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February 21, 2018

Student Success Skills: Innate or Teachable?

I am the lucky (sometimes crazed)mother of two teenagers! They are amazing, rockstar children…in my mind anyway. We love to be together and enjoy life, and there is always plenty of laughter(sometimes at my expense). As they have gotten older and progressed through school, I have often wondered if they “have what it takes to be successful.”This, at times, becomes a worry when I think about whether I have done enough to prepare them to be positive, contributing members of society.

Can you relate? As a parent or even as an educator? My guess is you can.

As I reflect on the success skills my teens have or lack,(and yes, even my own awesome kids lack skills)it would be easy to believe that these skills are just innate. That would take me off the hook, right?“They were just born that way!”I can blindly think that there isn’t much I can do to help them gain or increase success skills. Truth be told, that’s not accurate!

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why tells us that character is not just a set of essential traits that children are just born with but are skills and habits that children can develop. If kids can grow these skills, we can TEACH THEM! Listen to more of Paul’s ideas on character here.

Success skills like empathy, integrity, self-control, and grit along with the ability to embrace diversity are key to lifelong success. These skills are outlined in the book, The Formative Five by Thomas Hoerr. In the text, Hoerr shares Tough’s sentiments when he states, “Significantly and encouragingly, the Formative Five skills are teachable, regardless of the student’s age.”

As we have established here, success skills can be taught and children can not only gain them but can also increase them. The next logical question would be, “How do we help students do this? ”I just happen to have a few ideas.

First, let’s tackle empathy. This is challenging especially for the occasionally self-centered child or teen…not that I am speaking from experience, of course! Modeling is a great start. Take every opportunity you can to demonstrate and induce empathetic feelings for other people. Talk with children about what they have in common with others and help children explore other perspectives. My oldest teen has had the opportunity to go to Haiti and serve children with special needs for the last two summers. Having this chance has increased her empathy towards individuals on the fringe ten-fold. While a field trip to a third world country might be very impactful, a simple service project in your community can have the same effect. Check out the plethora of resources on Edutopia related to service learning! 1083 hits!

Self-control is another success skill that comes up often with children and teens. Again, modeling is imperative here. Be sure to explicitly teach self-control and give students (many) opportunities to practice. Providing specific feedback through a one-to-one conversation with students is helpful as well. There are even great games that help develop this skill (Jenga, Twister, and Operation to name a few.)

Lastly, let’s chat about GRIT. This is a huge topic lately in education. Some even question if teaching grit is relevant. I’m going to take a stand as I watch my youngest teen struggle to maintain focus at school and push through difficulties in athletics. Grit IS NECESSARY, and like any skill, if children don’t have it, we must teach it! Look at this article focused on using picture books to teach grit. Here’s another using young adult novels to do the same.

Teaching children and teens success skills will allow us, as parents and educators, to breathe easier. Use this graphic organizer to begin educating your students about these skills. The more I build these skills in my own children, the more confident I become that they do indeed have what it takes to be successful!

If you are interested in learning more about increasing student success skills, consider taking OL 5040:Five Fabulous Skills for Your Students’ Lifelong Success


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