Survival Skills



Early Childhood Development and School Readiness Training

Survival Skills is a program that helps schools and school districts succeed in improving student behavior, academic performance and reducing teacher attrition. The program was developed by Dr. Ken Gordon, a nationally renowned child development expert, in response to increasing behavioral disturbances and poor academic performance in a major urban district's schools. Survival Skills is centered around teaching teachers and administrators the repertoire of skills they need to enable students to improve their developmental skills - requisite school readiness skills - that are social, emotional and cognitive in nature. Research shows these skills are necessary for children to succeed academically and socially.

Key Program elements are:

  • Teaching teachers how to identify, remedy, and reinforce the necessary social, emotional, and cognitive skills in their students
  • Building children's self-management and self-mastery skills
  • Building a strong school/parent partnership to establish consistency in reinforcing positive social, emotional, and cognitive skills in children across natural settings (school, after school, & home)
  • Using data to inform prevention and intervention approaches to maximize time on task in the needed skill building area
  • "Operationalizing" the IEP by integrating Survival Skills techniques and data management into a seamless delivery mechanism
  • Integrating skill building into the core content academic areas
  • Teachers earn Permanent Certification Credits



Survival Skills was implemented throughout the Philadelphia School District for a 5-year period. During that time 25% of all of the Special Education teachers in the city were taught to use the Survival Skills method. Methods were employed to involve the parents in the Survival Skills program. The results of the 5-year implementation were:

a) Improved Academic Performance of Students - Prior to the implementation of the Survival Skills program, few children in Special Education classes were mainstreamed because they were not performing at grade level. The Special Education students, who were all between the ages of 6 to 10 years, had serious behavioral disturbances, and were seriously academically impaired. Prior to implementation, none of the students had reading skills above the pre-primer level. Students were evaluated for exceptionality and eligibility for special education through multidisciplinary assessments.

Additional teacher administered evaluations of reading and mathematics were used in accordance with the Individual Education Plans of each student. After 2 to 3 years in the program approximately 1/3 of all of the students could be transferred to regular classes because academic skills had increased to grade level. The remaining 2/3 of the students improved in their academic performance at least 1 grade level per year, which they had not been able to accomplish before.

b) Behavioral Improvement - Children were aided in developing crucial behavioral skills. This resulted in children internalizing the skills they needed for self-control. This lessened the need for crisis intervention, as the children learned to prevent outbursts, as a result of gaining mastery of their impulses. Behavior improvement was indicated on varied daily/monthly behavior reports. The introduction of a consistent systematic approach to the teaching and documentation of behaviors led to the marked improvement of student behavior.

c) Improved Teacher Retention - Prior to the implementation of Survival Skills, there was a 90% burnout rate for teachers of elementary level Emotional Support classes over a three-year period (30% per annum). When the program was implemented 25% of all Philadelphia ES teachers entered the program. The 75% of ES teachers that did not participate in the Survival Skills program continued to burnout at a rate of 30% per annum. However, the 25% of ES teachers that participated in Survival Skills, during the 5-year period, had a burnout rate of near ZERO. (One teacher in this group died of cancer after being in the program for three years.) This reduced burnout rate was the result of teachers no longer facing chaos in their classrooms, and experiencing success through the children's newfound academic and behavioral success.




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