January will mark the start of the legislative season in Wyoming. One of the things I’ve learned about being a superintendent in Wyoming is that you pretty much drop whatever you’re doing for the next two months and focus on the vast array of education related legislation and the potential effects. Undoubtedly, new legislation will change how we do business. I’m not talking about any legislation in particular, but it happens every year. It’s become one of the few constants in education.
Effectively adapting to change has become a hallmark of successful educational organizations. As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” And while we do spend a lot of time trying to meet the challenges that result from legislative mandates, we would be short-sighted to let our vision of the future be defined by those mandates. Most of those mandates are currently focused on accountability. I’m focused on students. And in my professional opinion, those are two different things right now.
In today’s world, being adaptive requires an understanding of the trends that will affect our students. If you haven’t noticed, their future is changing rapidly. Jobs in cloud computing, user experience, search engine optimization, and social media didn’t exist ten years ago. And that’s just the tech field. New jobs in elder care, sustainability, and patient advocacy weren’t on our radar either. Estimates indicate that 60% of the jobs that will be available to our students ten years from now don’t currently exist. And up to 80% of our students will make significant career changes throughout their lifetime that will require continuing education. Since the birth of the students in our 12th grade class, entire industries have disappeared, heavy manufacturing has gone overseas, and technology has created and changed the workplace. The key point is that change is inevitable, but progress is optional. So we need to change the way we think about preparing our students for students for college and careers.
In his book Sixteen Trends: Their Profound Impact on Our Future, author Gary Marx emphasizes the need to focus students on Career Adaptability rather than Career Preparation. Researcher Mark L. Savickas has identified four key components of Career Adaptability:
- Concern: Students need to develop a future orientation, a sense that it’s important to prepare for tomorrow, the ability to think about their work-life over time.
- Control: Students need to develop a belief that they are responsible for the creation and construction of their career and a belief in personal responsibility that promotes good decisive decision making.
- Curiosity: The reality of future occupations is one of constant training and retraining. Developing a personal standard for continuous improvement and life-long learning will be key.
- Confidence: This isn’t about stage presence. This is about the ability to solve complex problems and the skills necessary to do this in new and unfamiliar ways.
Odd that he didn’t mention standardized test scores. So what does this mean for SCSD #1? It means that not everything that counts can be counted. It means we need to focus on the kind of instruction that teaches our students creativity and innovation, critical thinking, and information fluency of all types. It means developing a comfort level with a wide range of technologies. It means that in the not too distant future, with the exception of reading at a high level, imparting content knowledge will mean less than the development of student metacognition and individual learning strategies. It means providing less teacher directed instruction and more teacher as activator and facilitator. It also means that we’re going to have to make a conscious choice as a district. The current direction of the Wyoming accountability system isn’t going to drive this kind of instruction and focus. We’re going to have to drive it ourselves.
The reality is that what’s good for kids isn’t always what’s good for accountability. I have two kids in this school district and speak from personal experience when I say that I’m more concerned as an educator and a parent with their ability to develop academic stamina and solve critical problems than I am about their PAWS score. And I’m more concerned about them developing academic curiosity and a growth mindset than a 4.0 GPA. And trust me when I say that neither the PAWS nor the ACT can truly assess those abilities.
Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Four years ago a nation watched as an entire generation of autoworkers with 25 years of experience and a great career plan got punched in the mouth. It’s incumbent upon us as educators to learn from that lesson and prepare our students for a career environment that has never been more unpredictable. Doing so means focusing more on our human capital than the state capital. Even in we get punched in the mouth.