6 Work Skills for High School and Beyond

High school is a critical time for developing life skills like planning, working efficiently, and managing time well. Without these skills a person will struggle in school, but also in college, careers, and life in general. Unfortunately, most high schools don’t teach them. In Quest Forward schools, we’ve made them a priority.

Quest Forward Learning schools focus on three sets of skills that are thoughtfully incorporated into students’ daily work:

  • Learning Skills are central to our curriculum. Students develop these skills as they complete quests and journeys.
  • Essential Habits, or self-skills, students practice every day. For example, students practice expressing curiosity and learning from setbacks as they work on projects. Social Workers also help students to develop skills like managing anxiety and negative thinking.
  • There are also Work Skills, or executive functioning skills, which I’ll dive into more deeply below. These skills are just as important as the others. They are necessary to succeed in life and career — in any path students choose to pursue after high school.

6 Work Skills

Students practice 6 Work Skills in Quest Forward Learning schools:

The icon representing the Quest Forward Learning Work Skill "Focus"  Focus

Focus on relevant information and tasks without getting distracted, remove distractions when possible, shift tasks effectively, and take mental and physical breaks when needed and appropriate.

The icon representing the Quest Forward Learning Work Skill "Work Efficiently"  Work Efficiently

Put effort into the work you do, work hard to achieve goals, but also identify when it is time to move on even if artifacts and other work products do not feel perfect.

The icon representing the Quest Forward Learning Work Skill "Plan and Achieve Goals"  Plan and Achieve Goals

Plan for a week and a day and to complete an extended project or activity, identifying actions, sub-steps and sequences of events. Work towards and achieve goals, reflecting and evaluating progress along the way.

The icon representing the Quest Forward Learning Work Skill "Manage Time and Resources"  Manage Time and Resources

Identify realistic deadlines, prioritize tasks, and manage time effectively in order to meet deadlines. Leverage resources available to you when appropriate, such as support from peers or mentors.

The icon representing the Quest Forward Learning Work Skill "Organize"  Organize

Keep belongings and personal and shared spaces clean and keep track of tasks and deadlines using a calendar, planner, and/or other tools.

The icon representing the Quest Forward Learning Work Skill "Document and Take Notes"  Document and Take Notes

Effectively take notes to keep track of ideas and information and use tools to organize and remember ideas (e.g., annotations or mindmapping).


3 Ways to Develop Work Skills

Here are three ways Quest Forward Learning supports students in developing these skills:

 1. Weekly Planning and Reflecting

Learning how to plan, identify goals, and make progress towards goals is a skill that will help students in all areas of their life (Work Skill #3, Plan and Achieve Goals). This year we piloted a new planning process and template at the Quest Forward Academies in Omaha and Santa Rosa. Students identified weekly goals at the start of the week and reflected on their progress at the end of the week. Students identified goals for their courses, but also personal and Pathways goals.

Personal goals included goals like completing an album they were working on, practicing ballet every day, or meditating to reduce stress. Pathways goals are specific to planning for the future and might include applying to college or completing an internship task. During the 2021-22 school year there will be time during the school schedule to focus on weekly planning and reflection and each student will have an advisor assigned to help them improve their planning skills. The Quest! app students use in Quest Forward schools also supports students in identifying and working towards goals.

On this example weekly plan, students jot down their goals, how they plan to accomplish them, target dates, and the status of their goals.
Example Student Weekly Plan


“Weekly planning helped me get things done that I probably wouldn’t have gotten done if I hadn’t written it down.”

— Aloe


“The weekly planning thing was helpful to me because it allowed me to keep my goals in my head and that’s something I struggled with in the past. That’s what I always struggled with… remembering my goals.”

— Sebastian


 2. Feedback on Work Skills

Rather than high-stakes testing, assessment at Quest Forward schools is focused on providing students feedback to help them improve. Students receive regular feedback on their artifacts (work products), which includes feedback on two Work Skills: Manage Time and Resources and Work Efficiently. When students complete an artifact, mentors assess each artifact using questions designed specifically to provide feedback to students on these skills.

A sample artifact assessment screenshot shows a mentor's assessment of a student's work product on learning, timeliness, effort, and support from others.

These questions focus on the following:

  • Demonstration of the learning goals
  • Timeliness in completing the artifact
  • Effort students demonstrated in completing the artifact (Was it an appropriate amount of effort given the task?)
  • Support needed from others (Did they ask for help when they needed it or give up? Did they work independently when they could?)

Additionally, mentors provide written or verbal feedback to students that emphasizes the Work Skills, as well as Essential Habits and Learning Skills.

This is in stark contrast to practices at many schools today. When teachers return an assignment to a student marked with points or a grade, it not only sends a fixed-mindset message but is also a missed opportunity. With clear feedback regarding strengths areas to focus on to improve, as well as the space and time to address them, students have more opportunities for learning, skill development, and personal growth.


3. Document and Take Notes

Quest Forward Learning students learn how to document ideas and take notes (Work Skill #6) as they work through their courses. While just about anyone can jot something down, the ability to organize thoughts in a usable, effective, and efficient way can make all the difference for a university student or a young professional.

For example, both textual annotation for analysis and effective note-taking for research are critical skills in Exploration Phase 2 (11th grade) English. In Introduction to Early American Literature (Part 2), at the beginning of the course (one of the first two quests in Journey 1), students are asked to collaboratively annotate a text from the time period, working together to create meaning from a short, but difficult text. Then, they are asked to research the historical context for the text, making sure to record source information, while also being cognizant of skills like direct quotation or paraphrasing.

For both of these activities, students are supported with graphic organizers to direct the processes of annotation and note-taking. However, by the end of the course, students are expected to develop their own annotation or note-taking organizers as they work more independently with literary texts and research to write long-form research papers. Gaining this ownership over the process with practice and creativity helps to ensure students can adapt and continue to work efficiently into adulthood, leaning on their skills to achieve success.

Like all skills, these 6 Work Skills take time and practice to develop. In my next post, I’ll share specific research-backed strategies that anyone can use to develop these skills more.

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