Teaching Kids to Thrive Essential Skills for Success: Essential Skills for Success


Debbie Silver & Dedra Stafford

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    What Your Colleagues are Saying . . .

    Teaching Kids to Thrive: Essential Skills for Success is a book that not only argues effectively for including social and emotional learning in every classroom, but also shows teachers how to do it. Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford demonstrate how SEL instruction can be woven into all subject areas at every level of preK–12 education. They descriptively outline what SEL-friendly classrooms look like, and they provide a wealth of tools and strategies for educators who want to teach beyond the standards. I recommend this book for new and veteran teachers alike who want to help students learn to thrive both now and throughout their future lives.


       Professor of Educational Leadership

       Indiana State University

       Terre Haute, IN

    Reading Teaching Kids to Thrive was like feeding my brain with Pop Rocks®! It had me captivated, wondering, and marveling . . . all at the same time. Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford provide insightful research, actionable skills, and inspirational stories, while recognizing the voices of students and teachers at the turn of every page.

       —DR. RUSSELL J. QUAGLIA, Executive Director

       Quaglia Institute for School Voice & Aspirations

       Portland, ME

    There are some books that you pick up and just cannot put down. Well, this is one of them. If you are ready to move beyond grit, then Teaching Kids to Thrive is the linchpin needed in every school system. The authors provide relevant research to build their case and share easy and simple teacher-approved strategies that can be used immediately. Any stakeholder in education who wants to transform school culture must make Teaching Kids to Thrive required reading.


       Releasing Leadership Brilliance

    Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford go to the heart of schooling students in this century—addressing the power of mindfulness and the value of empathy, and boosting the resilience of young people at a time when the world requires such a skill the most. Using relatable stories and strategies, the goal to help students thrive is central in every chapter. Like a favorite piece of music, the authors’ passion for education is extremely contagious and memorable.



       Calgary, Alberta

    Hoorah! Here is help with the overlooked aspects of teaching that matter most. Don’t just read it—study it, live with it, and you too will thrive.

       —JOHN LOUNSBURY, Dean Emeritus

       Georgia College

       Milledgeville, GA

    “Good teachers teach subjects. Great teachers teach students.” This often repeated quote of unknown origin typifies both the authors of this book and the intent of the book’s content. In a world where “all data counts but all that counts is not data,” Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford provide guidance and important information on how teachers can teach students some of the most important of all lessons, things that do not become part of the data base which too often defines students. Teaching Students to Thrive guides teachers in how to incorporate essential social and emotional skills into daily routines. These are the essential skills students need in order to realize their potential not only as students but as successful and fulfilled members of society. As well as essential information, the authors incorporate practical activity guides to enable teachers to help their students become more successful in school and in life. Anecdotes, examples, and practical activities guide the reader to become more adept in incorporating social and emotional learning skills into everyday classroom environments. This book is a must-read for all teachers who harbor the desire to help their students develop the skills to successfully navigate not only school but life itself.

       —DUANE INMAN, PhD, Professor of Education

       Berry College

       Mt. Berry, Georgia

    In college courses, education students learn how to teach academic content. In Teaching Kids to Thrive, Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford emphasize the importance of also teaching students. In a world changing at a pace rarely seen in human history, merely learning coursework won’t be enough. Today’s children need to be prepared to face challenges and have the capacity to flourish, regardless of what life throws at them. Thrive has teacher-friendly strategies and support that allow even the most experienced educators to see real cognitive, social, and emotional growth in their students.

       —CHERYL MIZERNY, Educator and Blogger

       It’s Not Easy Being Tween


    Why should you read Teaching Kids to Thrive? Students today may be the most connected generation in history, but they can’t find ways to connect with themselves. Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford masterfully illustrate that Thrive skills can no longer be considered soft. This book evidences that learning how to control their bodies and emotions is every bit as essential to modern learners as understanding how to control the devices that students love so dearly.

       —JARED COVILI, Author

       Going Google: Powerful Tools for 21st Century Learning, Second Edition

       Salt Lake City, UT

    Teaching Kids to Thrive: Essential Skills for Success is an excellent practical guide for educators who want to apply the ideas of social-emotional learning to their classroom.


       Teacher, Author, and Education Week Teacher Advice Blogger

       Luther Burbank High School

       Sacramento, CA

    Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford have answered the question educators have asked time and again: “How, exactly, do I create a classroom culture conducive to growth, collaboration, and critical thinking?” The book explores the importance of resilience, empathy, persistence, and skills related to active listening, to creating the mindset that will nurture and accelerate the continuous-improvement process. These are not “soft skills” that live on the periphery of textbook-driven, correct-answer-seeking lessons. They are life skills students need to practice—and teachers need to model—on the road to success in school, college, the workplace, and in a democracy. This is an eminently practical resource with enough research, examples, frequently asked questions, exercises, stories, and humor for all educators; and all educators should have a copy of this book.

       —RON NASH, Author/Consultant

       Ron Nash and Associates, Inc.

       Virginia Beach, VA

    I am doing backflips over having this book in my life! I work with teachers every day, and every day I field questions on how to support learners in being open and present for learning. It is true—we are educating a different type of learner than those of earlier generations. And so our teaching must shift, remembering that we teach children, not curriculum. Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford have written the guide to working with this new generation of students, one which begins with the social-emotional health of each learner. They tackle head-on the most challenging and real moments of teaching, creating a research-based, practical, tried-and-true (yet cutting-edge) handbook to simply and powerfully show learners how to ground and bloom. While this book focuses on students, the outcomes will bring joy, fulfillment, and gratitude to teachers. I have been waiting for this book without knowing it, and now it will be my go-to resource and recommended text on teaching students how to thrive in all educational settings and in life.

       —PATTY MCGEE, Author/Consultant

       Feedback That Moves Writers Forward

       Harrington Park, NJ

    There are no convenient, instant answers to solve tough issues in education, and no one “event” can make a difficult student easy to teach. Great teaching is hard work. This book lays out a brilliant process for building Thrive skills. Read the book. Practice the skills. Practice patience and perseverance. Enjoy the rewards.


       Educational Consultant/Author/Songwriter

       Boulder, CO

    Plain spoken and practical with enough neuroscientific research to support what teachers and parents have been sensing but didn’t have the knowledge to articulate.



       Timonium, MD

    It is now time for student to truly thrive! Educators have been looking for a resource that puts the reality back in education. Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford have done just that. The authors know about the importance of students understanding content, but they also realize that students must be optimistic, show integrity, understand empathy, and believe in gratitude. What we can learn from this book is that you may never lose a job in life because you’re too smart; you get fired because you’re not a nice person. Make sure you look at the book’s examples and situations and try to change your practices within your classroom or school. Let’s help our students thrive in all aspects of their life!

       —JACK BERCKEMEYER, Educator, Author, Humorist, and Consultant

       Berckemeyer Consulting Group

       Denver, CO


    We would like to dedicate this book to all the great teachers who have always known that students need Thrive skills that go beyond the test. We thank you for your continued effort to prepare students for the aspects of their lives that go further than the three Rs. Additionally, we want to voice our confidence in today’s kids, the adults who teach them, and the administrators who advocate for them. It will take all of us to ensure their ability to Thrive both now and in the future.

    —Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford


    A hinge is the primary mechanism used to swing a door open. Absent a hinge, the door remains a wall, blocking access to its other side. The Latin root of cardinal in “Cardinal Virtues,” from Plato’s Republic, is hinge. Plato’s listed virtues, then, are the hinge necessary for passage.

    Plato’s virtues include prudence (the capacity to judge which decisions and actions to employ, given the factors of any situation, or to determine whether or not something is appropriate or inappropriate), justice (fairness), temperance (self-control, discretion, and moderation when warranted), and courage (fortitude, perseverance, and the ability to confront personal fears). These virtues have stood the test of time, finding their way into religions, civic duties, employee evaluation criteria, and our cultural narratives. To this day, we lift up individuals who exemplify these virtues as our heroes, for we are sure these are the keys to personal success.

    Two thousand years later, Debbie Silver and Dedra Stafford identify the virtues of executive function, self-efficacy, self-regulation, perseverance, resilience, focus, integrity, and gratitude as critical elements to student maturation and success. They’ve tapped into the virtues river flowing through civilizations across time.

    While knowing the difference between mass and weight or distinguishing among hue, tint, and shade may land on our must-know list for students in particular subjects at certain grade levels, we don’t consider them nonnegotiable “vitals” to personal success the way we think being honest, taking initiative, and demonstrating self-discipline are.

    Consider the situations our students will face and then discern whether or not a curriculum with little focus on self-efficacy, mindfulness, perseverance, self-regulation, executive function, empathy, gratitude, resilience, and integrity would prepare them for thoughtful, constructive responses that best serve local communities, let alone a robust and civil democracy:

    • A community is divided over whether or not to let transgender students use the school bathroom and locker rooms labeled with the gender with which they identify. Tempers flare on both sides of the issue at a swim meet.
    • Twenty-four-year-old Cecilia is a newly hired programmer for a local software company, but she’s still living at home because she doesn’t have enough money for a down payment on an apartment of her own yet. She claims the homeless in her community are a drug-addled drain on taxpayers, and every time we build them shelters or provide them with meals, we’re perpetuating their drug problem, and no, she doesn’t want any tax increase to pay for mental health centers either. Her father is aghast at his daughter’s hypocrisy and lack of sympathy, and confronts her.
    • Gary hates his job, but no jobs in his preferred field are available in his community. On top of that, his family is depending on his current job to pay for food, housing, transportation, and taxes, as well as for the health care coverage they receive. So, he slogs back and forth and endures each day at work, but he’s exhausted and growing more resentful of his job and his family by the hour.
    • If Nehri eats one more celery stick, she’s going to scream. Her husband loses weight much faster than she does, yet she works out and watches her diet more. She’s curt with her husband and grumpy at work. The heck with it, she thinks, it’s not worth all the stress. I’ll start again next week. Then she pops two donut holes in her mouth, slides the sausage-and-cheese pizza into the oven, and sets the timer for twenty minutes.

    Teaching Kids to Thrive is the book many of us waited for our professors of teacher education to hand us but never received. We sat in courses and pored over historical foundations of schooling, puzzled over whether or not something was a goal or an objective, and tried to determine which theory of learning best described a teacher’s interaction with her students. Silently, we pleaded with our instructors:

    • How do I get my students to pay attention and do their work?
    • What if they get out of control in my class and don’t respect me?
    • How do I show them that I care for them without coming across as weak?
    • What if they forget stuff all the time?
    • What if they are always talking and interrupting me?
    • What if they just give up?
    • What if they ask me a question about a topic I’m teaching for which I don’t know the answer?
    • What if I don’t get along with my faculty colleagues?
    • How will I handle bullies in my classroom or among the faculty?
    • What if students have scary, heartbreaking issues at home and I’m trying to get them to care about their schoolwork?
    • What if the parents are real jerks?
    • What if I fail my students as their teacher?

    Then, a year or so into our teaching practice and experiencing a particularly rough day of negative ’nesses—inattentiveness, forgetfulness, bitterness, messiness, grumpiness, and rudeness—we finally volcano, “I could really teach, if it weren’t for all these kids!”

    Even we veterans have those days. Silver and Stafford acknowledge that reality and give us the tools to not only understand the dynamics at play, but also respond to them effectively. I wish I had this book decades before now. I wonder what would have been different with my students’ lives today if I had these insights back when I taught them. If I was now in the classroom, I would relish the opportunity to push my ego to one side, crawl inside these wonderful new perspectives, and use them sincerely with the new students I encounter.

    I don’t know if I have ever seen a book that gathers so many highly regarded and well-researched principles of social and emotional learning in one place and makes them so compelling and doable. The authors breathe life into what has been presented elsewhere as comatose or didactic. When we have questions about where to turn for more information on any one of these elements, Silver and Stafford have the resource ready. They are well read in the field, too: As I turn these pages, I’m compiling big lists of books and articles that are moving to the top of my reading lists.

    Readers will want to have a pen for annotating the many silver bullet phrases and sentences for further thinking and sharing. One of the most telling lines of the book is “There is nothing worse than schoolifying something that is natural and essential to learning.” Exactly! Silver and Stafford recognize that social and emotional learning awareness and practices are born from a clear understanding of how children—okay, any of us—learn and grow. This stuff speaks to the natural essence of what it means to be a human living in a community seeking connection, meaning, and hope.

    The problem with many teacher and school discipline programs for building students’ personal responsibility, focus, honesty, self-regulation, and integrity is that they are based on punishments and external validations that are effectively the Peanuts cartoon teacher’s wah-wah-wahs. In an effort to help students mature, some of us actually deny the natural tools of personal growth at our ready disposal. What missed opportunities, and what harm done! And then we blame the child for his lack of focus, learned helplessness, and poor self-discipline, falling into deficit thinking in which the child is flawed and must be “fixed” by society with tools we don’t have or understand. In these moments, we self-protect: We rationalize, grow callous, and remain impotent.

    There’s another path here. In these pages, students become full individuals instead of merely one more test to grade or seat to assign. There’s specific talk about restorative justice, how to battle students’ sense of entitlement, facilitating students’ growing responsibility, teaching them how to focus and be mindful, and hard-core tenacity. There is nothing “soft” or nonacademic in teaching these skills, either. On the contrary, they are some of the most deeply challenging and academically oriented skills students will ever learn. College admission officers will tell you the same: A strong foundation in these skills is a greater predictor of success in higher education and career training than GPA and many other traditional indicators. Content knowledge is acutely relevant, but skills in self-regulation, perseverance, empathy, mindfulness, and executive function are the only ways we participate and progress. Admission officers are looking for evidence of these skills in potential students.

    I shudder at the thought of driving a car while blind: How will I know where and when to turn or when to make minor adjustments in response to the quirky physics of steering a two-ton vehicle at sixty miles per hour in varied climates and road conditions and among just as quirky humans? How long will it be before I crash, and whom will I harm as I drive?

    I have the same fear of teaching while ignorant of social and emotional learning practices; I just can’t see how it can be done without undermining education’s cause and harming students. In Teaching Kids to Thrive, we gather the fortitude to address these skills in our own classrooms and to bring them up in conversation with colleagues. Silver and Stafford make a perfect case for why we teach these skills and what it really looks like when we do right by them in the classroom. The Frequently Asked Questions and Thrive Skills in Action at the end of every chapter are worth the price of the book alone. It’s rare for an education book to work so well as both compass and road map.

    After reading Teaching Kids to Thrive, educators are going to see factors at play in academic learning that they didn’t perceive before, and they will discover tools they never knew they had. Doors will swing open on critical hinges built for a lifetime.

    Turn the page, step through, and see for yourself.

    Rick WormeliNational Educational Consultant and Author

    About the Authors

    Dr. Debbie Silver is a humorist, consultant, and retired educator with over thirty years of experience as a teacher, staff development facilitator, and university professor. As a classroom teacher, Debbie won numerous awards, including the 1990 Louisiana Teacher of the Year award. She speaks worldwide on issues involving education and is a passionate advocate for students and teachers. Debbie wrote the best-selling books Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers: Finding the Rhythm for Differentiated Instruction and Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8: Teaching Kids to Succeed and co-wrote Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education. Debbie is married to Dr. Lawrence Silver, and together they have five sons in five different states. They currently reside in Melissa, Texas, with their dog, two cats, and two aquatic frogs. You can read more about Debbie at www.debbiesilver.com.

    Dedra Stafford is an educational consultant, trainer, and author. Her work has led her to speak in three international schools and more than forty states. Much of Dedra’s time is spent supporting high-risk schools in an embedded capacity. With more than eighteen years in education as a former middle school teacher and district professional development specialist working with kindergarten through twelfth-grade teachers and administrators, Dedra understands the need for practical research-based strategies that can be implemented immediately in the classroom. Dedra wrote Podcasting: A Step-by-Step Guide for Creating Podcasts and Using Them in the Classroom and was a contributing author for The Nuts & Bolts of Active Learning Lessons. Dedra is married to her best friend, Todd Stafford, and together they have a loving family of two sons, two bonus daughters, and three adorable granddaughters. You can read more about Dedra at www.dedrastafford.com.


    Debbie Silver:

    I want to thank my friend, assistant, and co-writer, Dedra Stafford, for inspiring this book and insisting that we write it. Dedra always makes me want to be better than I am. She is one of the best “Thrivers” I know.

    I want to give a shout-out to my eight grandchildren because watching them Thrive keeps me motivated to fight for a better world for all kids. It is my joy and my privilege to be your grammie, Charlotte, Gunner, Montana, Olivia, Liam, Kirby, Miles, and Kannon.

    As always my thanks, appreciation, and love go to my best friend, my sounding board, my fellow sojourner, and my biggest cheerleader—Lawrence Silver. It is great to be married to another writer who is as weird as I am.

    And finally, I am grateful to my Corwin family (all of you) and especially to the world’s greatest editor, Arnis Burvikovs, along with Desirée Bartlett, Ariel Bartlett, Melanie Birdsall, and Melinda Masson. You five are truly a writer’s dream team, and I am so thankful I have your unfaltering support. You truly help me to Thrive!

    Dedra Stafford:

    This journey began as a conversation with Corwin senior associate editor Desirée Bartlett, who challenged me to create the vision for a book that helped teachers go beyond the research to the practical implementation of the Thrive skills. Desirée Bartlett, Arnis Burvikovs, and the whole Corwin team, a heartfelt thank-you for working tirelessly to make this book a reality.

    I want to also thank my family and friends for tolerating the countless hours this book has consumed of me. There are no words to say how much you all mean to me. I am a better teacher and a better person because of the impact each of you has had on my life.

    Without a doubt, one of the greatest blessings in my life is my husband and “gardener,” Todd Stafford. I thank the heavens for bringing us together to create this loving, loud, crazy family we call our own. Your never-ending love and support allow me to fly. I love you, more.

    Lastly, with love and an abundance of respect, I thank the original consultants of the Nuts & Bolts Symposiums, who have had a lasting impact on education across the globe: Walt and Jan Grebing, Jack Berckemeyer, Debbie Silver, Rick Wormeli, Mark McLeod, Sharon Faber, Monte Selby, Kathy Hunt-Ullock, and Randy Thompson. You are the people I learned from, the people who inspired me, the people who guided me onto this path of speaking and writing, and for that, I’m humbled and grateful. And to the best nut of them all, Debbie Silver, you are more than my co-author and mentor; you are a trusted friend. Thank you for creating this book with me. Not a day goes by that I am not amazed at the talent, knowledge, and love that you possess and are willing to share. The list of what you’ve taught me is endless, and so is my gratitude. Since I have this opportunity, I want the world to know that so much of what I am and have become . . . I owe to Dr. Silver: S-I-L-V-E-R!

  • Final Words

    All of the Thrive skills need purposeful ongoing attention to best help students internalize their usefulness. We want to add our voices to those who think schools need to integrate social and emotional learning (SEL) with their own visions of teaching and learning. We strongly urge that Thrive skills be uncompromisingly embedded in the curriculum and actively integrated in daily instruction. Thrive skills should be added to teacher development programs in colleges and universities as well as addressed as a frequent topic for staff development training.

    As teachers, we never know the full extent of our influence on our students. We get glimpses now and then when we encounter students years after they’ve left our classrooms, and they stop to tell us the impact we made in their lives. Some days after a particular student breakthrough or watching students resolve a conflict with a skill we’ve taught them, we feel a tiny measure of our worth, but for the most part, we do all that we can do every day to ensure the best outcome for students and silently pray that we did enough.

    The same can be said about our efforts to teach students the skills to Thrive. Building a strong culture of student-centered learning requires that schools and teachers intentionally help strengthen relationships among teachers and teachers, teachers and students, and students and students. That kind of community building takes a strong commitment not only from administrators and teachers but also from those who shape schools through laws, policies, and financing. Our hope is that all of these parties can come together to help 21st century students learn to Thrive today and in the future.


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