Creating great experiences that prepare students to be ready for whatever the future brings
I’m an 80s kid. I was born in 1977 and spent the bulk of my childhood in the greatest decade ever. I wore knee high striped socks with my short shorts. I listened to Michael Jackson, Tiffany, and Guns and Roses. My beloved Detroit Pistons were winning championships for me, and the Detroit Tigers were World Series champions.
My childhood was filled with kickball, bike rides, and Mr. Wizard. Today I have four children of my own. My oldest child, almost a teenager wears shorts that fall below his knees. My kids watch television shows downloaded from the Internet. Kickball has been replaced by Pokemon Go, and my favorite sports teams probably won’t even make the playoffs this year.
My childhood was a long time ago and a lot has changed since then. As a child I had no Internet, no home computer, no clue what my future would hold. I believed I would grow up to be a truck driver, a meteorologist, and a Navy Seal. Today, my kids dream of being vloggers and YouTube stars. My kids have no idea what childhood was like 40 years ago, and back then I could never have imagined what childhood would look like today. Similarly, 40 years ago I had no idea what adulthood would like when I actually got there, and neither did any of the adults I surrounded myself with.
What Lies Ahead?
Many of us have heard the statistics about the number of jobs that will exist 20 years from now that aren’t even ideas in people’s heads today. The reality is, we have no idea how many new jobs will exist because we have no idea what new technologies will be developed, what new consumer demands will be created, and what services will be required.
Knowing about this uncertainty, we, as educators, still try to tell our students why all the content we are exposing them to is important and how it will help them in the future. In reality, all we are doing is telling these students, children with uncertain futures, how that content has helped prepare us for our present, which may or may not be relevant to their future.
It’s important to ask ourselves daily, “Are we preparing students for their futures or for our past?”
As educators our job is to contribute to the future. We have jobs that others try to measure in moments of time through daily observations and summative assessments, when, truly, our success can only be measured in generations. If what we are presenting to our students cannot endure, we must ask if it is something we should be spending our time on at all.
What About SBL?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Standards-based learning (SBL) is a key to achieving success. Clearly articulating objectives and assessing based on growth and progress, mastery, and proficiency are critical components of lasting learning and enduring education, but none are the silver bullet. I have built my professional reputation—my career—on articulating the importance and relevance of focused, standards-based learning and grading. But even I know that SBL, as it is often described, is only a piece of the puzzle.
In education we are often guilty of seeking the Holy Grail or a magic pill to cure all and fix what others perceive to be broken. We attend a conference and hear one educator tell a story of what has worked in her classroom, with her kids, in her community and jump on board to try to replicate that program in our school with our kids in our way and expect the same results. We chase programs over people. We search for curriculum over creativity. When we don’t see immediate results, we drift back to the status quo and wonder if the next blog we read, the next professional development seminar we attend, or the next team meeting will reveal the answer we have been looking for.
We need to stop looking for THE answer and instead continue to look for AN answer, realizing that we have millions of children in a multitude of environments, with countless unknown futures who all require something a little bit different.
College and Career Readiness
I currently work in a state that has adopted College and Career Readiness Standards. This is such a great idea, yet so often misapplied and misinterpreted by the very people responsible for their implementation. I am currently in my 19th year as a professional educator. When I look back on my first year and compare it to this year, I can honestly say I was a mess when I began. I had no idea what I was doing almost two decades ago.
Prior to becoming a teacher, I attended a great teacher preparation university, Central Michigan University (Go, Fire Up, Chips!), and had a diverse student teaching experience and a phenomenal mentor. But despite all of that, the only thing that could properly prepare me for my career was my career. This is why veteran teachers make more money than first year teachers. It is not because older teachers are worth more, it is because they’ve had more experiences, and we assume they’ve had the opportunity to refine and grow their skill sets as a result.
We understand that experience in the career is what prepares us for the career. The same is true of
almost every career you can imagine. Whether it is professional sports, education, engineering, public safety, or medicine, often the only thing that truly makes you ready for your career is your career … and a lot of grace offered to you by those you work with as you make mistakes along the way.
The same is true of college readiness. When I look back on my first year of college, I wonder how in the world I am still alive. I graduated high school with a 3.8 gpa. I was the student council president. I competed in sports and Model United Nations. I was a self-described model high school student, yet my first year of college was a disaster. The only thing that helped me find success and graduate from college was my ability to make it through my first year of college. I may have had some book smarts when I entered, but I was lacking a lot of “not so common” sense.
When we say we are preparing students to be ready for college and career are we measuring this based on their short term retention of academic facts or are we really providing them with skills and opportunities that will transcend the safety of their K-12 school system and lead them towards long term success, regardless of what the future holds? Are we giving them the persistence, confidence, humility, and curiosity that will lead to future learning or are we giving students the answers to questions that exist today without the ability to question the answers that we believe will exist tomorrow?
In addition to my role as a public school administrator, I serve as an adjunct professor for a teacher prep college in the midwest. I get the opportunity to work with high school graduates, giving them foundational understanding, and helping to set them up for a long career. The students I work with come from a wide range of communities, families, and school systems. They all had to apply for their college admissions and all were accepted, despite having such a variety of experiences. During the admissions process, college offices asks students to submit ACT scores, GPAs, transcripts, essays, records of philanthropic service, as well as descriptions of extra-curricular achievements. Colleges understand that they should not accept students simply because of a single data point or high school transcripts, but that we are all a collection of data. We are not defined by one test, one grade, or one statistic. We are who we are because of a collection of moments and experiences.
As educators we must get back to embracing that if we are indeed trying to set our students up for success in their careers and college, we are not just in the test prep business; we are in the experience creating business. Yes, we want students to learn, but real learning, learning that lasts, has nothing to do with memorizing facts and figures. Learning that lasts is all about making memories and creating experiences. Great teachers recognize this, and great leaders encourage this.