Sometimes a child’s academic success is most influenced by non-academic abilities. Prior to achieving academic success, a child needs to master prerequisite soft skills before learning can be achieved. Children learn these skills from the responsible adults in their lives, and without those skills, academic success is often elusive.

Prerequisites for academic success in the new year include:

• Daily attendance: Children miss learning opportunities every day they miss school. Children do get sick and life happens, but the habit of daily attendance is a skill for lifetime success. Adults who regularly miss work are soon unemployed. Some children manipulate parents into letting them stay home from school for unacceptable reasons such as they are tired. Adults frequently go to work tired, tired from caring for their children. Student achievement is directly correlated to student attendance. Chronic absenteeism challenges relationships with teachers and other students, and attendance problems that manifest in elementary grades usually become academic debilitating.

• Commitment: Children cannot be academically successful without developing determination to learn and succeed. Academic achievement and any type of life success is a lifetime habit. Children learn commitment from accepting family responsibilities, developing a reading and writing habit, practicing and studying academic skills and completing out-of-school responsibilities. Children also learn commitment from sports and activities. Commitment within a family includes sharing household responsibilities and being available to help other family members. Learning any worthwhile academic skill requires commitment and persistence. Steve Jobs showed commitment when his first two computer companies failed, and he was determined to be successful. Abraham Lincoln showed commitment by running for office after a series of political and personal failures.

• Positive attitude: Another necessary lifetime skills that precedes academic learning is approaching life and new experiences with the attitude that daily events and relationships will be successful. A positive attitude makes people happier and more optimistic; positive people attract similar people. Positive thoughts also reduce worry time and negative thinking. Studies correlate happy thinking with happy people. A positive family environment helps produce optimistic children. A positive attitude is a lifetime asset that results in inspiration, creative thinking and confidence in the face of adversity. Optimistic people expect success. Children can learn optimism from reading stories of inspirational characters.

• Accountability: A soft skill that sometimes takes a lifetime to learn (and sometimes, unfortunately, is never learned) is accountability — taking responsibility for the circumstances in one’s personal life. A child’s academic success depends on accepting accountability for personal learning. For example, if a child does not understand a math concept, the child needs to meet with the teacher for help or arrange for tutoring outside class. Accepting accountability means not blaming others for personal shortcomings, and successful people find paths to be successful. A major difference between high school students and college students is that college students generally accept full responsibility for their academic success.

• Respect for property: Similar to previous skills, respect for property is primarily taught by actions rather than words. Adults model respect for property with behaviors such as not opening a car door into an adjacent car, depositing trash and recycling into appropriate containers, walking on walk paths rather than on lawns and through shrubbery and properly maintaining home appliances. Family members should also be discouraged from wearing other’s clothing without first asking permission. Respect for property is a necessary classroom skill and a prrequisite to learning.

• Appreciation for people: A lifetime skill that needs to begin as early as possible is appreciating people. One of the earliest learned acts of appreciation is the simple “thank you.” Prior to appreciating others, children must first appreciate themselves. Parents need to remind children of their strengths such as being a helper, trying their best, being a good team member, and being a good listener. Parents reinforce appreciation by asking children: What did you do today to help someone?

Delco News Network readers, I thank you and appreciate your support of “Conversations in Educations” in 2017. Writing this column since 1985, I also appreciate those editors who have supported me: Dottie Reynolds, Chris Parker and Peg DeGrassa. Thank you, and happy New Year 2017.

Dr. Joe Giampalmi, an assistant professor at Rowan University’s Department of Writing Arts, has been teaching writing for 52 years. Author of five books and dozens of educational articles for national magazines, he has been writing this semi-monthly column since 1985 and has published more than 600 columns. Some past columns are available at Giampalmi regularly presents writing workshops for schools and businesses. Please address questions and comments to

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