UP FOR DEBATE: Education

Rethinking How Students Succeed

A wave of noncognitive skill initiatives holds promise for making teachers more effective and students more successful.


Paul Tough

To develop effective learners, change the environment in which students learn.

Camille A. Farrington
Senior Research Associate CCSR

Students and teachers must believe that failure is not their destiny.

Roger_Weissberg_headshot_CASEL Roger P. Weissberg
Chief Knowledge Officer CASEL

Collaboration matters as schools implement programs to enhance students’ social and emotional development.

Bridget_Laird_headshot_WINGS Bridget Laird

After-school learning can contribute so much to developing effective learners.

Brittany_Butler_headshot_SSIR_Character_Lab_education Brittany Butler
Executive Director Character Lab

It’s not all figured out, it’s not just about poor kids, and it’s not a zero-sum game.

Ellen_Moir_SSIR_headshot_New_Teacher_Center_NTC Ellen Moir
Founder & CEO NTC

Five social and emotional learning challenges that educators face, and how to navigate them.

Jeff_Tricia_Raikes_SSIR_headshot_Foundation Jeff & Tricia Raikes
Cofounders Raikes Foundation

The idea of developing learning mindsets needs a groundswell of support.

Lija Farnham
Manager The Bridgespan Group
Mike Perigo
Partner The Bridgespan Group

We need to integrate effective learning practices into teachers’ daily work.

Jill_Vialet_SSIR_headshot_Playworks Jill Vialet
Founder & CEO Playworks

Play and recess offer largely untapped opportunities for adults to help students become more effective learners.

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  • BY Alex from Storybow

    ON February 18, 2015 03:01 AM

    What a great insightful article! Interesting research!

  • Elizabeth Farrar's avatar

    BY Elizabeth Farrar

    ON February 19, 2015 01:15 PM

    I have only had a chance to read half of this article and plan to read it when I have the chance to really absorb the details.  As a Mom to a child who is a high performer acedemically and at the same time has anxiety disorder ontop of scensory processing disorder I see the disjoint very clearly.  My daughter has the ability to meet the acedemic requirements but the need for a school structure that assists her with learning the non cognative skills as detailed in the article.  From my point of view this falls to the parents to provide the mentoring to develop all of these skills and it is a difficult task to do this while working full time and without any exposure to “how to”, relying on our personal experiance and understanding.  I can see how as you move down the economic ladder the direct relationship of time and knowledge dissapate. 
    I applaud the move toward this and at the same time recognize how slowly system change occurs so have more hope for my grand children and at the same time hope that this and other initiative catch fire and prove me wrong.

  • ” while others aim to build academic mindsets and behaviors such as the belief that failure can lead to improved learning.”

    WOW! What a load of crap! Stay away from our kids!

  • BY Eduardo Briceño

    ON February 20, 2015 07:35 AM

    Scott, I think the quote you pasted can be misinterpreted.  What this research is showing, as related to “failure”, is that it is helpful for people to understand that in order to learn to do something we don’t already know how to do, we have to take on real challenges and risks, and when we do, we’re bound to make some mistakes.  If we reflect on what we can learn from those mistakes, then we can learn and improve at a faster rate.  Here’s another article that goes deeper into that: http://community.mindsetworks.com/blog-page/home-blogs/entry/mistakes-are-not-all-created-equal

    Bridgespan team and Paul: thanks for the great work!  Sorry we had conflicting commitments and couldn’t make the first convening, but I hope we can have some Mindset Works presence in future convenings.  Looking forward to further collaboration!


    Eduardo Briceño
    Co-Founder & CEO
    Mindset Works

  • BY Linda Simmons

    ON February 23, 2015 04:04 AM

    I am always a firm believer that we really need to improve the overall learning experience for teachers as well as students make learning more fun and effective we should encourage our teacher to think out of box and support them when they do. That same old boring classroom studies with books and lecture may not be as effective as occasional outing and learning by activities and nature.

  • Sam Dharmapala's avatar

    BY Sam Dharmapala

    ON February 26, 2015 05:07 AM

    There is also a role for companies: My company in the Philippines employs survivors of trauma (including trafficking) to do data entry and outsourcing work for companies in the West.  We used insights from Paul Tough’s book ‘How Children Succeed’ in developing our training program (it ended up being a core reference).  Half of our training content is devoted to non-cognitive or ‘soft’ skills.  In particular we emphasize conscientiousness, grit and resilience.  The transformation we have observed has been beyond our expectations.  They are able to consistently self-regulate their performance and behaviours.  A recent project with over a million data points had a first pass quality rate of 99.6%. 

    The competencies discussed in the article above work in the real world - and reverses years of neglect.  Thank you Paul for your book – the impact for our company has been profound. 

    Sam Dharmapala
    CEO & Co-founder


  • Lija Farnham's avatar

    BY Lija Farnham

    ON March 6, 2015 08:43 AM


    Thank you for your thoughtful reflections and comments. You are so right to note that parents play a critical role in supporting children and youth to develop the types of skills and mindsets we discuss in the article. And it’s hard to know exactly what this means and how to do this well. The research is clear that the contexts and environments that children are in make a huge difference in their growth as effective learners, and interactions with adults (parents, teachers, after-school educators, etc.) are an important element of a child’s experience in any setting.

    Our hope is that many more environments (home, school, after-school programs, community, etc.), and the adults who build them, can provide the supportive elements that will help children and youth to develop the mindsets and social and emotional skills that will contribute to their success—and do so in more aligned, consistent ways. There is a lot more to learn about how to really do this, and the initiatives we highlight (and many more out there) are progressing our collective understanding of the actual practices and strategies that work.


  • Lija Farnham's avatar

    BY Lija Farnham

    ON March 6, 2015 08:47 AM


    Thank you for responding to Scott’s comment and further explaining the mindset research. We are excited to learn more from Mindset Works and see how your work progresses in the coming months and years!


  • Interesting article.

  • BY Barnaby Willett

    ON March 17, 2015 01:09 PM

    Thanks for a fantastic overview on the broad field of noncognitive learning. I’m with a nonprofit, Peace in Schools, which is bringing mindfulness education to high school students. We are driven by the question, “How would our world be different if everyone had access to education which focused on self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship development?”

    Because students are taking our class as a full semester course, there’s a great depth and duration to our program. This is our attempt to address the goal to make SEL “integral to the student experience.”

    From student self-reporting we’re hearing that all of our students are integrating mindfulness tools into their daily life outside the classroom, some to a greater degree than others. 98% say they’d recommend our class to a friend. One student wrote, “I’ve learned a lot about myself and my personal needs. I’ve learned that life isn’t always black and white, you’ve actually got options, which was very helpful for me to discover. I really wish that mindfulness could be a more widespread knowledge.”

    We’re one model out of many. What’s clear is that SEL is a necessary part of teen education that serves to both support students as human beings and enhance their ability to achieve at the cognitive and academic level.

    Barnaby Willett
    Director of Administration
    Peace in Schools



  • BY Sylvia Jaideep

    ON March 25, 2015 04:53 AM

    I am a school principal in India.  Your article is a treasure.  It has laid a thinking cap on my head.  I am going to help my rural village students and enhance their ability.  But I do not know how your suggestions of after school program (WINGS)will work out for us.  Because our students come from many kilometers 25 kms to study, and I have less resources.  Give me some inputs .


  • BY Kimberly Mitchell

    ON April 13, 2015 02:17 PM

    I love that we are talking about shifting adult/teacher mindsets in coordination with students. We have found success with this by offering clear and relatively easy-to-implement strategies to start shifting mindsets (a “belief follows practice” theory of change). Thank you for sharing this research.

    Kimberly L. Mitchell
    CEO, Inquiry Partners

  • BY Eric Schaps

    ON April 14, 2015 09:09 AM

    I am glad and relieved to see that the authors recognize a) the importance of creating a supportive school climate and culture, and b) the need to provide front-line educators with adequate preparation, for the success of initiatives aimed at equipping students with SEL and/or academic mindset skills.

    Too often these points are overlooked. Schools must meet students’ basic needs for safety, belonging, autonomy, and efficacy in order to engage them effectively in any kind of learning.

    And for any kind of fundamental change in classroom practice, teachers typically need much more in the way of professional development, and ongoing guidance and support, than school districts ordinarily provide.

  • Interesting article.  I think pedagogical staff need to be trained in many aspects of the SEL so that they can better work with their students.  This is especially important in urban schools were youth are often facing so many stressors and teachers don’t know how to address them and as a result focus on punishment or referrals to other services that take the learner out of the classroom.

  • Thomas J Phelan's avatar

    BY Thomas J Phelan

    ON April 18, 2015 07:52 AM

    Very interesting article. I believe education to be the cornerstone of our nation. Our ability to educate our youth and provide them with the necessary tools both cognitively and emotionally will determine our nations course. What is so interesting is the idea that teachers have to be taught how to relate to their students. I have a relative who is now a vice principle at a junior high school. I once asked them how they do their job. Their response was that every teacher to be effective must be able to love and discipline their students st the same time. Not physical discipline. Encouraging discipline. Un other words, be a mentor. I also agree the parents need to be actively involved in their childs education. To be able to voice opposition to curriculum if it is not compatible with their beliefs. We are beginning to realize that education is not a one size fits all model. Children have different needs. Different modes of learning owing to different types of intelligences. Add to that the hone life variable and teaching becomes a daunting task. I for one support teachers and the work they do. If we can help them be more effective by providing training on the emotional side then I’m all for it. Education is a vast area of concern we must correct if our country is to thrive in the future.



  • BY Hulk Joshua

    ON April 18, 2015 09:03 PM

    I think the role of parents in the learning of a child is the most critical one even greater than that of the teacher. Problem these days parents think that as soon as they pay school fees then they dont want anything to do with the learning of the child, they just want to see results. I hink the use of technology can really help to involve the teacher more in a childs education. I can imagine if my child schools gave me access to an app that would indicate to me the assignments my child has and their progress at school. e.t.c it would really make parents more involved in the learning experience

  • Thomas J. Phelan 's avatar

    BY Thomas J. Phelan

    ON April 19, 2015 01:32 AM

    Hulk; you are absolutely right. Most parents don’t get involved with their childs education. As if it was someone else’s responsibility. A daunting task to be sure but one I readily accept daily for my children. Technology can only go so far. What we need is a fundamental paradigm shift nationally. For children to attain success starts with parents at home. We must be the role models for them. Setting standards for them to achieve is good only if wr provide the tools and the environment for success.

  • BY Andrew Frishman

    ON May 4, 2015 02:21 PM

    I am glad to see these vitally important issues raised to the fore in conversations about how to improve education. They resonate deeply with our work at Big Picture Learning (http://www.bigpicture.org). We worked to develop a guide entitled, “The Role of Noncognitive Skills for Student Success” (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/role-noncognitive-skills-for/id904019800?mt=11)

    Elliot Washor and Charlie Mojkowski have written about the ways in which we need to transform what is considered student success and achievement in their recent book “Leaving to Learn” (see more at http://www.leavingtolearn.org/). They provocatively ask if we should be focused on the expectations that educators have of students, and insightfully offer that we should instead more strongly consider the students’ expectations of their learning experiences (and by extension the design of the school, and pedagogy of their educators). I would be very interested to hear folks’ reactions to this 3 min video on the topic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K96c-TGnSf4

  • BY Eduardo Briceño

    ON May 5, 2015 11:48 AM

    Thanks for sharing Andrew.  Great 3 min. video, and yes, Big Picture Learning is doing great work!  Looking forward to reading Leaving to Learn.


  • Sue Panella's avatar

    BY Sue Panella

    ON May 7, 2015 12:51 PM

    Great article, and I loved Andrew’s 3 minute video. If our educational system is going to adequately prepare our children and youth for the challenges and opportunities in today’s world, these expectations MUST become imperatives. Bravo to all the efforts to increase the learning mindset in our educators and students!

  • Lija Farnham's avatar

    BY Lija Farnham

    ON May 8, 2015 01:07 PM

    Andrew: Thank you for sharing about Big Picture’s work and thank you for the link to the Leaving to Learn video. The student expectations/imperatives certainly resonate as critical components to an excellent education!

    Connecting this theme of student engagement with some of the themes in the article and in the comments above, it seems that the approach needs to be “both-and” so to speak. We need to think both about the lens of the student (what are her expectations, needs, learning desires, and how can educators and schools keep her engaged and excited to continue to learn) AND the lens of the educator (how can we best equip educators to respond to those student needs and catalyze and sustain effective learning across whole classrooms of diverse learners).

    As others have noted, the current system does not sufficiently address either lens or set of needs, yet the promise and potential of every student lives at the intersection of effective teaching and effective learning.

    Our hope is that more support to help educators help students become effective learners will enable more students to reach that promise and potential!

  • BY Pat Kilduff

    ON May 28, 2015 10:34 AM

    Where would creative mindset intersect or diverge from learning mindset?  At the Children’s Creativity Museum we are focusing on nurturing a creative mindset in youth and the adults who work with youth.

  • I accept the idea of after-school and after-college learning. The official education isn’t the end of self-development. We’d always try to jump higher in our opportunities, knowledge and activities. So I believe that permanent learning will bring us to success for sure.

  • BY Zez Ale

    ON May 2, 2016 01:52 AM

    . I can imagine if my child schools gave me access to an app that would indicate to me the assignments my child has and their progress at school. e.t.c it would really make parents more involved in the learning experience

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Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

By Paul Tough

Building on his previous work about the importance of personal traits such as perseverance in student success, Paul Tough focuses Helping Children Succeed on how educators, policymakers, and parents can help children develop those attributes.