Two Skills Every Student Needs

Mentor6There’s an ongoing tension that educational leaders constantly feel on their jobs. Almost every educator I interact with these days faces a tension between two realities:

  1. The need to prepare students for the test.
  2. The desire to prepare students to be ready for life after graduation.

This is the dilemma of 21st century education. The conversation goes on in primary schools, secondary schools and in higher education.  We know our ultimate job is life and career readiness, but our immediate job is test scores. I wonder if we decided to cultivate two skill sets, we might see improvement in both our immediate goals and our ultimate goals as educators, leaders and parents.


According to a 2016 survey of employers—the number one quality sought for when hiring team members is the very human quality of leadership. Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University in Boston reports that more than 80% of respondents indicated they look for some form of leadership on their resume when they hire; followed by ability to work on a team, 79%.

Interestingly, even though there are only a set number of leadership positions at any given place of employment—employers said they want everyone joining the team to think and act like a leader. In other words, it’s not all about a position but a disposition. This data should encourage us to reflect: How are we cultivating leadership skills and qualities in our students?


In another survey, executives reported the top skill they desire when hiring new team members is strong speaking skills. In fact, clear oral communication skills received the number one spot among fifteen job skills employers and hiring managers seek. The numbers showed 8 in 10 executives, and 9 in 10 hiring managers (Human Resource Managers) identified it as very important in new hires right out of college. Unfortunately, those same employers say they have a tough time finding job candidates who are good communicators, according to a survey released recently. Oral communication ranked higher than critical thinking, ethical decision-making or teamwork skills. This should encourage us to ask: How are we cultivating strong communication skills (beyond a screen) in our students?

I don’t have an easy answer to this dilemma.

Two Big Priorities

I do believe we can find ways in our daily schedules to improve our students by building leadership and communication skills. By this I mean, taking time in the midst of our teaching hard skills, like math, reading, science, etc., and focus on soft skills like communication and leadership. I know dozens of high school principals, teachers, college professors, counselors and coaches who do this each week. They’ve simply added to what “compliance” requires of them to build ready-for-life graduates. How do they do this in the midst of a busy schedule?

  1. Some require students to do a math problem on the white board (or smart board) and articulate exactly what their strategy was in solving a problem.
  2. Some hand over part of the class time to the students to lead their peers in preparing for an exam, thus making them “leaders” with a clear goal.
  3. Some coaches turn one of the weekly practices over to the athletes, letting them lead and communicate with their teammates the drills that day and why.

This has been adapted from a post by Tim Elmore of You can read the full article at: Two Skills Every Student Needs Before Graduation