Skills For Success

December 17, 2014 Jonathan E. Martin
Skills For Success

Yet another (they keep coming!) report has emerged arguing for the importance of elevating the “non-cognitive” in our schools. This one comes from the New America Foundation, entitled “Skills for Success: Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12.”

Not satisfied with using one of the myriad terms already in use for this cluster of qualities and attributes, New America Foundation writers Tooley and Bornfreund decide to invent and add yet another term to the conversation. As they explain in their opening section,

“Academic tenacity. Perseverance toward long-term goals. Emotional intelligence. These kinds of habits, mindsets, and non-technical skills are integral to academic, professional, and personal success. Recently, they have begun to enter public discourse as research demonstrating their importance has been made more accessible through the use of terms such as “growth mindsets,” “grit,” and “character.”

The various terms used to describe such skills, habits, and mindsets are so numerous that, for this paper, we use a simple phrase that describes the outcomes associated with them: “skills for success.”

Cover Skills for Success Tooley Bornfreund

An important, and sometimes under-appreciated question is posed in this report, reminiscent of a similar campaign being waged by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning): Why does development of these “skills for success,” after being so greatly attended to in early childhood/PK education, wane and wither so greatly in the K-12 progression? Perhaps in previous eras we were unconvinced about the continued malleability of these skills beyond PK, but now we know they can be developed and they matter! Indeed, as has often been argued on this blog, developing these skills matters for their own sake—because it is so valuable to be more collaborative, creative, motivated, persistent—and for the academic achievement that results from them. As the authors note: “Research shows that many of these skills, such as self-regulation and cooperation, are, in fact, closely linked to academic achievement.”

This free 50-page report is a fine resource for schools reviewing and expanding their K-12 “skills for success” curriculum. The teaching strategies are broken into categories—stand-alone, embedded, and hybrid—and suggest approaches for leaders to promote school-wide SFS development.

The report also provides a framework for the role of assessment in a “Skills for Success” initiative. Assessment can be used for determining needs (identifying priorities and best-suited approaches), for studying implementation (evaluating the effectiveness of a particular strategy), and for checking outcomes (determining whether the goals have been met). Regarding outcomes assessment, they direct readers both to school-level outcome tools such as climate surveys and the TRIPOD system, and to student-level assessments such as Pearson’s “Social Skills Improvement Systems Rating Scales,” though the offerings for student level are relatively sparse.

The report concludes with useful recommendations; those for school leaders include:

  • Raising Awareness of the Importance of SFS
  • Beginning to Embed Practices Throughout the Day to help Students Develop SFS
  • Looking to Students for Insights

For those of us involved with the SSATB initiative to build a new non-cognitive and character skills assessment, it is fun to read this recommendation for pychometricans: “Continuing to research current assessment methods to assess validity and reliability, and developing additional assessments that can meet these criteria.” Got it: we’re on it.

About the Author

Jonathan E. Martin

Principal Jonathan E. Martin Educational Services (AZ) Jonathan Martin has 15 years experience as an independent school head, most recently as Head of St. Gregory College Preparatory School (AZ). He holds degrees from Harvard University (BA, Government, cum laude); Starr King School for the Ministry (M.Div., Unitarian ministry preparation); and the University of San Francisco School of Education (MA, Private School Administration). In 2008, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. He previously headed Saklan Valley School (CA) and Maybeck High School (CA). In the first stage of his educational career, he taught History, Social Studies, and English at Maybeck, and served in a role equivalent to Dean of Students. From 2010-12 he was a member of the board, and Program & Professional Development Chair, of the Independent School Association of the Southwest (ISAS). He was a contributor to the new National Association of Independent Schools publication A Strategic Imperative: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future.

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