4 Skills and Traits Great Schools Teach That Will Always be Essential

Most educators are aware of the “Four C’s” (Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication) and their importance in schools for ensuring the development of today’s skills in our students (I appreciate Will Richardson’s contention that “curiosity” should be the fifth “C” and is more important than the others).  But there are other essential skills and traits that many schools teach, either through learning in the classroom or by providing extra-curricular activities, which are not as widely acknowledged, but are extremely important.

From my experience being a part of schools and visiting, I have noticed that great schools teach these essentials that are timeless: 

1. The Value of Hard Work.

Easily one of my favorite quotes is from Jim Valvano:

“Hard work is no guarantee of success but a lack of hard work is a guarantee that there will be no success.”

I have been very thoughtful to use the word “learning” instead of “work” in most cases, but deep learning is hard work. But success, no matter how a student defines it for themselves, is something that doesn’t come without a lack of determination and effort.  I have seen many people outside of education talk about students learning to be “entitled” within a school, but I believe that creating environments to ensure students have every opportunity to be successful is no more “entitled” than an employer doing things to put their employees in the best situations to be successful.

The major shift happening in education is more on what the students create with these opportunities. My friend AJ Juliani shares, “What are you doing for the students that they can be doing for themselves?”  This is a great reminder on who should be doing the “work” in the classroom.

I remember in my first years of teaching a speaker joined our district and shared the following:

“Why is it at the end of the day that students walk out of school with energy and teachers are exhausted?”

It always stuck with me.

Great schools know that if you want to see the success of the teacher, watch what the students are doing, not the teacher. They emphasize the importance of work ethic to their students to create opportunities for themselves in the future.

Which leads to the next point.

2. Time Management.

Time management is not talked about enough in education although it is crucial to current and future success.  When someone says, “I don’t have time for this” a couple of things can be happening:

a) They don’t see value.

b) They are not able to coordinate their time in a way where they can bring it to fruition.

If people see the value but can’t find the time, time management is a skill that needs to be developed like any other skill.

Students develop these skills in abundance in many ways. Balancing things like school with extra-curricular activities and a personal life is not easy, but in my time as a student, I learned how to find ways to ensure that I was able to get done what needed to be completed.

Although “time management” is crucial, we have to look at what we are asking our students and decide, “is it adding to the plate or adding to the person?”

For example, the question of “homework” is one that educators have debated for years. I would say that I would lean “against” homework, but I am in no way an absolutist on the topic. I have seen teachers give homework that is meaningful and relevant to students (adds to the person) that goes beyond filling out meaningless worksheets at home (adds to the plate).  Childhood only comes once, and I am a huge advocate of kids being kids. I am not sure filling their home life with extra work is beneficial, but I would suggest the book, “Ditch That Homework” by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller if you want to dig deeper into the topic.

Being said, I am not against students doing school work at home. There is a difference. I used to tell my students that they would have a certain amount of time within the classroom to complete projects or assignments, but they would have to learn to manage their time. If they didn’t use it wisely, they would have to finish it elsewhere and at another time.  Students would have to learn their boundaries and figure out what worked for them and how they could manage within a class.

As an adult, I have noticed that people that thrive in life are often experts at managing their time and make every second count, with personal, professional, and leisure. This is a skill that we need to develop with our students as the positive impact goes way beyond “work.”

3. Humility.

I recently shared this article, “Why Humble Leaders Make the Best Leaders” and I loved these key points of “humble leadership”:

Do they credit others? If a candidate fails to acknowledge the contributions of others in helping to achieve their successes, it’s a red flag.

Do they admit to mistakes? A humble person not only admits to making mistakes; they seek to understand what they did wrong and what they should change going forward. Be especially careful of candidates who blame others and exempt themselves from responsibility.

Do they accept constructive feedback? Does the candidate admit to receiving criticism in previous jobs? How did they respond? Ideally, the candidate will acknowledge the validity of the feedback and demonstrate a thoughtful response…

Do they strive to overcome their weaknesses? We all have skill gaps. Has the candidate recognized their own and sought to improve?

If you read all of those points, these are all skills that great schools teach students, consistently and with purpose.

A mantra I have for myself and share with those that I advise in their careers is “Be humble, or you will be humbled.” This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have confidence, but confidence is being comfortable with knowing you have weaknesses, that you can always get better, and that you can learn from every interaction and person you can encounter.  These are skills that all students and adults can benefit.

4. Kindness

This might seem like “fluff” but I have noticed schools having a focus on teaching students to not only accept other students but to celebrate their gifts and unique abilities.  I remember walking through a school hallway at the end of the day after a professional learning opportunity and noticed students writing notes to every single student in their school and posting it on their locker to share what they appreciated about them. It was a direct result of a teacher’s influence and program in school.

Kindness does not equal weakness. Being kind when someone isn’t is often a sign of tremendous strength.  We start in kindergarten teaching our students the importance of sharing and all through high school, and beyond, great schools teach the importance of collaboration through active listening and honoring the voice of others and being respectful. 

Kindness is a tremendous strength that great schools emphasize often.


The experience and traits I share are not the experiences of every single student and parent within schools. There is a reason I continuously said “great schools.” Culture is not something we only develop with the adults but with and for our students as well.

Like the “Four C’s” these skills and traits should be something that we focus on to develop within our students as these attributes developed, in a positive manner, will have an enormous impact on their future and the positive environment of our schools today.

Source: George Couros