Earlier this year, we posted about the need to recognize there is a hierarchy of needs that families and staff were facing as we started distance and virtual learning. At the bottom of that pyramid lies emotional well-being. It is almost impossible to go beyond that level if that need is not met. Teachers cannot teach effectively, students will find learning much more difficult, and parents will have a much harder time supporting their child's learning. Deep down, I think most people recognize this to be true.
We have written about some ways to address this issue in another post. While addressing this foundation is true during the COVID pandemic, it is also essential for schools to be successful all the time. Similarly, addressing the second tier: Technical Skills, may seem more important now, but it is actually just as important for student success all the time.
This second tier has been called soft skills, technical skills, dispositions, and even 21st Century Skills. When you really dig into the research on what makes people successful, it isn't high academic achievement. It isn't even high IQ. While those things do make a difference, there are a set of skills that have been shown to be much more important. These include: emotional intelligence, delayed gratification, perseverance, determination, organization, and planning, among others.
The switch to distance and online school has been a dramatic one for students, families, and teachers. Interestingly, there are actually some students who have thrived in this environment. While one might think it was the students who were the "smartest," this is often not the case. For some, it has given them an opportunity to attend school without bullying. Others have thrived from the independence offered. What we have seen is that the students who have the highest abilities with the "soft skills" mentioned above, especially executive functioning, are the students who have been the most successful.
Executive functioning is also one of the strongest predictors of overall life success. This set of skills includes: planning, organization, self-monitoring, emotional control, and initiating tasks, among others. You can see why students with high levels of executive functioning would be more successful with distance learning.
As schools and parents work through the best way to make distance learning work, we need to recognize the importance of developing this skillset--not just for distance learning, but for the future success of our students.