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definition - critical skills

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Critical Skills

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Critical Skills is an educational curriculum first implemented in 1984 in the United States.It is currently in use in over 10,000 classrooms in the US, United Kingdom and India.


In 1981, a collaborative council of business leaders (DEC, Sanders, Hitcherer), non-profit organizations (United Way, New Hampshire Charitable Fund), colleges (Dartmouth College, University of New Hampshire, Antioch), the New Hampshire Department of Education, and school districts (Nashua, Milford, Keene) met to discuss the Carnegie Commission report, A Nation at Risk. In the summer of 1982, the council sponsored 18 teachers to decide what skills are vitally important for students to have at the end of school to be successful. The teachers also described the kind of classroom necessary to develop these skills. At the same time, the council also sponsored representative council members to meet and decide what skills are lacking in the work force that impede individual and organizational success. The teacher and council groups, independently, come up with a virtually identical set of skills critical for personal and corporate success.

From 1983-85, funded by the newly named Corporate Council of Critical Skills, 48 teachers from the southern tier of New Hampshire attend Critical Skill Institutes. Peterborough Middle School was chosen as a lab site for development of the program, with Peter Monether and Peter Eppig as lead teachers.

In 1986, Antioch New England Graduate School adopted the program, to be run out of the Environmental Science Department, and Peter Eppig was named program director. Four institutes involving 48 teachers were run that summer. Program development centered on classroom teachers implementing the tools and goals of the program, teaching summer institutes and meeting to debrief the summers and suggest changes to the model. This would become the process of choice for the development of the program and model. In 1988, Wendy Mobilia, an Antioch graduate student, joined the program as full-time faculty and created the first book on the Critical Skills Classroom, which became the reference manual for institutes and the guide for teacher implementation. This was later followed by a similar book for teachers of younger grades, the K-3 Coaching Kit: Support for Educators of the Primary Grades written by Betsy O'Leary, Betty Reid and Diana Leddy. In 1989, Shirley Lear, a veteran science teacher from Ashland, New Hampshire, became the first full-time field supervisor for follow-up support.

In 1990, twenty institutes were held, 14 in New Hampshire and 6 in Maine. Over 1,000 teachers had taken institutes since 1986. In 1991, New York teachers were taking institutes in-state thanks in large part to Bruce Bonney, the first New York teacher to attend an institute. Bonney later joined the Critical Skill Program as full-time faculty. In 1992, Vermont followed suit. 1993 saw Massachusetts institutes and the development of a leadership institute. In 1994, the first Level II institute was developed and implemented. The experiential learning cycle became the focal point for both the summer and classroom models.

1995 witnessed the start of the M.Ed. Critical Skills Option, and Rick Gordon joined the program to oversee the graduate studies part of the program. 1996 was distinguished by the initial use of the EBD Coaching Kits and the advent of level III institutes.

By 1997, there were over 50 EBD institute coordinators from New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. Peter Eppig, who had guided the program since its inception, became the Chair of the Education Department at Antioch New England, and Wendy Mobilia and Rick Gordon were named co-directors of the Critical Skills Program. It is now known as the Critical Skills Programme in the UK and was at one time known as Education By Design in the US. In 2005, the Critical Skills Programme became self-sustaining, with its own leadership community. It is now the most widely used professional development activity in the UK and Scotland.

In 2004, the Critical Skills Model became part of the fabric of the schools in Auroville, India, thanks to a 6-week effort on the part of master teacher Brenda Johnson. Brenda continues to maintain a relationship with the community, returning frequently to provide additional training and support.

In 2005, Education By Design was reconfigured once again, re-emerging as the Antioch Center for School Renewal. The change in name reflected a re-orientation of the way the organization would function, but re-affirmed its foundation in and ongoing commitment to Critical Skills as a catalyst for whole school change.


  • Critical Skills Level I Coaching Kit 1988, Education By Design Level I Kit (c) 1993
  • O'Leary, B, Reid, B and Leddy, D: K-3 Coaching Kit: Support for Educators of the Primary Grades, The Critical Skills Program, 1999.


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