We Asked Teachers What Their Most Successful Students Have in Common, and Their Answers Might Surprise You

Plus, suggestions for building the skills that matter most.

Sponsored By EVERFI

We all know that students need to learn more than reading, writing, and math in order to succeed. What you might find surprising, though, is that when teachers describe their most successful students, social-emotional and career-readiness strengths—skills that aren’t found on most standards rubrics—come up first. But what are those skills, and how do we help kids develop them? Read on.

Successful students know what they want and why.

Some students just seem to have that “little voice” in their head. They know how to set goals and determine what they need in order to get where they want to go. In addition, members of our WeAreTeachers community told us that students who are able to see and articulate their “why” are more successful than those who can’t. Other students need a little coaching to develop that insight.

How to practice it: Self-motivation starts with knowing what you want and need. We like the free Keys To Your Future curriculum from EVERFI, which helps students identify their goals and potential resources for help. “Keys To Your Future starts with a self-assessment survey that gets students really interested in thinking about their personal goals and unique skill sets,” shared one Michigan teacher.

They’re not afraid to ask for help.

Successful students know how to advocate for themselves and ask for help when they need it. After all, teachers are not mind readers. “I have over 100 students,” says one member of our WeAreTeachers community, “and I have a general idea of which kids are struggling, but I’m not a mind reader.” Becoming a strong self-advocate is essential for future success. 

How to practice it: Nurture a safe environment in your classroom. Set the standard that all ideas are welcome and listening and learning are valued (and ridicule is not tolerated). Use anchor charts to model how to ask strong learning questions. Create a culture that honors each student’s individual learning path. 

They’ve met, and have made friends with, failure.

Whether you call it persistence, grit, resilience, or simply the art of not giving up, teachers say that knowing how to overcome failure is key in determining success. “I get students in high school that have never failed before,” one teacher from our WeAreTeachers community tells us. “And the first time they have any type of a setback, they are a ball of anxiety and self-doubt.” Environments in which mistakes are not only expected but celebrated set students up for success.  

How to practice it: STEM activities are a great way to nurture persistence, since it’s a built-in part of the design and engineering process. Check out Endeavor, EVERFI’s free STEM curriculum for middle school, to help build persistence through real-world exploration and thinking. Students learn hands-on skills, like how to use algorithms to design the perfect music playlist or use a 3-D printer to design their own custom sneaker. “For STEM in particular, I enjoy that Endeavor facilitates technology usage along with independent learning. It allows me, as the teacher, to be a facilitator and for students to control their own learning,” shared one Endeavor user.

For successful students, teamwork is a natural reflex.

The nature of work is shifting, and successful students recognize that teamwork is essential for keeping pace with the challenges of today’s competitive world. Chances are, most will spend a great deal of their professional lives collaborating and working on teams. A supportive, collaborative environment that values different ideas, perspectives, and attitudes goes a long way in teaching these skills. After all, these differences are what create value and positive impact in the classroom and beyond. 

How to practice it: These 33 awesome team-building games and activities will help students develop and practice teamwork skills that make a difference. 

They’re ready to shake things up. 

Teachers who’ve been working with middle and high schoolers for a long time say that having an entrepreneurial spirit is a common characteristic among some of their most successful students. In fact, an article written by the  Association of MBAs reported that, in general, young people reject traditional hierarchy. “They are not impressed or intimidated by it and do not necessarily respect it,” the article states. “They seek experience, challenging projects that move fast and keep pace with the world they inhabit […] and are principally bored by traditional hierarchies which they perceive as being slow thinking and moving.” This vision sets the stage for a new generation of innovation. 

How to practice it: Consider Venture, an entrepreneurial expedition program from EVERFI for grades 7–10. With Venture, kids use case studies and interactive business simulations to learn key entrepreneurial skills. “My students really enjoyed making their own decisions and seeing the outcomes of those decisions,” said one Ohio teacher who uses the Venture program.

But they also realize they can’t go completely rogue. 

Successful students don’t make up their own rules when it comes to assignments. They make sure they understand and follow directions before they execute any project with their own unique flair. They recognize the importance of meeting deadlines and organizing their time. Successful students find systems that work for them, whether it’s a digital calendar or a paper planner, and stick to them. 

How to practice it: Try a fun, create-your-own treasure hunt project with students. Provide them with the basic parameters, including rules, time frame, and objectives. Emphasize that every group will be assessed on the basic framework of the assignment but that they will have complete freedom as to how they format their version. 

They’re already thinking about the future.

Successful students have the maturity to see the big picture. Today’s world is a very competitive place, and they realize the importance of making the connection between what they’re learning in school and the effect it will have on their real lives. For example, many of our students know very little about how to balance a simple budget, set financial goals, or save for the future. Heck, a lot of adults we know are short in this department as well. But there’s no denying that it’s an absolutely critical skill for future success. Savvy students recognize that the work they do, and the skills they build in school, all contribute to their financial future and their happiness. 

How to practice it: It’s never too early to introduce basic financial-literacy concepts. EVERFI offers lots of curriculum and interactive resources that can help, including the popular FutureSmart program. “If my students don’t get the chance to take a business class in high school or their parents do not teach them, they will then have to figure it out on their own. I didn’t want to leave it up to chance,” says Gianna Gurga, a middle school teacher who uses FutureSmart. 

Thanks to our friends at EVERFI for sponsoring this post. We love EVERFI’s free, interactive curriculum for nurturing classroom and real-world skills. Check out some of their favorite programs here.