Last week, from my Wisconsin home, I watched my Manhattan grandson, Eli, build snow forts by the hour. He negotiated the territory with our dog, Jack, who wanted to dig and chew and climb all over his efforts…an allegorical battle playing out in a hushed snow-covered world. It wasn’t much like his daily routine of subways, concrete, no yard, and endless sirens. I was awed by the diverse skills he needs to negotiate these two worlds, not to mention the world he and his peers are living into.
In a world of shrinking glaciers, rising seas, exploding population, depleting resources, species extinction, global migration, infrastructure decay, and epidemic human anxiety, we need deep knowledge and technical skill, yes; they are essential. But, they are not enough. Consider the need for empathy, caring, reflection, mindfulness, self-esteem, integrity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, time management, negotiation, leadership…that long list of human qualities we often label “soft skills.” Maybe they’re not so soft. Perhaps they are at the heart of what is required for surviving and thriving into our future, for our families, communities, nation, and planet. Really, there is nothing soft about strong character, or empathy, or leadership, or courage…let’s call these future-ready skills, or global ready skills, or life-ready skills.
So, how will we be ready for the future? Prepare. Now. In school. Choose the skills and habits your students will need and begin. Engage everyone who is mentoring kids in your community in teaching, listening, mentoring, practicing these skills. Reflect on the practice, track the growing, celebrate the achievement of becoming better people, better team members, better problem solvers, better leaders. At Foundry, we have been partnering with school communities who take growing skills, habits, and traits seriously. We support their planning, tracking, and showcasing of growth. Take a look at this heat map of habits that one student has been practicing. Check it out. Sixteen habits and skills, growing in proficiency over 151 attempts.
This is not about, “She’s a good kid.” “He’s smart.” “He comes from a good family.” “She was born that way.” “We are a good community.” This is about naming what is important, teaching it, practicing it, and mentoring it into being. Look at the detail in the skills within Management: Planning, Project Management Responsibility, and Time Management. This student knows that these qualities are valued as highly as academic content, key to being college and career-ready, life-ready.
And happily, the learner is also being challenged to be intentional about Curiosity and Wonder! Connection Making, Question Making, and understanding the Value of Knowledge. That is, students are expected to demonstrate how they love learning and that they are regularly expanding their learning interests. What better way to be future and life-ready?
Well, in the epic battle for the top of the snow fort, Eli won, strategically distracting Jack with snow balls to fetch. What bigger battles are ahead? Will he – will they – be ready? The future our students are growing into calls to us to act now. Begin. Select your skills, habits, traits. Start small. And begin to practice with your students. Daily, weekly, in lessons, in projects, in fieldwork, internships, service learning, at home. Everywhere. The skills, habits, and traits you choose, teach, guide, and mentor will become part of a deepening well of capacity within your students…from which they can draw and share…with their families, communities, nation, and planet. Let’s do this!