Hidden beneath academic benchmarks, league tables, and other measures of success in education, are the relationships and personal traits that fuel positive and negative outcomes for students. Attending the College Access Challenge Grant Georgia Conference earlier this week, I realized this theme as presenters with extremely challenging backgrounds–such as one man who was abandoned at a bus station when he was 5 years old–shared their stories of trial and triumph. Relationships–both the ones we build with others, and the one we nurture with ourselves–are the true challenge of preparing students to be successful in school and in life.
Prefacing the College Access Challenge Grant Georgia Conference, Georgia Center for Opportunity hosted a meeting focused on the non-academic needs of students earlier this week. Presenters Reginald Beaty and Tony Owens, independent consultants and Co-Deans of Students at Paine College in Augusta, Ga, enlightened the College and Career Pathways working group with trend leading research on non-cognitive variables.
If I just lost you, non-cognitive variables, more commonly referred to as “soft-skills,” are the qualities such as self-awareness, resilience, and even time management that bridge testable knowledge with actual successful outcomes. Notable scholars such as Angela Duckworth, and William Sedlacek, Ph.D have led the conversation on how these skills can be fostered within traditional and nontraditional school settings to transform individual students’ mindsets to ensure they are better prepared to overcome adverse learning challenges.
Paring my experience at the conference with the meeting on non-cognitive variables, I gained 2 important take-aways this week:
Personal experiences with adversity can build “soft-skills” such as self-perception and grit (the ability to preserve past challenges to reach long-term goals) that aid academic success. However, the framing of these vital skills in a negative context can potentially render them useless to students.
Actively working to connect with students on an individual level, in some cases weeding through the traumas of a student’s life, can change the context through which students utilize these traits to close achievement gaps and reach personal redemption.
Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D notes in her acclaimed book A Framework for Understanding Poverty, that “support systems are simply networks of relationships.” From both meetings, the consensus was that more streamlined support systems are needed to empower students, and there is still much debate around how to deliver a more relationship-focused infrastructure. Seeking a solution for this issue will continue to be at the heart of the College and Career Pathways working group.