When we talk about developing curriculum for our students, we, as educators and administrators, are faced with dozens of questions. Do we need to revise our curriculum? Are there basic, universal skills to master? Will certain subjects benefit our students as we look towards the digital future?

The answer to all of the questions expressed above is yes.

And while the quest to design the perfect, universal curriculum remains subjective, as an educator and parent, I consider it an essential aspect of my job to ponder these subjects frequently. Experts may disagree on what foundational elements are absolutely critical. What I’ve found thus far, is that the following five skills will prepare a student well beyond her high school years.

Person working at a desk

Empathy

Say what you will about soft skills, this heavy hitter has the potential to create future leaders that will be motivated to change the world for the better. Or at the very minimum, treat others with respect and with care. Empathy asks all of us–teachers, students, parents, coaches, to live life with understanding. When we listen empathetically, we’re imagine ourselves in that person’s shoes. How do they feel? In what ways does their pain, excitement, worry contribute to their current words or actions?

When we take the time to ask these questions, we’re able to forgive slight misdemeanors that may arise when a person is having a bad day. We’re also able to notice it. And ideally, offer support. Empathy is not a word that’s interchangeable with trigger warnings or safe spaces.  Empathy is a lens in which we see the world; a lens that allows us to judge less, offer more, and treat others with a high degree of respect. It’s a skills that necessary in our physical world, and perhaps more importantly, in our digital world.

Communication

Computers may make it easy for us to communicate with one another, however, we’re still the ones writing and creating the texts that we feed into the machines. This means our students must be accomplished readers and writers as they exit the halls of high school. Yes, the texts we use in emails and on our phones is informal. But how well a student can write will affect her time at college and in her career.

Girl Learning

Digital Literacy

We may assume that the young people living in the United States have a solid grasp of technology, however, we can’t overlook that how we use that technology must still be taught.

Yes, students are quick to understand the way a device may work, but that doesn’t mean they know how to perform an optimized search on Google or assess the quality or trustworthiness of a website. How can teachers include this significant component in their classrooms?

To start, analyzing a digital news article or video can be completed in the same way we analyze a traditional text. By leading discussions on the narrative, theme, or intention of the creator, your students will be begin to digest digital information with more purpose.

Critical Thinking

How a student learns to make decisions can affect the trajectory of his life. Critical thinking asks the student to objectively solve a problem using evidence and rationality. The critical thinker evaluates everything during the experience–including his own processes of thought. This can lead to a better outcome in a stressful situation. It can also prepare a student for college, where he is asked to flex his intellectual muscles frequently, and without the constant guidance of a teacher.

Critical thinking is not a skill that happens overnight. It’s developed over years and practiced, daily. As educators, we must work to build these skills within our students during every lesson. Let’s not rely on college to teach critical thinking. Let’s allow higher education to refine the process.

Person looking at slides of photos

Creativity

Makers. Artisans. Painters. Writers. As educators, we should introduce the act of creativity to our students by exposing them to various kinds of art. While it may seem hard to include art in disparate subjects, consider this a creative challenge to flex your creative muscles.
Study after study has proven the effectiveness of learning when multiple disciplines are woven together during a lesson. Perhaps the best part of allowing your students to flex their creative muscles is that you’ll be building empowered learners. Empowerment, like many of the skills listed above, is an elusive trait that can be hard to teach. But once a student finds power in the work she does, she’s motivated to continue learning and growing.