What are non-academic skills and why should I care about them?
When thinking about school, the main focus is usually placed only on content classes such as math, science, social studies, and English. At the end of each grading period, parents wait on the infamous report card to determine if celebrations are in order for the highly coveted grade of ‘A’, or if the gaming system, cell phone, or car keys will be confiscated until the next grading period comes around with hopes of improved grades.

As a parent, I also focus on those classes that are used to calculate GPAs, but I’ve also realized that there are skills, that aren’t necessarily academic in nature, but are just as important to master if a student is to be successful in school.

Behold! An abbreviated list of non-academic skills:
• Self-Confidence/Academic Confidence
• Self-Discipline
• Motivation
• Focus
• Responsibility
• Critical Thinking
• Time Management
• Study Skills
• and many more!

Right about now, you may be asking, “Why are non-academic skills even important?” Valid question, my friend. Non-academic skills will be necessary as your child matures and matriculates through grade school, onto a post-secondary institution, and eventually, into a career. To be quite frank, depending on the career, it will be those non-academic skills that will determine the success of an individual, not the fact that they graduated valedictorian of their high school class.

In August 2018, GALLUP and NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) presented survey results that revealed stakeholders (parents, educators, community members, and anyone who cares about students) would like to see non-academic skills “ranging from character development attributes to interpersonal soft skills to functional life skills” taught to students. Even more interesting is that the majority of stakeholders who were surveyed believed that although non-academic skills were very important, it is not “within the school’s scope of responsibility or capacity to teach these skills”.

Oh, but I’m not finished. The survey also revealed that educators, to include administrators, strongly believed that non-academic skills should have been and should continue to be taught at home! In other words, educators have enough on their plates teaching for student mastery as determined by their respective end of the year state assessments, so teaching students how not to procrastinate, or how to think critically, or how to be better organized is not on the top of their to-do list. But don’t worry, I’m here for you!

Although the NWEA made recommendations that the nation’s education systems need to embrace their roles in developing non-academic skills in all racial, ethnic, and cultural groups, when was the last time your child came home and said, “Mom, guess what? I learned how to stay motivated today.” Or, “Hey, Dad, I learned how not to procrastinate when it comes to completing school assignments today.”

I have four children, and not one of my kids ever came home from school and shared such a declaration. I have never seen a graded paper about any non-academic skills learned by any of my kids either. As a former classroom teacher, I know why my kids didn’t learn those skills; teachers don’t have time to wholeheartedly commit to teaching them.

Organization was one of my son’s weaknesses. In middle school, he used to shove every paper he had in a 1” binder and swore he knew where each assignment was. It was tragic, and it was frustrating. My son would repeatedly earn goose eggs for missing work. His teachers were kind enough to give him opportunities to turn his work in. All he had to do was sort through that mess of papers he created, but it never failed; when it was time to turn in the late work, his response was always, “I can’t find it.”

I knew I could not in good conscious allow my son to start his freshman year in high school with the same disorganization he exhibited in middle school. It was time to take action. During his summer break, my son and I began working on a high school organization plan. As soon as the highly coveted school supply list began circulating, we went to Target (my favorite place for school supplies). My shopping cart was filled with binders, sheet protectors, dividers, and color-coded stickers.

When we got home, I spread all of his school supplies on the den floor, and gave him suggestions on how he should organize his binders. However, I only provided suggestions. The goal was for my son to take ownership of his own organization skills. He had the freedom to set up his binders and materials however he saw fit. We are now approaching the final nine weeks of school, and I am so happy to report that I have not been told “I can’t find it” as of yet!

And this is why I’m so passionate about our kids acquiring non-academic skills. This skill set is not only needed, but priceless as well. Yes, some of our children will learn time management, goal-setting, and how to connect with resources when they graduate from high school and move on to the “real world”, but some may not. That is why I strongly believe that early exposure to non-academic skills is imperative. Being proactive rather than reactive will yield positive results in the long run.

This blog will provide information and/or strategies for non-academic skills students will need to know as they progress through grade school and onward. I am taking a vested interest in our youth, and I would love it if you would join me. Additionally, I want to also make my small impact on education, my way. If you’re an educator reading this post, especially those currently in the classroom, thank you for all that you do for students. I am cognizant of the fact that your daily plate of academic instruction is full. You have the best intentions to cover certain material, but sometimes, it’s just impossible. Well, in the matter of introducing non-academic skills to students and parents, I’ve got your back.