Talking Points: Seven Survival Skills for Tomorrow, Today

What we know about the future is that we know very little about the future. The paradox of life is that the only thing that doesn’t change is the fact that things change.

Kindergartener demonstrates her numeracy thinking during a one-on-one performance based assessment.

In thinking about the changing landscapes of business, international relations, and climate, it becomes clear that our students will need a diverse set of applicable skills in both the short and long terms. As a result, when we think about how to “school” them for future success, we must think about transferable skills.

Transferable skills are those that can be applied in various fields of study and/or work. These are skills that make it possible for an individual to change careers and immediately contribute at a high level. Or to enter a new situation—be it high school, college, or career—and not just survive, but thrive.

Tony Wagner, who is the Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard Graduate School of Education, has developed a set of seven “Survival Skills” he sees as essential for today’s students in tomorrow’s world. He writes, “These skills are the same ones that will enable students to become productive citizens who contribute to solving some of the most pressing issues we face in the 21st century.” 

These skills are:  

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving – The ability to apply knowledge and skills toward finding solutions in novel contexts.
  2. Collaboration and Leadership – The capacity to work in teams to identify, analyze, and address challenges.
  3. Agility and Adaptability – Possessing the mental flexibility to effectively “read” the landscape, incorporate new information, and change course as needed.
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism – The inventiveness and ingenuity to envision new approaches, strategies, and ideas, and the resolution to try them, and learn from their failures or successes.
  5. Effective Oral and Written Communication – Proficiency in translating ideas and research into coherent content accessible to others in meaningful ways.
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information – Focusing beyond simple factoids to find, understand, and incorporate new information through the use of the brain’s executive functions.
  7. Curiosity and Imagination – The deftness to leverage divergent thinking to ask questions, innovate, and envision the tackling of big ideas.

Such skills run the gambit of professions for which they are essential. Doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, organizers, leaders, writers, perpetual students, and any and all careers and lifestyles in between, benefit from practitioners who possess and employ these skills. In fact, such practitioners are the innovators, the change agents, and the learners best suited to shape the world to come.

What does it take to foster these skills, to cultivate them in our students?

Well, it doesn’t mean we shun the knowledge and skills that accompany a more traditional approach to education – facts, information, grammar – but rather, it means we leverage them differently. Memorized facts are not the ends, but the means. Knowledge, information, and basic skills become the tools that help students construct an understanding of the world and how to interact with it.

Unpack the types of projects happening across the CLC landscape and you will find these skills embedded deep into the work. They are the cornerstone of the Cornerstone curriculum, if you will. From the integrated, multi-modal exploration of narratives in preschool to the student-initiated interstate service projects in middle school to the inquiry-based science experiments in middle elementary, knowledge is employed, but it is the seven survival skills that are learned.

In this way, we see the whole child at work—engaged, supported, challenged, safe, and healthy—and ready to face the challenges of the 21st century.

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