Attributes for Success

Examining how strong character leads to success in school and in life

By: Ingrid Moore
Director of Lower School

At the start of a new school year, it is always exciting to see the children arrive at school with bright, smiling faces. I’m struck by how much hope we all have for our children and their futures. Of course, we want them to be happy, but we also want them to be successful and productive adults. We want them to learn everything they need to know to launch independent lives that will be fulfilling.

But, imagining the calendar beyond the school year, I have been thinking about what our kids really need to be successful when they grow up. I know it’s more than any one academic subject, and it’s more than iPad integration or coding fluency. I reached out to the Steward Lower School faculty to learn what they think.

Their overwhelming response was that in order to be successful, both academically and emotionally, kids really need qualities and attributes we generally associate with strong character. Steward teachers did not cite “High IQ,” “Strong Math Achievement,” or “Early Reader” among the predictors of success—those traits did not even make the list. Instead, the faculty heralded curiosity, willingness to risk failure, positive attitude, and perseverance as qualities to nurture if we want to see our children achieve success. Furthermore, the teachers underscored that while we are constantly supporting these skills in school, it is essential that the home environment also emphasizes their importance in order to grow these qualities in our children.

Research backs up what our teachers believe. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health in 2015, “non-cognitive skills” like those listed above are strongly linked to increased likelihoods of higher levels of both education and employment. The study goes on to describe that “non-cognitive skills interact with cognitive skills to enable success in school and the workplace.” The truth is, to the extent that our children are able to be curious, perseverant, risk-taking, and positive, there is ample evidence to support that their academic achievement will be boosted. The research serves to illustrate just how important it is that we as parents and educators encourage and celebrate these skills in our children. Being curious and perseverant can no longer be dismissed as particular to a certain kind of personality or individual—these qualities can be taught!

Clearly, being in a small, classroom environment opens up opportunities to develop these skills. Teachers who work closely with students genuinely get to know them, and as a result are able to foster these qualities. Lessons that promote asking questions, activities that do not have a predetermined finish or ‘one right answer,’ and opportunities for children to try new things in a safe and supportive environment are some of the ways that teachers at Steward are nurturing these skills daily in children. All of this contributes to students who feel empowered to be entrepreneurial, innovative, and creative.

As a fellow parent, I urge you to push your children in ways that will grow these essential traits: let your children explore new spaces and materials and see what they think and create; facilitate new experiences for your children that take them out of their comfort zones and help them to identify new strengths; encourage them to ask questions about anything in which they display curiosity; and remind them, as Winston Churchill said, “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

By offering a deliberate and thoughtful approach to education that promotes these important skills in children, we will set them up for a lifetime of success and happiness.

Article cited: Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness, Damon E. Jones, Mark Greenberg, and Max Crowley, American Journal of Public Health 0 0, 0, e1-e8





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