In our standards-based education system, we are engaged in a never-ending effort to teach every high leverage skill. We focus on skills that are so critical that they are foundational for learning standards far into the future. If you have ever worked with a student that had gaps in his learning, you can instantly tell where his gaps lie. You can quickly identify the skills that he is missing. Some students close gaps quicker than others and some never do. Why is that?
Some people feel that reading comprehension, fluency or numeracy are the highest leverage skills, and they are from an academic perspective. But without the mindset for learning, these skills struggle to grow.
So what is the highest leverage skill?
Some people look beyond academics and feel that self-confidence is the highest leverage skill. With it, you can do anything. Without it, growth is minimal. Kids, that make the biggest gains, do so because they have been hard-wired to believe in themselves. This positive image of one's own abilities generates strength and the desire to take risks. Like it or not, self confidence is not the highest leverage skill.
Some believe persistence is an invaluable skill. To learn difficult concepts, kids must have resolve. They must keep going when they hit the brick wall. Persistence is what turns practice into progress, but I'm sorry to say that while persistence is valuable, it is not the highest leverage skill.
Enough Already, What is the Highest Leverage Skill?
Hope. Eric Jensen sited hope as the difference between students of poverty making it or not. Hope is the eternal belief that life will get better. No matter the obstacle, circumstance or barrier, hope of a brighter future is the only thing between a student's reality and his potential. In short, self-confidence and persistence can't exist unless there's hope.
How do we teach hope to our kids?
Educators must transform the role of content-instiller into that of hope-builder. We possess massive potential to turn hopelessness into a viable vision. We build hope in students by doing the following things:
1. Help students create their own meaningful pathway to a better life.
2. Set challenging but realistic goals to measure progress along the way.
3. Guide students to find short-term wins.
4. Facilitate student thinking and problem solving through setbacks and losses.
5. Teach kids a never-give-up mentality.
How do educators become hope builders?
1. Stop thinking about teaching content and start teaching kids. Content will come once we focus on teaching kids.
2. Connect with kids on a human level. Relationships are the pathway to learning.
3. Model hope by expressing personal beliefs in students to everyone we encounter.
4. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.
Hope is the antibiotic to fear and uncertainty. It is the GPS used to navigate the winding road of success. Hope overcomes obstacles and dissipates doubt. Finally, it is accompanied by faith, joy and love.