine ourselves to a relatively small box which disincentivises pride in ourselves. We often hide away from success, criticism and in the main, hide from standing out unless we’re one of those ‘over-achievers who wins everything’ don’t we?

What happens when we’re coming up to 16 and we have to apply for sixth form, college, apprenticeships or part-time jobs and suddenly have to share how brilliant we are and what skills we have and how we can use them to the benefit of the world?

Well, in my experience asking a British teen from 13 to 16 what they’re good at will get you an answer anywhere between an exaggerated shrug, an “I dunno, football?” through to a full on, sitting back, legs outstretched, arms-folded ‘absolutely nothing’ with a cheeky yet embarrassed grin.

We generally don’t know how to express pride in our skills in the UK. Ask an American what they’re good at and they’re still talking half an hour later.

My mission is to get us to a point somewhere between the two.

We need to take the opportunity to support a more holistic understanding of skills than merely those measured by exams and use different ways to understand and then describe our skills.

Based on 16 years working with over 150,000 young people to develop their skills and attitudes I’ve written The Ladder: supporting students to successful futures and confident career choices.

I’ve learned that we need to start earlier and support young peoples’ self-development, self-awareness and confidence in their own abilities in school, at home and in other areas of life.

The book includes a research chapter into equality of opportunity, tips and tools for teachers and employers to use to develop and support young people and a host of questions to ask parents, governors and other local stakeholders to garner support for the next generation.

The mainstay of the book is the CASK model (the Continuum for the Acquisition of Skills and Knowledge) – a framework of simple downloadable tools to help people of all ages to start gathering their thoughts together on their skills, qualities and how to apply them to the world of work and careers.

The CASK model focuses on the seven skills the 21st Century demands and encourages young people to see and assess the skills they’ve used and developed in sports, at part-time jobs, in arts, creativity, youth clubs, baby sitting and in their hobbies alongside the academic learning they cover at school.

Let’s explore a couple of the skills – Leadership/Collaborating with Influence and Agility and Adaptability – and see how a young person could evidence them if asked to in an interview or on an application form.

Rather than listing everything, The Ladder suggests a story process: “We were in the semi-final of a tournament, I was the captain and in the last half we were 2-1 down and I’d just pulled a muscle. I decided to substitute myself and bring on a fresh team-mate. They scored twice and we won.”

This short sentence highlights leadership, teamwork, dedication, decisiveness and how to adapt to change – all essential skills but explained in a factual, simple way which allows someone to reflect on and share their skills without embarrassment or fear of immodesty.

We need more of this.

Andrew Bernard is the author of a new book called The Ladder: Supporting students towards successful futures and confident career choices.

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