Survival Skills for Students

As proud as we are of our local public schools, we can do better.  We’ve repeatedly shown that our students can beat the test scores of most of the nation.  But, how do we stack up to the rest of the nation in teaching other skills that students need to excel in their next stages of life? 


Education reformer Tony Wagner likes to talk about Seven Survival Skills, which he developed after surveying and conversing with higher education, business, and military leaders.  They are:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
  5. Effective oral and written communications skills
  6. Accessing and utilizing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Wagner says the leaders told him that they didn’t have trouble finding students who can take tests, but felt challenged when finding young people with these survival skills.


Williamson County Schools are full of classroom, extra-curricula, and other activities that support the pursuit of survival skills on Wagner’s list. But, our time and resources are limited.  Plus, not all of our students have as many opportunities as others to pursue these skills.  We can do better.


When it was clear Dr. Looney would remain our Superintendent, I asked him what he planned to do next.  He had received a strong outpouring of support from the community, and although not unanimously, the Board had expressed support for him through several votes. Knowing him to be an aggressive leader, I wondered what he would next propose to the Board and the community.  I was not disappointed.  


Dr. Looney would soon reveal to the Board, then community, Six Big Ideas he had on his mind.  You’ll see how they support the realization that training students to perform well in testing, as important as that is, is not our only mission.  We must teach survival skills.  Here are some thoughts on the Six Big Ideas:


Fast Track for High School:  Dr. Looney proposed that students could finish high school in three, rather than four, years.  It would require the survival skills of problem solving, agility and adaptability.  The program wouldn’t be for everyone, but if students and families wanted to pursue this path, WCS would help them make it happen.  This Big Idea is happening and will be available next year.


Me Period.  Dr. Looney would like to create a period in the middle of the school day for students to pursue their personal passions.  Naturally, when passions are in play, survival skills are easier to teach and learn.  Plus, the Me Period speaks to  a realization that not all students are alike, and when we can, we should seize opportunities that take advantage of these differences.  


Military Academy:  Dr. Looney has proposed that we create an academy at one of our high schools for students who want to pursue a career in the military or attend a military service academy.  This is an excellent idea, in my opinion.  I hope the community will speak up about it.  What better way to teach students the survival skills than through a focus on preparing for the military.  


Kids on Stage:  Dr. Looney would like to provide a stage at every school for students to have a good place for showing their stage and performing skills.  Think of it as an open mike.  He’s already started the process, and it’s working well.  I welcome this initiative, and see it as an opportunity for all students, regardless of their desire to perform on stage.  The stages could be used for making presentations and speeches as well as other forms of communication.  These skills are required by all and are essential for survival.  Plus, who among us who has performed didn’t pick up problem solving, collaboration, agility, adaptability, and imagination?


Equity Among Schools:  Equitable opportunities for all students across the county should be standard operating procedure for us.  I appreciate Dr. Looney adding this to his list of Big Ideas, but believe this is, and should be, standard operating procedure.


Larger Schools:  Dr. Looney wants us to explore the concept of larger high schools.  Not only could larger high schools be one of the answers to our growth issues, we may be able to provide learning opportunities at larger schools that we can’t currently provide.  As we do so, perhaps we can put more attention on teaching the survival skills.

As you can see, the Six Big Ideas can help us teach Seven Survival Skills.  We should constantly watch for opportunities to support our educators as they work to make sure our students excel at “survival”.


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