9 traits every student needs before graduation

Although things like proficiency in math and science are important for students who are ready to graduate, there are intangible traits that students should have before they move on to high school, educators say.

At GCE Lab School in Chicago, values including accountability, purpose, autonomy and gratitude are worked into the curriculum.

“They are our core values. For us, they are the four principle values of global citizenship that form the foundation of achievement,” says Kate Klein, head of school for GCE Lab School. “For us, though, we re-think what achievement means. For global citizens, achievement is a by-product of gratitude, purpose, autonomy and accountability. Students know how to learn, enjoy learning and engage their peers, families and communities in their paths of inquiry and demonstrations of mastery.”

As this happens, students’ success can be measured through more traditional ways: high scores on ACT/SAT tests, college enrollment, internship placement and international study and service.

Accountability is important because it is learning about risks, setbacks, setting goals, responding to challenges and growth, Klein says.

Developing a sense of purpose and autonomy are important as learning shifts from being a chore to a natural extension of their interests, Klein says. “School becomes meaningful when students are motivated—when they make a conscious decision to follow where their curiosities lead,” she says.

Gratitude is also another important component of being a global citizen, she says. “The concept of gratitude encompasses hard work, humility and conflict resolution—all critical attributes for high-functioning individuals as they transition into subsequent stages of education, professional careers, and personal relationships.”

Compassion goes hand-in-hand with gratitude, says Karen Carney, head of school for the Chicago Friends School in Chicago.

“Students should do service projects,” she says. “That’s really important because it’s easy to think about the troubles of the world being too big for one person. You might think, ‘I can’t do anything about it,’ but if you pick something you care about, and do something concrete, you can change the world for good.”

Learning peaceful conflict resolution is also an important skill, she says.

“You have to learn to resolve a conflict honestly and by facing up to your own role in the conflict,” Carney says. “You have to have empathy with the other person, and that’s hard. Saying I’m sorry and actually meaning it takes a lot of courage.”

It is also important to learn self-care, says Dan DeMoss, a teacher at Chicago Grammar School in Chicago.

“The first thing students need to know is how to take care of themselves. At CGS, small class sizes allow teachers to build rapport with students and support them as whole individuals,” he says. This means going beyond the basics of biology and reproductive health to talk about other areas of well-being, including mental health, sleep, electronic media, self-advocacy, consent and peer relationships.

Phillip Jackson, head of school for Chicago Grammar School, says one important beyond-the-basics skill students need is good writing skills.

“It is important that eighth-grade students go off to high school with writing skills necessary to be successful for the demands in the early years of high school,” he says. “Writing …. is a lot of fun at CGS since we use such rich materials. By the time our students are in junior high, they are working with some hefty and challenging reading. They have to work with the variety of writing styles used by authors. High school should not be the first time they encounter a difficult author.”

Carney says the final, important trait graduates need is passion.

“You have to be able to do something you really care about,” she says. “Every kid has to learn to read and do math, but you have to pursue your interests, whether it be paleontology or Japanese cooking. You have to be able to go deep into something you care about. You have to explore what makes you come alive.”

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