Friday, April 21, 2017

The Three-Prong Education Solution - This Is All We Need

Let’s face it. If any of us had a nickel for each of the education plans and ideas that have been produced on blogs, tweets and elsewhere in the last few years, I could pay every teacher in America a $2,500 bonus. Right?
Well, what are we going to do? When can we agree that we have a few educational pedagogies and foundations, relevant to our changing world and new economy, that we can identify as where all of us need to go.
My suggestions is this simple: We need to combine the best of project-based learning, career technical education and career readiness, and the best available digital tools and resources. I should be superintendent of the western world right? OK, until then, can we work towards collaboratively calling out the three areas driving it all. How complicated is this? It’s not. PBL, CTE/Career Readiness and Tech really do cover it all. Let’s do this. Here we go:
The Pedagogy

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Project-Based Learning, or some derivative, is the future. Check with most people that are connected to the future of work and the world, and ask them what students should be doing. They will all describe something that looks like PBL. They may call it inquiry-based, challenge-based, problem-based or something else. But they are essentially talking about students taking on real world problems, challenges and issues -  that allow them to dive deep and have ownership - while producing professional, public work. Yes, it includes lots of inquiry, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and flexibility. BTW, we can embrace this or fight this, or anything in between, but it’s going to happen one way or another. Everything most of us are encouraging educators to pursue pedagogically, who are really trying to do anything relevant or impactful, is something that is PBL-like. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s more student-driven. Yes, it’s more than lesson design (it’s project design). Yes, it involves work way beyond a textbook, note taking, tests and worksheets. Work is project-based so our learning needs to follow. Anything less is not sufficient or relevant. If teachers cannot adopt or adapt, they may have to get out. Maybe new ones will want in if they see it being more interesting and meaningful.
Here are just a few of the major advantages of adopting a project-based pedagogy:
  • Real World Applications
  • Public Work
  • Student Voice & Ownership
  • Collaboration & Partnerships
  • Reflection and Metacognition
  • Problem Solving is Job Relevant and Leads To Job Creation
  • Deeper Learning
  • Portfolio Development
  • Students Can Articulate Skills and Concepts Learned
  • Community Connections
  • Four C’s Skill Development

The Purpose & The Product (True Career Readiness)

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For far long, the disconnect between school and careers has been apparent to almost everyone, including our students. Educators and others have leaned on the phrase “you’ll need this in college” when it came to explain the why to students. Simply, we need to be much more honest and explicit and make sure that we are doing in our classrooms and courses indeed has direct connection to skills and applications that our students are going to face in this very new 21st century global economy. Context, relevance, application, authenticity, engagement are all very necessary to make education work for our young people and connecting our content to careers is the means to this end. Yes, it’s Career Technical Education. But it’s really much more than that. It’s true Career Readiness that works towards creating all students to explore and identify specific career interest areas, as well as opportunities to truly develop both the technical and soft skills that the world is demanding. Career Fairs are not nearly enough. Career Reports only scratch the surface as well. We need to embed career components and connections in all of our core and elective courses. Additionally, we may need to go a lot further. For example, why can’t our English classes be a place where all students read, write, research, present and more related to various career possibilities? Since all high school students have English for four years, imagine if English became the mechanism  to connect students to work-based experiences such as internships, develop digital portfolios and professional web presence, social media literacy and so much more. Our students are entering a much more independent contractor - oriented economy and they will need these universal skills regardless of career or industry.
Here are just a few of the major advantages of connecting our education to career readiness for all students and all programs:

  • Relevance
  • Application
  • Mentoring
  • Work-Based Opportunities & Experiences
  • Career Exploration
  • Soft Skills Development and Training
  • Improved Higher Education Success and Understanding
  • Professional Learning Networks

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The Platform (Ed Tech Resources - i.e. the internet)

Over the last several years, we have seen a huge influx of technology into education. Indeed, we call it Ed Tech. This includes teachers incorporating technology into their curriculum and instruction. But even more importantly, it’s become our students using technology to produce more professional, relevant and applicable work - individually and collaboratively. Still, a good part of our education system is clinging to edu dinosaurs like textbooks, paper and pencil, low level tests and exams and industrial models of lecture-based approaches. However, the time has come for us to acknowledge that Ed Tech is just now Education. That’s right. If we are not using technology as our primary tools and and resources, we are essentially cheating our students. We now have dozens of devices and thousands of applications that allow all of us, and especially our students, to create, collaborate, ideate, innovate and initiate.
Here are some of the advantages of recognizing tech as the tool for learning for all ages, grade levels, courses and programs:

  • Multiple Sources and Resources (often free and not dependent on one text)
  • Interactive
  • Adaptive
  • Continuously Expanding Options and Choices
  • Models Professional and Academic Uses of Technology
  • Flexible (web or cloud-based available anywhere)
  • Develops Technology Skills, Digital Portfolio and Positive Digital Footprint
  • Professional Learning Networks
  • Students Become Teachers, Facilitators, Experts

Well, there you have it. To me, anything else we can discuss related to education can fall into one of these three categories that have multiple iterations and paths. Our students need to experience learning related to a project-based, career-skilled and high tech economy and world. Let’s do it (ok….if it were this simple, we would be universally doing it).
(Photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and Free Images)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Let's Drop 'College Ready' and Be 'Career Ready'

Education may not consistently be good at many things. But, it does seem to be great at both acronyms (CTE, PBL, EDI, ELL, SPED, PLC and so on)  and catch phrases (21st century learning, personalized learning, future ready). One of the more popular catchphrases as of late is College & Career Ready.
Indeed, the ‘Career’ part is a more recent addition. For years, we really just said (and lived) College Ready. I’m here to suggest it’s time to drop the College Ready and only use Career Ready. Don’t get me wrong. I do think almost everyone needs some sort of post-secondary training, especially in our new globalized economy. But I am suggesting that we use Career Ready only knowing that one’s career path should dictate their post-secondary education or training path. Additionally, it will allow us to focus on the requisite skills and planning required for young people to have lifelong employability in the 21st century.
One of the early questions to me is what does college ready really mean? There have been some established standards relating to essentially basic skills, as well as critical thinking and communication. But they are incomplete at best. At worst, they are not even relevant to true success. After all, no matter what has been done in our secondary systems, college folks have always said that our students are generally not ready.
However, I’m not here to debate the definition of college ready. I am suggesting that there is far sinister method to the madness. It is my belief that our entire secondary system has been and continues to be focused on College Readiness for all - and not true Career Readiness.
Indeed, our courses, requirements, testing, counseling and student time are heavily devoted to college-related matters. And although we have now added the world ‘Career,’ as well as a renewed dedication to CTE, the college mindset is firmly embedded in our students, parents, teachers and communities.
One might be thinking at this point, what’s the bad thing? Everyone wants to college. Isn’t that a good thing? It sounds good, but has actually a produced a series of challenges that continue to be hard to overcome.
First, while we have devised the college or university for all mentality, we forgot to check what is actually taking place in the workplace, the labor market and the economy. Here are some data points:

  • 7:2:1 - this is the ratio of jobs in our economy.  For every 10 jobs, only one requires an advanced degree, only two require a bachelor’s level and degree and seven of them require a two-year or technical degree. Actually, this has been a steady trend line for several previous decades and it is anticipated to be going forward for many decades to come (go to Dr. Kevin Fleming’s Success In the New Economy to find out more). Essentially, why have we convinced everyone to go to college while ignoring the realities of work and pathways to get there.

  • Many studies reveal that only half, or less, of all students that enter a four-year university or college degree program ever complete the program. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the total number of undergraduate-level completions per 100 full-time students, in all degree programs taking one year in length or more, is only 22.6%. You can look state by state, or college by college, and it doesn’t get much better. We have pushed more people to go, but too many of them end up not going anywhere unless you count large debt and no specific career path.

  • Grey-Collar Employment Challenge. And for the ones that are graduating or completing degree programs, ⅓ or 33% of them are either unemployed or underemployed (Grey Collar jobs) well into their 30’s.

  • Time and Money are Time and Money. Our completion rates are abysmal. Our average length of time to get a degree is abysmal as well. Then add in the financial crisis of students loan debt, and we have one messed up system not helping our young people find career success or happiness at any acceptable rate.

  • Lost in a Maze / Haze. Too many of our high school graduates are enrolling in college with no set career plan or understanding of their path. They often enroll at community colleges to take their general education classes. Sadly, the often use up their financial and burnout long before they complete any sort of degree or certificate.

  • The ‘Uber” Effect. Experts predict 40% or more of that work will be ‘freelancing.’ (See Forbes’ article The Rise of The Freelance Economy). How are our classes, programs, curriculum, instruction and career preparation addressing this phenomenon?
So, let’s be honest. Our high school counselors are college counselors and not career counselors. This is not their fault. They are agents of system that has dictated that college is our focus.
The average high school student is bombarded constantly with information about college including, but not limited to applications, scholarships, testing, financial aid, housing and more. On the other side, we have large #’s of high schoolers still going through our system with very little career planning or preparation. The majority are taking any CTE courses or classes connected to careers. Most do not spend any time in their core or elective classes researching or planning careers. Indeed, most attend a Career Fair or two and basically throw a proverbial dart of their post-secondary training and career possibilities.
Dr. Kevin Fleming and his associates have offered a variety of solutions. One is to examine how we guide our students in choosing a college. He argues that we have traditionally seen students, with support from their parents and educators, first choose a college, then a major and then a career. Fleming suggests, and I completely agree, that we have it backwards and that it should be flipped. Watch this short video that explains that and more related to Flipping the College-Decision-Making Paradigm Video.
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As Fleming and others will point out, we have created a culture of college for all students. We have convinced them to go to college, but have not created understanding of why. Our classrooms, schools, websites and literature K-12 are full of college pennants, information and facts. But we include very little, if any, about careers and career skills.
So, what should we do in addition to dropping College Ready and going with just Career Ready? Here are some ideas:

  • Change the conversation from where do you want to go to school to what do you want to do in your career?
  • Build Career Advising into our counselors’ pedagogy and priorities. We need to start with career before we go to college.
  • Build career-related curriculum into our core courses (see my previous work of Integrating CTE Into the Core Curriculum. For example, since high school students take four years of  English, could not part of their English courses focuses on career exploration and preparation. After all, what could be more important to read about, write about, research, and connect to than one’s career path? See my Odysseyware blog post "Integrating CTE Into The General Curriculum" on this. Also, What if we had math, science, and social science incorporate career exploration and CTE work into their subject matter? Why not show how professionals use these content areas and skills?
  • What if high schools had a CTE requirement each year? No offense to our other requirements, but what is going to prepare students more for their collective and diverse futures? If we had a general CTE preparation course, 9th and 10th grades could be devoted to exploration and info gathering, while 11th and 12th grades could be for internships and other work-based experiences.
  • What if our courses focused on skills acquisition and mastery ? Too many students don’t have the skills they need and many can’t articulate the ones they have. The future of work is less focused on degrees and credentials and more focused on skills that can be demonstrated. In addition to any technical or specific career pathway skills, the world of work is also asking for everything from soft skills to newer skills from the digital, global economy.
  • Some schools have gone to work-based graduation requirements such as internship for all juniors and seniors. But this can a variety of things including job shadowing, externships, internships, summer experiences, mentoring and more.
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  • We need to well beyond an annual career fair or career interest inventory. Students need to spend concentrated amounts of time consistently throughout their high school career getting ready for their professional career.
  • Build in things like individual student portfolios, websites and presentations throughout curriculum and instructional programs. These will enhance one’s resume and ability to connect with employers for internships, externships, jobs and more.  

My guess is there is a lot more that we could do. However, it won’t happen until we change both the language and the focus. It really challenges us to reflect on what the primary purpose of education is? If it’s about getting one ready for life, then we have to acknowledge that this means career first and foremost. College, or post-secondary training of some kind, will undoubtedly be in the mix for most students. But we have to make career the goal, the foundation, the conversation and the priority.

(photos courtesy of Getty Images, Foter, Flickr)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Educators' Negative Posts Not Only Inappropriate, But Damaging To Students, Profession

Recently, a group of high school educators in Southern California were placed on administrative leave for their response, via social media, to their students participating in a ‘Day Without Immigrants’ on February 16, 2017. Their school’s students were just part of thousands of students - across the state and nation - that stayed home that day in order to demonstrate solidarity with adults in their communities who stayed home from work to demonstrate the fiscal impact immigrants and immigrant families have on our local, regional and national economies.
Although since deleted, at least five high school teachers and one counselor, posted messages on Facebook celebrating that so many Latino students missed classes that day. These posts included comments about the students being ‘lazy’ and ‘drunk’, or that the cafeteria ‘was cleaner without them.’ (see entire story here: Teachers put on leave for 'Day Without Immigrants' social media posts and sample of posts below)

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Naturally, it seems most educators, as well as many parents, students, and community members, could find several things wrong with what these educators did. Yes, they are being reprimanded. And yes we don’t know what their final discipline may include. But regardless of the formal results of their actions, what are the long-term repercussions and collateral damage as it relates to education?
Personally and professionally, I am outraged to share the same profession as these educators. To me, their actions represent everything that is the polar opposite of what it means to be an educator or leader of our youth. In addition to hurting those students, their school and their community, they also hurt the profession and the on-going work that caring, innovative educators are doing every day.
Here are some of the real effects of their actions as I see it:

  1. The Real 3 R’s (Relationships, Respect & Role Models): As we know by now, education is a relationship business built on mutual respect and understanding. Nothing empowers learning more than strong, healthy educator-student relationships. Inversely, nothing impedes learning more than strained or damaged relationships. Many of us work tirelessly to show respect to our students, to demonstrate sincere care for our students and to earn their professional trust. These are all set back each time an educator behaves like these six did. All educators need to cherish and protect our unique position as role models. Once students do not believe in us, they are in jeopardy of not believing in themselves. We are employed and deployed to inspire, not degrade. Adults, especially often educators, request that young people respect them. Well, respect is certainly a mutual thing. So, these six educators demonstrated a total lack of respect, or egregious disrespect, These educators have crossed one of the most sacred professional thresholds - ignoring the real 3 R’s. These six educators may have individually and collectively lost the connection to these students forever, as well as influenced how they interact with all of their future educators.
  1. Walking In Our Students’ Shoes: Regardless of our students’ backgrounds, our mission should be to try to understand them, to walk in their shoes if you will. Compared to us, they may have different ethnic backgrounds, religious practices, socioeconomic circumstances, medical situations, family dynamics and more. In order to educate them, we must understand them. In order to optimize their learning, we should be working tirelessly to see things from their perspective.  When we dismiss their views or their experiences, we minimize them. It’s hard to maximize learning, if you are minimizing the heart or soul. ‘The Day Without Immigrants’ would have been a perfect opportunities for us educators to find out more - more about our students, their families, their friends, their neighborhoods and their collective experiences.

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  1. Promoting Student Voice / Activism: It’s simple. We should be encouraging our students to become active politically, socially, culturally and intellectually in their communities. We don’t need to direct them to a certain cause, but rather challenge and encourage them to get involved in the causes of their choice. We may not agree with their position or their choice of how to express it. Many of us may think that missing school one day does not help any cause or affect any real change. It may or may not. Only history can tell. But that’s not the point. We should remind our students that they have a powerful voice and let them use it. We need to agree that they can and should have a position. As a former media teacher, I find student voices to be paramount in terms of lifelong learning. As a proponent of project-based learning, I see the higher level learning opportunities available when students pursue challenges and issues that they are personally affected by or indeed interested. Our democracy and economy depend on students becoming the voices and leaders of the future. These educators' social media posts should have been things like; “I’m so proud of my students today” or “I learn from my students everyday through the struggles they face.” It’s funny how adults sometimes criticize young people for not caring enough, but then often trivialize or degrade them when they care about something.


  1. Educators Need 21st Century Skills Too: This breach in judgement from these educators demonstrated a lack of skills in several areas. One, we need to call out Social Media as a New Literacy. We not only need to teach our students, but the adults too, that what we say on social media can have tremendous impact - both positive and negative. We need to be aware of our responsibility online and how our digital footprint is formed daily with our digital behavior. Those six educators negatively branded not only themselves, but their school, their district and their community - as well as the profession in general. Additionally, if we want students to become critical thinkers, we can’t put them down when they begin to question, challenge or take a stand. We say collaboration is key and employers do as well. So when students join a cause, we need to applaud their attempt at greater and broader collaboration. Ironically, “A Day Without Immigrants,” in terms of student participation, was truly a viral thing demonstrating their ability to communicate and connect with the larger world around them. These are all skills of our new economy and 21st century classrooms. We need to teach these to our adults, as well as our students.


  1. Perpetuating Fear: In the end, this particular event is really part of a larger social, political and cultural struggle taking place in our country. Whether it’s immigration, immigrants, racism, cultural awareness, individual rights, mutual respect or more, we need to acknowledge that that our students, like us, are part of something larger. Many of our students are afraid right now. We have families being divided and torn apart. We have students and parents across the country each and every day asking their schools for emotional and physical support. So, when these educators lashed out on social media against their students, they not only demonstrated ignorance and disrespect, but also fear. They revealed their own personal fears while also not acknowledging their students’ fears. They ultimately sent a message to their students to be silent and live in the shadows. They encouraged all of us to fear each other more instead of embracing one another more. They moved us all backwards through fear instead of forwards through acceptance.

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Like I said in the beginning, I don’t know what will ultimately happen to these six educators. And maybe they will learn some real lifelong lessons from their students. If I were their principal or superintendent, I would consider many things including dismissal if it were possible. One thing that I would do for sure is have all of them spend some considerable time with their students and listen to their stories. Maybe these six educators can start a brand new movement where they embrace student voice through a social media campaign. Today, I am angry at them. I hope tomorrow that I can envision their ultimate redemption. I’m sure all of you have some ideas too.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and Public Domain Photos)