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Five more skills students must develop for success

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Teachers are facilitators of learning

A teacher is a facilitator who helps learners explore their environment as they discover new concepts and ideas. In this emerging era, teachers should also help students develop competencies you can’t always put into words. Skills such as collaboration, initiative, self-motivation, and leadership are important for students to prepare for the world beyond school.

Here are the skills that students need to develop to be successful in the future:

1. Collaboration

People are now able to collaborate with people all over the world, not just those who live nearby. Collaboration enables people to accomplish much more than they could have on their own. Good collaboration depends on being able to work smoothly with others, drawing on mutual strengths and sharing knowledge.

Working with others, working in teams, is a skill. Good collaboration is based on trust, respect, and effective communication between members of the team. It's not one person telling the others what to do.

Good collaboration depends on having confidence in your own ability to do your part well, whatever it is. You need to know that you're not going to fail at it. And you need to have confidence in the other people on the team.

The skills needed for good collaborative work are similar to those needed for effective teamwork in sports or performing arts or business. They include things like being able to notice what's happening around you so that you can respond quickly when something needs your attention; knowing how to ask smart questions so that you can find out what's going on without embarrassing yourself; being able to explain clearly what you want so that others can understand it and agree with it; being able to listen thoughtfully so that you can pick up cues about what others are thinking; and knowing how to deal with conflict productively rather than letting it explode into anger or hurt feelings.

These are skills that everyone needs; they don't require any special training in order for teachers to help students learn them. They're relevant whether students are planning careers in computer technology, theater, law, carpentry, or otherwise.

2. Initiative

As learners become active participants in their own learning, they need to take initiative in order to pursue their interests. They can't wait for others to come up with new ideas or create opportunities for them.

As learners become active participants in their own learning, they need to take initiative in order to pursue their interests. They can't wait for others to come up with new ideas or create opportunities for them.

Learners must be "pro-active" in the sense that they need to take action to create their own opportunities. Teachers can help learners develop these pro-active skills by giving opportunities for learners to try them out in the classroom and by providing guidance when learners need it.

What are some examples of pro-active skills that show initiative?

Learners must:

  • Develop knowledge and skills that will help them achieve their goals

  • Search for and interpret information related to those goals

  • Formulate and revise plans for achieving those goals

  • Identify and overcome obstacles that stand in the way of achieving those goals

  • Develop strategies for evaluating progress toward those goals

Although we list these skills separately, we do not imply that these are separate, discrete skills; they are interconnected and mutually supportive. In fact, the ability to use one skill often depends on the development of others. For example, learners who have not yet developed metacognitive strategies may be unable to assess their own progress effectively or efficiently monitor their own learning.

In order to help students develop these interrelated skills, teachers should:

  • Help learners set learning goals and develop learning strategies based on those goals.

  • Help learners identify their strengths and areas for growth so they can set realistic goals.

  • Help learners monitor their progress toward their goals by using a variety of tools and strategies, including self-assessments.

Helping students develop skills means doing more than providing information and knowledge in traditional ways (lecture, textbook, and so on). Teachers must help students learn the skills and strategies they need in order to be successful learners in school and beyond.

3. Self-motivation

A key skill for success is being self-motivated—not relying on external rewards (such as grades or rewards from parents) or punishments (such as fear of failure) for motivation, but instead, doing things because they are interesting and challenging. This is an essential skill for lifelong learning.

You're familiar with the two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing. Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something to achieve some reward or avoid some punishment.

In school, as in life, intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic. It is easier to study a subject that you find interesting, and the skills you develop through that effort will be applicable to other areas of interest.

That doesn't mean that rewards and punishments have no role in education — they do. If a student doesn't understand how a particular lesson relates to what they already know or what they need for later lessons, it's difficult for them to get excited about the material. In these cases it can be effective to provide external motivation — such as promising rewards for completing a task—or even introducing material through games or contests.

In general, though, educators should focus on building students' intrinsic motivation and providing challenges that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in interesting and useful ways.

4. Leadership

Leadership abilities are becoming increasingly important as society becomes more complex and interdependent; leaders help people coordinate their activities, set goals, and then mobilize them to achieve those goals.

Leadership is often associated with formal positions of authority, but leadership also plays an important role in many other situations where people interact—in clubs, student organizations, businesses, and even classrooms.

Leadership is not about authority, it's about influence. Leaders are influential people—people who can make things happen.

Students should learn to be leaders in the classroom and in other student organizations. They should also learn how to recognize and encourage leadership in others.

Leaders help others work effectively together. They create an environment where people feel comfortable making suggestions and taking initiative. Leaders facilitate effective communication among group members. They encourage the group to set challenging goals and hold individuals accountable for achieving them. They help the group develop a vision of what it wants to accomplish, identify priorities, and then establish plans for reaching those priorities.

Leaders are not just people who tell other people what to do or who have titles of authority. By encouraging students to lead, teachers can help them develop skills that will be useful both inside and outside the classroom.

5. Ability to define goals, values, and vision

What are the goals of education? What do we want students to know how to do?

Some of the answers are obvious. Students should be able to read, write, and do arithmetic — in other words, to get along in the world. They should know our history and culture, so that they are aware of who they are and what they owe to their ancestors. Students should be able to think analytically, so that they can solve the problems they will encounter in life.

They should have a sense of ethics — a conviction that some things are right or wrong, not just expedient or convenient. And they should be able to express themselves well in speech and writing.

But there are two other skills that are equally important. One is the ability to see things from other people's point of view — to have empathy for them — to understand what you have in common with people different from yourself. The other is the ability to set long-term goals — to have vision — and then figure out how to achieve them.

Teach skills, not just content

These kinds of skills will be increasingly important as technology advances and jobs change. The only way to develop them is for students to practice them. And they can best do that in school, with teachers who support their development.

Teachers should help students explore their environment and help them explore their own interests and passions. This will lead students to discover new concepts and ideas they didn’t know existed, and will also help students develop the initiative and leadership skills needed to pursue those interests and passions.

In a networked world, many of the expectations we have for students have changed. As a result, we have to change the way we think about teaching.

In a traditional classroom, students learned from a teacher who filled their heads with facts and ideas. The teacher was a source of information and guidance, but not the main source of knowledge. Students learned what they were taught because they had no other options. If they wanted to be successful in school, they had to do what the teacher told them.

In today's world, that’s no longer true. Students can learn from anyone — a friend, a video on YouTube, or an article they find online. They don't need us as much as we need them to succeed in the world beyond school.

We cannot let this change happen without us; we must lead it and guide it and help students develop skills and capabilities that will make them ready for what is coming next.


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