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.”
While high-quality pre-K programs strive to impart many skills for success (SFS) in addition to specific academic content, the same has not been true for most K–12 schools, particularly in later grades. Some argue that this difference is appropriate, as SFS can only be instilled early in life. However, research demonstrates that these skills are malleable, and many can be easily developed through young adulthood. Others argue that K–12 schools cannot, or should not, influence the attainment of these skills. But as some schools begin to experiment with different approaches to imparting these skills, the evidence indicates otherwise. Some of these approaches attempt to directly “teach” SFS, while others focus on ensuring that the climate—the school and classroom environment, policies, and practices—promotes positive teaching and learning conditions that can bolster SFS. Finally, some say schools must confine themselves to academic content due to accountability systems that focus only on outcomes on subject tests. But research shows that many of these skills, such as self-regulation and cooperation, are, in fact, closely linked to academic achievement.
There are some promising approaches available, both from pre-K and K–12, for supporting the skills, habits, and mindsets that enable students to be successful academically as well as professionally and personally throughout their lives. At the same time, there are still outstanding questions as to: 1) what the most effective and efficient approaches are; 2) how to ensure that educators and parents understand the value of such approaches; and 3) how to best prepare and train educators to maintain their strong focus on developing academic knowledge, while cultivating SFS as well. One thing is clear: school and classroom climate can either help promote or deter the development of SFS. Thus, failing to address a negative or unsupportive educational climate could prevent potential long-term benefits of other SFS efforts from being realized.