4 Essential Skills for Supporting Student Growth

This year has been tough, hasn’t it? We are all facing unique personal struggles and are also concerned about our students’ well-being and individual learning plans. We want what’s best for our students and may be wracked with guilt when we can’t replicate the long-lost comforts of a traditional fall. We owe ourselves some grace. Students are doing amazing things right now, building skills they may have never used, and learning how to master these skills by watching you use them daily. Remind your students that what they are learning now will support their future success throughout higher education, their careers, and in their personal relationships. We are building stronger students — it just looks a little different from what we had expected.  

Flexibility

This skill helps our students adapt to a changing environment. This is tough, as it requires students to recognize and accept when they’ve made an error or there are better alternatives to solving a problem. Flexibility manifests itself in how we react to challenging circumstances and, while difficult to teach directly, is one a teacher can model daily. For example, we displayed flexibility this past spring when forced into virtual learning, as well as every time our classroom plans just don’t seem to work out. Our response may not always be perfect, but we adapt and do what was best for our students. If we can recognize when to adjust, look at the change constructively, and model this for our students, they will see that change can be positive. 

Creativity

Students often think that creativity is illustrated through an artistic medium. In reality, creativity empowers students to see new solutions to existing problems. Students who excel in creative thinking will often see a problem as an opportunity. We can encourage this skill in our students (and ourselves) by removing the fear of wrong answers. Support brainstorming sessions and encourage students to develop their ideas. Creativity is a highly sought-after skill in the professional world. Innovation is the new buzzword, and its core comes from creativity.  

Critical Thinking

This skill uses a review process to support those creative new ideas. Ask yourself: Will my idea work? How can I test it? What are some barriers or challenges I should expect? Teaching critical thinking can be encouraged by asking students to develop their own solutions before coming to you for an answer. This skill is essential when students work independently, whether in a classroom or virtually, and will benefit them at every stage of their development. 

Time Management

This is a skill that fluctuates as we grow. School, careers, and family all demand time management strategies. While the situation may change, the core strategies remain the same. Time management encompasses prioritizing, organizing, and structuring our time. As adults, we can model time management by identifying what we are doing, sharing what works for us, and suggesting different options for strategies that students can employ. Here are a few strategies that have worked with my students:

  • In the morning, plan out your day and identify what tasks are non-negotiable. Consider categorizing by “need to” and “want to.” Whiteboards are a great way to visualize a schedule and allow students to cross off their tasks as they complete them. 
  • Schedule time in the day to get tasks done that fall outside of regular meetings or class times. Consider using a timer to keep yourself on track. 
  • Take breaks and enjoy them thoroughly. Play high-energy music at the start of a break to get moving or consider relaxing music if your day is stressful. Change your scenery and disconnect for a few moments. Breaks can be just five minutes to stretch or dance, a full lunchtime without devices, or a nice conversation with a friend.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize! Pick one thing you want to do and will enjoy when you are done with your day. Staying focused on that one item will keep you motivated. 

Naturally, there are many other skills that our students are building right now. Check out this article on twenty-first-century skills to read more. Encourage your students to continue making strong connections to their home environment, to their community, and to their own beliefs. This is how these valuable skills become habits and then differentiators in higher education, career development, and personal relationships.