Byron's Babbles

Success In Aspirational Terms

This past week I heard a person say that “success should be measured in aspirational terms.” The more I thought about it, the more I like it. In education I believe we need to think more aspirational in the way we prepare students. In other words looking beyond just credits and a diploma to the outcomes of what a student should be able to do now and be capable of learning to do later.

Let’s use an example that gets used a lot – welding. It is short-sided to think that having a student be in the single pathway of learning to fuse two pieces of metal together is enough. Don’t get me wrong, good careers await the student, but that’s not aspirational enough. This is why I believe in achieving multiple pathways. A student with aspirations for welding should also be studying computer science. Computers have become an indispensable part of welding processes. Computer, and even artificial intelligence, are required for the execution of many welding operations today. We can only imagine this need for knowledge of computer science will increase. Industry is telling us that welders will need knowledge of lasers, computer program, robotics, artificial intelligence, materials engineering, and systems integration to advance.

With the increased demand for highly skilled and technically sound workers, our students will need to shape their careers around multiple areas of expertise. This aspirational approach will enable their lifelong learning and ability to be agile to a ever-increasingly fast changing world.

We need to be deliberately aligning our student’s aspirations and abilities. The scene in the movie “The Martianwhere it doesn’t look like it will end well for astronaut Mark Watney he sends this message to be relayed to his parents:

“Tell them I love what I do and I’m really good at it. And that I’m dying for something big and beautiful and greater than me. Tell them I said I can live with that.” ~ Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, in The Martian (2015)

Try and tell me that’s not aspirational. We all need to find what we love and what we are good at. It’s not either or, and we need to help students find that balance as well. Some would say that aspiration is magical thinking. I don’t believe it is a magic trick to strategize about the future, help students invent themselves and us reinvent ourselves, push upscale, and keep a growth mindset. Without deep thought and planning about measuring success in aspirational terms, it just becomes a vacuous platitude, or “thing,” as I like to say. But taken in the context of enabling the future, career/skill agility, and student outcomes, measuring success in aspirational terms becomes about being prepared for what we don’t know we need to be prepared for.

Durability of Expectations

IMG_5030In a meeting I was a part of this week we developed a phrase that has caused me to do a lot of thinking: “Durability of expectations.” Our work was in the context of thinking about student success, outcomes, and what the profile of an Indiana high school graduate should look like. I like to combine all of this and talk about student success outcomes. Success looks different for all students and some students have not really had an opportunity to have success modeled for them or even know what success can look like. I have often said that it is ludicrous, in some cases, to ask our students what they want to be or do in life because they have not had the opportunity learn what all is out there. That is why I believe it is so important to make sure we are doing a great job of career exposure, career exploration, and career navigation for all students. We need to career coach our kids.

Success: “Knowing what one wants in the world and knowing how to get it.” ~ Dr. Felice Kaufman

We must make sure we are giving our students the opportunity to innovate, be creative, and take risks. This will help them to persevere, adapt, and develop a growth mindset and begin to understand lifelong learning. We need to help our kids understand what is out there and that getting where they want to go will be a non-linear process in many cases. Most of the career paths those of us in the baby boomer age are characterized of having relative stability. The career paths for today’s students are now times of discovery, restlessness, and exploration. The last I read, boomers will switch jobs 11 times during our lifetime, but millenials and younger will not only switch careers but change entire career trajectories. Therefore, the modern career trajectory isn’t necessarily a climb to a destination, but rather a continuum.

illustration-playground-climber_superdomeWe will need to offer solutions to our students that help them understand and give them the opportunity to skill, re-skill, and up-skill as they embark on their non-linear career paths. This is why I am such a believer that we must begin to identify the transferable skills our students. These skills, according to employers, hold much more weight than the traditional way of looking at academic records or even work history. Life is not linear, it is more like a Jungle Jim, so we need to make sure we are facilitating learning for our students that gives them the transferable skills to have durable expectations of what they can do. In other words, our students can have a lasting expectation that they have the skills to start and understand how to stay skilled to make the desired career moves that become available. Even if our students take a non-linear path in life, if they have credentials and transferable skills they will have what is needed to provide the on and off ramps to whatever career moves come available. This will give durability to the expectations our students have as they move through life and professional careers.

The old adage that you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards is true, but we need to give our students the ability to zigzag. By preparing students through career coaching, exploration, work based learning, and transferable skills and credentials we will add durability to the expectations of our students and their parents. We have an obligation to make sure our students are prepared to see and be prepared to seize the opportunities no matter how unconventional or surprising.

 

Using A Different Runway To Help Students Take Off To New Heights

This morning as I was trying to fly home from Charlotte, North Carolina, the pilot came on and said there would be a slight delay. Because of the storm that was Hurricane Michael, we were going to have to use a runway that they usually do not use. He told us we would be using the runway going to the northeast, whereas typically the north/south runways are used. They would need 15 minutes to recalculate takeoff speeds, routes when in the air, et cetera. I was cool with it as long as we got in the air, headed north, and away from the storm.

As you know, I love metaphors, analogies, and similes; so here we go: I compared this to how, as teachers, we must constantly be making adjustments. We are constantly having to recalculate for our students and use new runways. We regroup students based on data, we spiral in new material based on mastery, we develop ways to maintain the proficiencies already mastered. Adjusting and recalculating instruction also means providing more opportunities for students to learn successfully based on information you gather such as their interests, work habits, motivation and learning styles and academic performance. Doing this on a consistent basis helps refine instruction so they can succeed.

Great teachers are those who know their students abilities, know the students proficiency of standards, and then use that information to determine how and what they will teach. They use educational standards and differentiation to guide instruction, while constantly focusing on 1) what the students know, and 2) what objectives (or steps) they need to take) to fulfill their goals. They focus on what the students can do today. How about you; Are you recalculating for a different runway for the success of your students?

Employers Need To Know What To Expect

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 4.43.46 PMIn meetings this past week a theme developed: Employers need to know what to expect. This was referring to the fact that employers need to know what to expect that students coming to work for them will know. As I have continued my work, as an Indiana State Board of Education member and Chair of the Indiana Graduation Pathways, I am spending a great deal of time with employers, learning the employee skill needs. It is abundantly clear there is a skills gap, but I do not believe it is insurmountable. I believe the answer is to identify those transferable skills and competencies that every student needs. Additionally, the transferable skills and competencies needed for specific trades need to be identified.

Even though the study dealt with college students, The Chronicle For Higher Education reported on a study that dealt with the question of “The Thing Employers Look For When Hiring Recent Graduates.” What the study found was that employers really value experiences outside of academics: Internships, jobs, volunteering, and extracurriculars. I have to believe this would also apply to high school graduates. From the many employers I have visited with, I would have to say that these things do apply to high school students. Maybe even more!

Below is the graph of the results from what employers want:

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 4.03.54 PM

One of the pieces of our Indiana Graduation Pathways we were very explicit about was the need for Work Based Learning and Project Based Learning. Just so we are on the same page, Work Based Learning is an educational strategy that provides students with real-life and real-world work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills and develop their employability skills in a relevant context. Work-based learning encompasses a wide array of learning experiences, from exposing high school students to careers through activities like job shadowing, to providing incumbent workers with specialized training. Work-based learning extends into the workplace through on-the-job training, mentoring, and other supports in a continuum of lifelong learning and skill development. I really want to highlight the point of lifelong learning. We really need to get out of the fixed mindset that the pathway everyone should take is to graduate high school and go straight to a four year college/university. This is not for everyone and Work Based Learning can help provide an avenue for our students.

Work Based Learning is at its most powerful when experiences advance along a sequential, purposeful continuum. Experiences along the continuum are increasingly personalized and aligned with specific industries and occupations, providing participants with opportunities to contextualize what they learn and build their skills and knowledge. This also can provide the employer with a pipeline of employees that have been trained in their own environment and on their own equipment. In this setting employers know exactly what they are getting.

Even beyond the Work Based Learning, however, employers need to know what to expect from the students that will become their future employees. We need to partner with employers to develop transferable skills and competencies that all students need to know. We really need to take a step back and fully develop what every high school needs to know when he/she graduates. Make no mistake, I am not saying students do not need math, English, and the other cores we always discuss, but that there is more. Employers need to know what to expect from the future employees, that are our students. We need to listen and make sure what employers expect is what employers get. Furthermore we must also make sure our students know what to expect they will be expected to know when entering the workplace.