Tuesday, April 8, 2014

School and Community Working Together

A business community is most prosperous when it is supported by a strong educational system. The schools train the workforce for the businesses. What's more, a good school helps employers recruit, hire, and retain the best employees.

Likewise, a vibrant business community enhances a school system. Growing businesses bring students to the community. The businesses provide mentoring, internships, and other real-world learning opportunities that schools cannot provide by themselves. Students have jobs to support them while they attend school, and the businesses provide employment opportunities for students upon their graduation.

For these reasons, it is important for schools to work side-by-side with business and industry to enhance the local community.

Traditional education, as we see it in so many school systems, was developed early in the 20th Century. At that time, the primary source of employment in the United States was in manufacturing. So the primary duty of schools was to get students ready to assume their places in the industrial machine of America in the 1900's.

Employees needed to be able to read instructional manuals, take directions, and operate machinery in order to be successful in manufacturing. Schools initially provided instruction in the basic subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Moreover, schools were developed to emulate factories. Students began work on the bell, just like in the workplace. Then students received their component educational strands, moving from one period to the next throughout the day. This was modeled after the modern assembly line for the sake of efficiency.

Later as our towns and cities grew with their growing industry, societal problems emerged. Schools responded by adding social studies and civics to their curriculum. After World War II, the world was experiencing a revolution in scientific learning. America launched a major national initiative to emphasize science as an important subject matter in our schools.

But with the dawning of the 21st Century, our world changed again. We are in the Information Age, and the driving forces are our advancing digital technologies. As a result, the workplace is again changing. Schools need to ensure we are providing our students with the skills they need to successfully support business and industry.

To be sure we are giving students these skills, we need to look at the research of what businesses need. A researcher Tony Wagner asked business leaders what skills are needed in the modern workplace. In his book The Global Achievement Gap, Dr. Wagner names his Seven Survival Skills as defined by business leaders in their own words. Those seven skills are as follows:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Therefore, if schools are doing their best to support business and industry, we need to heed the work of people like Tony Wagner. We need to give students the skills they need for the future, not based simply upon what we have done in the past. We call these skills the Seven C’s of 21st Century Skills. They are

  • Critical thinking and problem solving,
  • Collaboration and leadership,
  • Cross-cultural understanding,
  • Career learning and self-reliance,
  • Communication,
  • Computing and ICT (Information and Communications Technology) literacy, and
  • Creativity and innovation.

Today's employees need to be highly skilled. They need to be independent thinkers, able to solve problems and innovate. In response, we must change the way we teach students, as well as what we teach. Change does not come easily. We ask for parents and patrons to support us as we seek to adapt and change so that we can do our best possible to support local business and industry and advance the prosperity of the United State of America.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Giving Kids Technology Tools for School

Improved learning is a concern for our nation. Our economic prosperity depends on it, as does our strength as a nation. To improve learning in the 21st Century, schools—and the public—need to realize that students need the appropriate learning tools for this age.

Technology tools alone will not do it. Schools need to thoughtfully integrate technology in support of teaching and learning at higher levels. Our aim must be improved learning. It is not devices because they are cool, and it is not technology for the sake of technology.

When we talk about technology tools for kids, some people get confused and think we simply want the devices for their bells and whistles. Some think their primary purpose is to motivate modern kids. Still others think that we mean to replace teachers with computers. None of these are true.

We are talking about technology tools for kids because these tools facilitate a new and better type of learning in this age where students become responsible for their own learning. Instead of sitting passively and acquiring the knowledge that is provided to them by the teachers, the students become active learners in the classroom, researching answers, solving problems, and analyzing global issues.

Teachers in these classrooms must assume new roles as well. They must move from the provider of knowledge to the guide that assists students with their own individual learning.

Essentially, what we are talking about is a higher standard of learning for the challenging world of this century. The workplace world has changed, and schools need to change to prepare students for the modern workplace.

For centuries, public schools have emulated the workplace or the office work of their contemporary times. When clerical workers were sharpening their nibs with penknives and dipping their quills in inkwells, schools had those same inkwells on the desk of every student.

When the office workplace was based on paper, students were getting their information from books and writing their assignments in notebooks.

With the dawning of the 21st Century, humankind entered the information age based upon the ease of access to digital media and the volume of resources available to everyone. Many jobs that have traditionally been blue collar are now requiring a high level of technological skill. Computers are in the office, in the trades, in agriculture, and nearly everywhere.

If modern schools are to properly prepare students for their futures, the schools need to provide the modern learning tools that reflect the contemporary workplace.

Earlier this year, Minnesota Governor Dayton spoke to a difficulty Microsoft is having filling its highly skilled positions. According to Dayton, Microsoft has 2,600 senior programming jobs world-wide that are going unfilled because Microsoft cannot hire people with the skills to do these jobs. Starting salary for these jobs is $105,000 annually.

Despite our nation’s high unemployment rate and the attractive salary the software giant is offering, Microsoft cannot find the people to fill their jobs. There are simply not enough people with these skill sets.

This is the future for some of the most lucrative jobs in our nation. People with advanced technical skills will be in high demand. They will be very employable and able to demand high salaries.

We need to make sure that today’s kids are ready to earn these high salaries.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Skills for the 21st Century

The central focus of public education since the 18th Century has been the Three R’s: reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. These skills are no less relevant today. Students need these vital building blocks to advance their studies to other areas.

Because we value the three subject areas, we test students to ensure they are on track. Where we go wrong is assuming that one single test could ever accurately measure every student in every school in every town around the world. What experienced teachers know is that one test cannot even accurately measure all students in a single class.

There is nothing wrong with testing. Where we make our mistake is in over-emphasizing the outcomes. Then we get to where we are now where the fundamentals become the be-all and end-all of public education. And we all know that schools must be so much more.

Ultimately, schools prepare our kids to be productive citizens and workers when they become adults. First and foremost, we need for our kids to become thoughtful, discerning voters. Our republic form of government depends on it.

Next, we need our students to be ready to enter the workforce. They all one day must assume a role in ensuring that our economy thrives.

Unfortunately, schools are not preparing students for the modern work world when our only focus becomes the three basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

A scholar by the name of Tony Wagner studied what employers currently want in their employees. Yes, they want employees with the basic skills, but they need much more. He wrote these skills in his book The Global Achievement Gap and called them the Seven Survival Skills as defined by business leaders in their own words.

Today’s employers want employees who are good at critical thinking and problem solving. They want employees who can collaborate across networks and lead by influence. They need employees to have agility and adaptability. They need employees to take initiative, and they want them to have effective oral and written communication. Employees need to be able to access and analyze information. Finally, they need curiosity and imagination.

Do these skills sound familiar and make sense?

So the good schools with foresight are embracing these skills as what we truly need to do to prepare our kids for the future. We call them the Four C’s:
  • Critical thinking (problem solving),
  • Communication,
  • Collaboration, and
  • Creativity.

We also call them 21st Century Skills.

You may have noticed that technology was not listed among these four essential skills. Technology skills are important in the 21st Century, but we need to teach our students how to use the technology to achieve the aims of the Four C’s.

Tools are what we use to do our jobs, and the future of the workplace is to use technology tools to creatively solve problems, communicate, and collaborate.

Friday, January 3, 2014

21st Century Education is Personalized Education

Only half of all school-age children in the nation finished high school back in the 1970’s. Today three-fourths of students graduate.

Still, neither of these numbers are nearly good enough. In today’s world, based upon an information economy, an educated workforce is crucial to the success of our nation. That is one reason why many states have initiatives calling on schools to ensure a one hundred percent graduation rate.

Students generally do not drop out of school because they want to. There are not great opportunities for students who drop out. The incentives are not there. For most students, they drop out because school is not relevant to them and their lives. School is not meeting their needs. So school is not engaging them.

This has been a problem with public schools for generations. For years, public schools were the only game in town. Schools could afford to be arrogant and say things like, “Do it our way, or you won’t get our diploma.” If students had options, they could attend a parochial school or drop out.

The 1980’s began to change the system as open option enrollment came to be. Students had a choice. And suddenly schools had to concern themselves with customer service or lose their students to the neighboring systems. Then in the 1990’s home schooling became more accepted. Also charter schools emerged on the scene. Two more choices became available for the kids.

Now within the last decade, online schools provide yet another option. Although online schools may not offer the social experiences and the student interaction, they have rigorous course work. And many online schools personalize the education for each individual enrolled.

Public schools have been notoriously slow to understand competition and customer service, but now it has become a fundamental which schools can only disregard at their own peril of irrelevance.

The successful schools of the 21st Century will be those who understand customer service. They will understand the need to engage every learner and make every student successful.

For schools who plan to be a relevant and significant within their communities, they need to meet the needs of all their students and strive for that goal of one hundred percent graduation.