It’s the non-academic skills that power success

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 12.28.08 PMFrom the moment I began the Student Success Project, I never backed down from the belief that success was a much deeper concept than grades, ranking and position. And with that came the arguments on what truly constituted an education. And with that came arguments about the real meaning of learning. Everyone indeed has opinions.

Sure, we all say there is more to life than just grades, ranking and positions but it always seems to creep back into the conversation as real measures of success.

Think for a moment what our world would look and sound like if the concept of success was driven purely by other “stuff” such as happiness and self-confidence rather than testing, echelons and attainment. But now comes the tough question – what would that other stuff be?

Someone is bound to be a buzzkill and say something robotic like – “we’re trying to explain student success educationally or in the labor market with skills not directly measured by standardized tests.”

Sure, we always hear about “life and career skills” and “information, media and technology skills.” But what about cognitive skills? Rather than just skills for the sake of achievement – how about those for expanding the mind and nuturing the heart?

I am always asked before, during or after my presentation – what makes for a successful student and my answer is always the same – “a happy, well-adjusted confident kid.” This reminds of a quote (circa 1788) I read almost a decade ago when I started designing The Student Success Project.

“The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head.”

So with that said, I throw these few “cognitive skills” out for consideration.

Character Skills education has a long history in the U.S., with a major vogue in the 1930s and a revival in the 1980s and 1990s. Certain schools emphasize a curriculum of seven “character strengths”: grit, zest, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity.

This is a direct response to parents wishing that their children be happy and good as well as successful.

Growth Mindset is the belief that positive traits, including intelligence, can be developed with practice.

Fixed Mindset refers to the idea that intelligence and other talents are set at birth.

Unfortunately, both of these mindsets are based in the belief that if you make the kids feel good they’ll learn,’ which is tied right into the 80’s self-esteem movement. A movement which many felt led to lots of trophies but little improvement in actual achievement.
Social and Emotional Skills

Everyone likes this. There isn’t a teacher around in this age of obscene testing who doesn’t believe in the importance of teaching kids to be more socially and emotionally competent.

Teachers feel, and growing research supports, that it helps them academically, improves school climate, improves discipline, and is going to help them to be college and career — and life — ready.”
Soft Skills

Employers commonly use “soft skills” to include anything from being able to write a letter, to showing up on time and having a firm handshake. Most teachers and administrators I speak with feel this phrase downplays the importance of these skills.

Study after study shows what’s striking is that these traits correlate not only to higher academic outcomes for students, but also increased life achievement, in terms of health, well-being, and income.

Though many students enter schools lagging in academic skills, a strong soft skill set may just be what will help them make the grade.

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, founder of The Student Success Project and previously Think Factory Marketing. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or via email at ritchie@thestudentsuccessproject.com, and on Facebook and YouTube as The Student Success Project.

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, founder of The Student Success Project and previously Think Factory Marketing. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or via email at ritchie@thestudentsuccessproject.com, and on Facebook and YouTube as The Student Success Project.


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