In The Global Achievement Gap Tony Wagner achieved laser precision with naming and explaining the seven vital skills today's students need in order succeed and live a rich, interconnected life. He devoted years of his life to the research and practice that led to his distilled seven skills. As I pondered his list and was charged by my own professor with deciding on seven survival skills that I fully embrace (either Wagner's, my own, or a mashup of both), I could not get rid of any of Wagner's seven skills. From what I read, what I perceive of the world now, what I see in my students, and what I am constantly learning from my own children, Wagner is spot on with his list of seven vital survival skills:
As for my added eighth skill of Empathy, it is vital because we live in a diverse and interconnected world where, in addition to being able to communicate effectively to solve problems, and to adapt to the ever-changing conditions, one needs to be able to empathize with conditions, problems, emotions, structures, that arise in the world in order to even begin to collaborate in solving issues. One needs to be able to tap into that sense of putting him or herself into other people's shoes, especially when the issue at hand is a foreign or unfamiliar one. Empathy involves opening up one's inner space so as to try to understand the person or the situation, not from only an analytical perspective wholly or necessarily, but from a human perspective, with the purpose of trying to see the situation at hand through the eyes of the people affected by the situation. This is a complicated skill to teach, especially since many situations demand empathy from many different angles- but it is vital. Empathy leads to understanding of big picture and small picture together. True empathy reduces fragmentation and invites comprehensive understanding. Empathy reminds us that our problems are HUMAN problems. Modeling and teaching empathy is as vital as teaching any other skill if we are to prepare students to, not only survive in this world, but to live a rich life and to contribute to the world in a way that helps others to do the same.
Tony Wagner's book is a gem: honest, direct, transparent, researched, and valid. These seven- make that eight- skills are ingrained in me as my directive: Go forth and make sure students are able to add these skills to their tool belts! Every lesson I create will address these skills. What is really cool is that since I have read this book and begun this program of study, some of my old lessons and units don't sit right with me anymore, and I realize it is because the skills those particular lessons focus on are not on my list of Eight Life Skills. Those lessons don't sit right with me anymore because I no longer find value in them when viewed through the lens of my eight skills. When this happens (and it happens regularly now), I have one of two reactions: