By: Erin Werra

Graduation may be the culmination of many years of academic work, but in the grand scheme of students’ lifetimes, it’s just the beginning. Students will need to master much more than core academic subjects to thrive in college and career.

Schools are exploring ways to cultivate highly sought after “soft skills” students can put to good use in whichever career path they choose (think time management, problem-solving, self-control, grit, productive struggle, to name a few). Encourage students to polish their self-management skills with these four opportunities for autonomy.

Positive attendance

When districts shift to a positive attendance system, students actively punch in to their class instead of being counted by a teacher—whether they use a barcode, a PIN, or a biometric equivalent is up to the district. Teachers spend less time on attendance administration, and students must take responsibility for themselves or risk being marked absent or tardy.

Schools are extending this method to the main office using automated kiosks to cut down on time spent manually writing out tardy slips. Instead, students use a kiosk to punch in if they arrive late and get a printed slip to use as a hall pass.

Positive attendance helps students learn effective time management. And there’s an added layer of safety—positive attendance helps keep track of where each student is in the event of an evacuation or drill.

Flexible scheduling

Breaking out of the rigid structure of traditional scheduling adds opportunities to practice accountability. Methods like flex mod scheduling, which breaks the day into short 15–30 minute modules, offer flexibility and free up time for enrichment. Students may have very unique schedules which shift daily, challenging their time-management skills. At the same time, they may also be able to take an additional exciting elective or fit in some tutoring or self-study.

These rewards demand students improve working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control—all components of executive functioning. The opportunities flexible scheduling offers can be motivational since students have more time to pursue interesting subjects and take ownership of their learning paths.

Living portfolios

It’s a common-enough scenario in the business world today: Two similarly-qualified candidates apply for a competitive job. Their resumes are similar, and both appear to have the necessary skills to excel in the position. One leans heavily on credentials and experience, while the other leads with an online portfolio packed with evidence of professional achievements and talents. Who is more likely to move on in the process?

In a world where everyone has credentials, the professional portfolio has emerged as a differentiator. It makes sense: Rather than sift through buzzwords or work to pull out relevant examples in interviews, hiring managers prefer an up-front look at what their candidates can do and have done, not vague generalizations about what they might be able to do if given the position. Students who are eyeing entry-level positions can lean on schoolwork to make up for professional experience if they keep a curated portfolio on hand. Platforms such as Badgr, LRNG, or credly can facilitate this.

Beginning with early childhood education, digital badging helps lay the groundwork for meaningful representation of work completed. At the junction of gamification and incentivization, digital badges give kids proof they “leveled-up.” It’s a way for students to show their mastery instead of listing achievements with a few hasty details.

As students grow, they can add artifacts of work, research, writing, and more. Some may find value in showing the different steps they took to create the projects they showcase as well, providing evidence of productive struggle. The key will be pruning and curating portfolios along the way to produce a truly stellar record of achievements future employers can appreciate at a glance.

Student-led parent-teacher conferences

If district leaders want to bridge the gap between schools and parents, why not start with the person connecting them—the student? Instead of leaving kids out of conferences, keep students involved in these important discussions.

Student-led conferences connect kids’ core beings—who they are at home—with the important work of learning they do at school. Rather than being talked about as a third party by authority figures, then finding out what was discussed later, students may shine if they’re given the chance to invite parents and navigate the discussion.

Those aforementioned portfolios can offer a great guide for conversations at conferences, particularly if students have captured details of their learning journey or have a budding career in mind. Giving kids an audience and a platform to discuss their work gives them a new source of motivation and a deeper layer of meaning to learning.

When districts create academically challenging environments, students can rise to the occasion and develop invaluable skills. Responsibility, time-management, motivation, and other self-management skills won’t just get kids a higher GPA—they’ll help students grow into successful, productive adults after graduation.

Erin Werra is a writer at Skyward and Advancing K12. She spent sixteen+ years learning, then went on to scrutinize the inner workings of practice, learning data, and edtech in K12 schools. Follow her on Twitter at @erinwerra.
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