Honest Self-Help for Students, Teachers and Learning Professionals

I’m addicted to self-help books, which, I suppose, could call for another self-help book for that malady. However, Cary J Green’s Leadership and Soft Skills for Students: Empowered to Succeed in High School, College, and Beyond took me a bit by surprise because I was reading it not to help myself (or so I thought!), but to help my students. The phrase “soft skills” caught my attention because the definition has gotten muddied by the sheer number of people touting its importance. I like Cary’s definition though:

Soft skills are a collection of abilities, behaviors, and attitudes that increase your effectiveness.

The focus on “soft skills” that initially interested me quickly morphed into a broader underlying morality. The author’s emphasis on integrity, fairness, and dedication are central to his message; soft skills are certainly addressed and are a part of Cary’s philosophy, but there is no doubt that leading a principled life is at the center. The earnestness with which Cary shares is magnetizing, drawing the reader in because we trust the author.
bigbookThe book is framed by Cary’s 3 R’s–Readiness, Relationships, and Results. Though it is a systematic approach, rather than the more traditional narrative embedded with wisdom, I found it refreshing. In fact, the most enjoyable part of the book to me was knowing how to use it intuitively and get the most out of it. Don’t misunderstand–there are lots of great stories, but the stories are secondary to the lesson to be learned, which is the unique aspect of Cary’s style. For those of you who’ve struggled to fit Tony Robbins’ “Hour of Power” into an already overloaded schedule, or if you’ve spent whole afternoons trying to decipher the hidden knowledge in Napolean Hill’s Law of Success, you’ll love how this book is user friendly. Interestingly though, despite the simple structure, I did feel I heard the echos of these “greats” of self-help. Cary’s examples are honest and inclusive, allowing all types of readers to connect.
I kept having to remind myself that I needed to look through my “teacher lens” because Cary’s positive approach compelled me to want to think about myself, which is the mark of a great self-help book. The ability to invoke deep desire for introspection and reflection is characteristic of the genre; however, I’m really excited for the potential uses for this book that aren’t about me but rather my students.
For students, the exercises in this book will prove to be thought provoking and eye opening. I particularly liked his chapter “Prioritize” because I spend so much of my time as an educator attempting to help students figure out how to begin, what to do when they hit a roadblock, and how to manage their time by blocking out specific hours to complete a project or paper. Particularly important here is his admonishment to “Make these time blocks and activities a priority, and do not miss these ‘meetings’ with yourself.” This advice is so valuable because in our hectic lives, what we don’t schedule, doesn’t happen.

Here are a few other key takeaways:

Commitment is essential. If you choose to do something, you must dedicate your time and energy to it.
Down but not out. When things get complicated or there’s a bump in the road, you have to learn to get back up and keep going or opportunities will pass you by.
Ultimately, it is our relationships with others that truly matter. Professionally, it is important to make good impressions and network, even if it doesn’t feel natural to you at first.
Don’t make a habit of giving your problems to your boss. Solve as many of your own problems as possible, even if it means doing more work. Your boss is inundated with problems, and you don’t want to seem like one of them.
Though the focus is on students, any good purveyor of this genre knows that as long as we are seeking change and improvement, we are all students of ourselves and our circumstances. I like how Cary challenges us all to “Dare to set big goals, put aside your doubts, and move ahead.” He then goes on to cite the book as a prime example of just that. There is a unique humility in that admission, a tone not often found in books that are designed to instruct. Too often, the authors feel they have to know everything, be everything, and project that they are capable of anything. The reader though, in this case, gives Cary more credit for following his own advice and writing a successful book, truly appreciating the advice all the more for seeing the author “practice what he preaches.”
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Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a middle school teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY.

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