If you haven’t noticed, schools are working very slowly, but very appropriately, to change our definition of success. This new focus on the different paths to success is rather obvious now, in the time we are in, but there was a time we focused on degree completion and defined success for students as college degree completion. A lot of this change is in response to the needs of our society, as we have dramatic needs for skilled workers.

For years, public schools have heavily promoted college enrollment and eventually completion as the ultimate goal of a high school education.  While that it is very appropriate for some students, it is not appropriate for all. Life experience tells us that degree completion is only one of many pathways to success.

In fact, perhaps the challenge to educators and the key to success, is not only the completion of academic skills, but the combination of academic and “soft skills.”  If there were time-tested skills that were needed, it could be argued soft skills are the most important thing that children can get out of school.

These soft skills will give essentially anyone the capability to be successful in life. The term “soft skills” is somewhat broad and comprehensive, but in a December 20, 2017, article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, she wrote about the surprising things that Google learned about its employees.  The article lists the top seven characteristics for success at Google.  They are:

  1. Communicating and listening well.
  2. Being a good coach.
  3. Possessing insights into others, including others’ different values and points of view.
  4. Having empathy towards and being supportive of one’s colleagues.
  5. Being a good critical thinker and problem-solver.
  6. Being able to make connections across complex ideas.

It could be argued that the last two are skills that could be learned academically, the others are relational-based skills that simply deal with how you treat and interact with others.  I would argue that if we could go back in time, these soft skills, and maybe a few others, would still make a person successful.

I also came across a summary of a book called Bridging the Gaps: College Pathways to Career Success by James Rosenbaum, Caitlin Ahearn, and Janet Rosenbaum.  This summary talks about the overemphasis on Bachelor’s Degrees and the benefits of sub-baccalaureate credentials for some people.  Again, life experience tells all of us that having a degree doesn’t make someone successful or not, but their ability to continue to learn and apply the soft skills to any particular job will lead them to success in life.

While college is extremely appropriate for many students, it is not appropriate for all students, but success is available to all students if they possess the ability to learn and possess time-tested soft skills. The stigma traditionally attached to students who do not attend or succeed in college was a historical error in the education profession and something that we are working to change.



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