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The Most Important Skills to Develop in High School

Parents always ask me for advice on how their students can become better prepared for life after high school -- be it at college or in their future careers. Long story short, there’s no magic formula we can employ to help students prepare for the challenges and opportunities that await them once they graduate. However, there are several key areas all students should focus on developing.

  1. Reading ability:

  2. The main difference between college and high school is the level of reading required. College textbooks can be dense and difficult to get through. All students should find fun books and/or magazines to read to improve both their reading comprehension and speed skills. The key is choosing high interest readings. Don’t worry about the reading level. Focus on simply getting students reading. Blogs, websites, sports articles, etc. are all great places to start.

  3. Reading is a lifelong skill: It helps with standardized test taking, college success, and even job performance. Good readers have a big advantage in their future endeavors.

  4. If they really struggle to get motivated, give us a call and we can help design a reading development program.

  5. Writing ability:

  6. Writing ability is often a function of developing reading skills. However, it is a critical aspect of both college and job success. By developing strong writing skills, student will be able to challenge themselves by enrolling in the hardest college courses, will be better able to communicate with future employers, co workers, or clients, and will develop communications skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

  7. Start writing now: Start a blog, write for the school paper about sports or music, buy a journal, take a creative writing class, write emails to your teachers or parents ... It doesn’t matter. Other than reading, the best way to become a great writer is by ... Writing!

  8. Most writing skills can be taught. In particular, we focus on teaching students the steps in the writing process, how to use sources, how to organize their thoughts, how to structure essays, grammar and vocabulary skills, and how to edit papers. It is a great skill to develop in the summer!

  9. Self-advocacy

  10. Successful students need to become advocates for themselves.

  11. One great way to develop agency is to give students more responsibility. Put them in charge (with supervision) of managing their schedules, of talking to or emailing teachers if they have a problem in class, of calling the dentist to reschedule an appointment, of asking questions on a college tour, of ordering food at a restaurant, of finding a summer job, etc. The more often students speak up for themselves the better prepared they will be to advocate for themselves in the future.

  12. Knowing your strengths & passions

  13. Almost everyone is at their best when they pursue their passions. Obviously, not everyone can become the shortstop for the Minnesota Twins. That’s a passion, I for one, would have loved to follow. However, students can and should pursue their passions for as long and as hard as they can.

  14. The pursuit is more important than the achievement itself. By pursuing their passions, student not only develop their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, they also develop sticktoitiveness, the ability and desire to fight for what they want.

  15. Although pursuing a passion might not lead directly to that passion (e.g., why I’m not the shortstop for the Twins), it does help students find careers that are ancillary to their passions and that place high value on their strengths.

  16. Flexibility & Creativity

  17. Until you reach college, most educational goals can be achieved through a mixture of hard work and a desire to do well. In college and in the workforce, a great emphasis is placed on the ability to be flexible when faced with challenges and to respond with creative solutions.

  18. Creativity doesn’t just exist in the art world! Business leaders need to find creative ways to develop their brand. Engineers needs to find creative solutions to a design flaw. Teachers needs to find creative ways to motivate their students.

  19. Flexibility isn’t the same as being a pushover. What it does mean is being willing and able to roll with the punches. If your poli sci professor changes the assignment at the last minutes, it means being able to change your plan and write on a new topic. If your boss hires your for one position but then gives you work that doesn’t “fit” your background, it means able to learn on the fly and get the work done. Flexible workers are always in high demand!

  20. Intellectual curiosity

  21. The best students, and the best workers, have a real curiosity about the world. They want to learn. They want to challenge themselves. They want to understand the world on a deeper and more complicated level. I don’t care what my students are curious about! However, I do want them to be curious. I do want them to look beyond the textbooks or the lecture notes, beyond what their friends or parents have told them, I do want them to ask questions and to form their own understandings of the world around them.

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