The personal qualities we carry with us beyond school don’t simply define what we’ve learned. They show people who we are—who we’ve chosen to be. So the right choices are critical to success in every part of life.
These kinds of qualities build our relationships and partnerships, online and offline. They play a part in our prosperity and success. They help us decide when to take action and when to observe. They help us decide how much we continue to grow and learn in a changing world. Each of our personal qualities has a practical application in our daily lives.
They can’t be measured by a standardized test. Nevertheless, they are qualities every student can benefit from developing. In many cases, they are some of the most important life skills we have as members of a caring and fruitful society.
So which ones stand out above others? Which personal qualities matter most? There are many schools of thought on this.
Let’s take a closer look at some of them, at least. This is not a comprehensive list; it’s rather a snapshot to begin your own considerations. Most importantly, let us consider their part in the process of creating a life well lived. In the end, that’s really what we wish for every student in our classrooms.
What Personal Qualities Matter In Our Lives?
There are suggestions in a popular article we penned about the critical 21st-century skills students need. Those are still somewhat academic in nature, though. We’re looking beyond that.
As you explore the following personal qualities, think about their practice. What makes them so valuable to us and to others, and to our students? How do they shape us? What part of our nature is defined by them? When do we use them personally, and when with others? Most of all, how can our students benefit from a deep awareness of them?
Curiosity is a hallmark of the desire to learn, and to keep learning. When we thirst for knowledge and discovery, we grow as people. Our mind is a muscle that needs constant exercise. Being curious leads us to that exercise by way of new learning.
Why can’t it be measured? Because it must be encouraged. The classroom experiences we provide as teachers plant the desire for lifelong learning in our students. The way we teach must inspire that curiosity. We help develop students’ curiosity by making learning exciting and rewarding. Learning something new gives us pride, and a sense of accomplishment. When rewarded with encouragement along with new knowledge, curiosity develops naturally.
It takes all kinds of people to create a world. Everyone has a story, and some of these stories can be very sad. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had this to say about compassion:
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
How about that? Compassion really can be our first thought, especially towards those who have hurt or wronged us. Most of the time, it isn’t even about us anyways. This is a knowing our children can carry forth into every one of their relationships, however brief. Compassion heals the heart of the giver, and shows the receiver there is always another way.
Why can’t it be measured? You can no more measure compassion than you can count the stars. It can certainly be learned and given conscious focus. Taking its measure, however, is no more than a matter of perception. We either seem compassionate to people or we don’t. It depends on who is judging us at the time.
In the end, the most important thing for our children to know about compassion is this: when we find it most difficult to use is when we must use it most.
This is always an interesting debate. It comes down to perception again. What is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are the essentials here. As a society we will always be conflicted to varying degrees about this as individuals. Opinions will vary dramatically. That’s fine, as long as we can make it a healthy and meaningful discussion. Encouraging this aim in our students is a good place to start.
Why can’t it be measured? It is our students’ ultimate responsibility to decide on their own moral compass to guide them through life. This happens with life experience and critical thinking to form opinions and outlooks. With enough knowledge, they will choose the path that is right for them. We can’t really measure or test this in any accurate way.
Our job as parents and teachers is to help them form morals that focus on what is best for a happy, safe, and productive community. This refers to personal, local, and global communities. Teaching morality isn’t about teaching conformity—it’s about teaching wisdom and wellness for all.
Humility is more than just being humble and modest. It concerns the recognition and appreciation of the strengths and talents of others. It gives a nod to the creativity and sensibility in everyone around us. In this sense, humility ties in with Global Digital Citizenship.
Why can’t it be measured? It’s difficult to define levels of humility. The truth is even some is better than none at all. Humility shows others we have a desire to keep learning and growing. We know we have done well, but it is our personal aim to do better. Humility inspires us and others to always strive for new heights. It is also a way to honour those who have achieved great things before us.
It’s hard to find personal qualities that rival the importance of being thankful. Gratitude thinking fulfills our wants on the highest levels. It does this by acknowledging the presence of everyone and everything good in our lives. It even acknowledges the difficulties, and the lessons we learn from them. As ever, what we focus our attention on expands.
The more you give thanks, the more you end up having to be thankful for. Take it from Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you say in your life is Thank You, that will be enough.
Why can’t it be measured? Because gratitude should be immeasurable. There should be no end to it in our daily thoughts. Being thankful allows good to multiply. It’s also infectious and contagious. We just feel better when we appreciate what we have and receive.
Remember, gratitude isn’t paying lip service. It’s a matter of the heart. When you see and feel gratitude, you can’t describe it. It fills every part of your mind, body, and soul. It’s exactly like love—you just know you’re feeling it.
Personal qualities like perseverance can serve us well if directed toward worthy goals. Too often when things get rough, the temptation is to just quit. It’s a natural human condition to lose faith sometimes. It can be in ourselves or in others, but it happens. We just want to give up. How often does this happen with our students?
The mindset we give them can be one of striving rather than struggling. That is to say, “advance confidently in the direction of your dreams,” as Henry David Thoreau advised.
Why can’t it be measured? It’s unfair to place a marker on tenacity. What good is it to say “you didn’t try hard enough” when we have no way of knowing for sure? That’s focusing on the wrong part of the issue. We must encourage our students to give the best of what is in them. We must first accept, though, that it won’t always be our version of 100 percent.
Student life is hard, and so is youth life. We sometimes forget this as adults. For whatever reason, kids will come to school carrying loads that consist of more than just what’s in their backpacks. They’ll be at 75, 50, 40, even 25 percent sometimes. You know what giving 100 percent of 25 percent is? 100 percent, period. That’s perseverance, and it should be celebrated rather than graded.
Many things fall under the blanket of self-awareness. Things like understanding, intuition, personality, beliefs, and attitude fit the bill. Having self-awareness is not a new-age flight of fancy. It’s the starting point to every Improvement we make in ourselves.
Having self-awareness is crucial to leading a fulfilling life. Understanding our own needs, strengths, and weaknesses helps us adapt with change. Regardless of the multiple attributions given to the aphorism “Know Thyself,” it’s good advice for living well.
Why can’t it be measured? Achieving self-awareness is a life study and practice. We will always be discovering new things about ourselves with every trial and every victory we have. Making it an ongoing pursuit can be a part of a student’s lifelong learning path. The benefits they will reap from truly knowing and learning about themselves are innumerable.
The personal qualities we inspire and encourage in our students are life-changing. They are tools that every student can possess naturally and transparently. They will help them decide the best paths and make the wisest choices. Every student deserves to succeed in life. How we empower them in ways beyond the academic will make all the difference in that success.