Labeling Life Skills Right Matters

Labeling Life Skills Right Matters


A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But calling life skills the wrong name may actually foul up perceptions of the very skills we’re trying to promote.

An NPR story yesterday asked: Nonacademic Skills Are Key to Success. But What Should We Call Them?

Well, we’ve been calling them Executive Function skills here at Mind in the Making for some time now, and, while it may be a mouthful, it’s the most appropriate name for these roses (aka life skills).

Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making and President of Families and Work Institute, offers her take on the NPR piece:

After 15 years of research on looking at the factors that help children thrive NOW and in the future for Mind in the Making, we use EXECUTIVE FUNCTION LIFE SKILLS or EXECUTIVE FUNCTION SKILLS. The research evidence is quite strong that these skills call on executive functions of the brain and include skills like focus and self control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges and being a self-directed engaged learner.

I have problems with the other names.

First, these are NOT soft or non-cognitive or social-emotions skills—they are based on cognitive near-processes and pull together social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral capacities for goal-directed problem solving. They are NOT character (which is who you are, not what you do).

These is a growing research basis—from the studies of Adele Diamond, Phil Zelazo, Stephanie Carlson, Megan McClelland and many others. Love it if we could stick to the evidence.