Guest post by Renee Trotier

One of our recent Rockwood Summit High School (RSHS) graduates came back for a visit after a few months of college. His observation was that the course content was not a problem, but the most important aspect for success in college was actually time management.

The conversation stuck with me because I learned this same lesson the hard way from my own children as they embarked on their freshman year of college. My son said, “In high school, the bell rings and you simply go to the next class.” In college, he didn’t feel prepared to use the open time in his schedule in a productive way when he could choose to simply take a nap or socialize with friends.

This year, RSHS has expanded our view of what it means to be college and career ready, and our staff has identified “soft skills,” which we call “essential skills” to focus on schoolwide, including:

  • Self-management
  • Self-awareness
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving

We have worked to integrate development in these areas—along with literacy and technical skills—across the curriculum. Our staff identified these skills from our study of CASEL’s work on social and emotional learning; Framework for 21st Century Learning; and the “Redesigning the High School Experience” report conducted for our district by Hanover Research.

RSHS, like most other high schools, has fantastic opportunities for students to develop these essential skills in a robust offering of extracurricular activities. We also have some unique opportunities for students to hone their skills through meaningful long-term projects in and out of the classroom such as our student-run radio station and our biofuel project, where our chemistry students make fuel from recycled kitchen grease to power a truck they converted to diesel, district lawn equipment, and even a school bus. We also have new cross-curricular courses including Geometry in Construction, where our students are partnering with a faith-based charitable organization to build a tiny house that will be used as transitional housing for homeless people, and an AMPED class where students apply Algebra I skills to their student-run business. Our freshman seminar students do “genius hour” projects as the frame for their library orientation. I could create a huge list of innovative projects and assignments that students engage in through individual classes and activities.

I am very proud of our school; however, I am keenly aware that these rich opportunities are not part of every student’s day at our school. The truth is that the majority of our students move between seven unrelated classes, and their work is done between bells or on their own at home. When every minute of our school day is scheduled and planned for students, it’s difficult for them to truly develop those essential skills that we know they need to be college and career ready no matter how well-planned those minutes are.

Our role as school leaders is to cultivate more innovative learning experiences and provide less structured environments in order to help students develop these essential skills. Our goal is for every student to be able to make independent choices to support their own learning and take control of their own education.

How does your school develop these essential skills for all students?

Renee Trotier, EdD, has been a teacher, instructional coach, and administrator in the Rockwood School District for 25 years. She currently serves as the principal of Rockwood Summit High School and has been recognized as the Principal of the Year by the St. Louis Association of Secondary School Principals as well as the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals. Follow her on Twitter @RSHSPrincipal.

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