Monthly Archives: February 2016

Common Ground Between Education and Private Sector-Part Three

Part One Education Collaboration Delivers ROI, Economic Growth, Well-being made the case for change, Part Two presented a few starter targets. Part Three defines common ground between the two worlds-it’s not as difficult as we may think to narrow the gap.

Closing the Chasm Part Three

Goals:(1) identify common ground learning opportunities that will minimize the gap between education and work, (2) help young people become better prepared for adult life and ensure they are successful; (3) ensure economic growth by developing a deep and talented labor pool; and (4) make a difference in the grand scheme of things—impact society.

Many of the same skills apply for leaders and followers in education, the workplace and the community. There’s much more common ground than you may think in both social and emotional learning (SEL), and real-world skills—analytical and critical thinking skills. In other words, whole-person development.

Some subjects and material may target specific audiences or environments and may not be relevant for students and teachers, leaders and followers. But it is more often than not a matter of the same materials offered at a different level of complexity.

What if young students and adults learned to speak a common language, use common concepts, tools and techniques? In the private sector, there is lots of differentiation in terminologies and tools, mostly consultant / vendor-driven to artificially boost sales (been in that racket!). Don’t be fooled—the root concepts are the same.

(1) Social and Emotional Learning (Emotional Intelligence)
Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all (Aristotle)

It’s called social and emotional learning (SEL) in education and interpersonal skills / emotional intelligence in the workplace. The same basic skill set, except that young people are less likely to be damaged goods while more adults need remedial work. In manufacturing, any product that has to be repaired is usually not as “whole” or as good as an original produced right the first time. Rework can take extra time and effort, but at least it makes the product serviceable again.

Emotional intelligence is critical to leadership and organizational effectiveness overall. And we know how important it is to emotionally engage learners. Emotional development is a prerequisite to effective skills development and is essential to guiding young people in their growth toward becoming well-adjusted adults.

  • At work and in school, however, we’re intensely focused on hard skills. Gotta make more stuff above all else. And STEM subjects are, after all, vital to economic survival so we can produce even more efficient stuff-makers. But there’s much more than productivity and economics at stake. We’ve become more aware of the impacts of losing touch with our humanity:
  • Social issues are growing due to the diminished influence of traditional normalizing institutions—family, organized religion and education. Among the more significant symptoms of that erosion of norms: youth disengagement, lower attainment levels, poverty, drug abuse, crime and even radicalization.
  • We’re more and more isolating ourselves from others, in spite of our basic human need to belong. We’ve become a society of strangers, even to the people we live next to and work with every day. The worst-case scenario of this social disconnect and emotional detachment: budding sociopaths go unnoticed until they reach the tipping point and become yet another mass killer while no one is paying attention. The more “everyday” impact is that our social and moral fabric has become tattered and torn.

Common Ground: Engagement is Engagement

Boosting engagement levels brings impressive benefits to both education and the workplace, and the engagers are common to both worlds. Social engagement plays by many of the same rules too and there is huge potential in seeking a broader understanding of engagement theory in all three worlds then leveraging engagement concurrently. Again, it’s a reinforcing loop. See It’s More Than ‘Employee’ Engagement (LI Pulse) or, if you don’t like LinkedIn, WordPress.

Gallup and America’s Promise did a good deal of work on student engagement-very good stuff! America’s Promise re-focused on a major outcome of student disengagement: low achievement and attainment levels while Gallup is still carrying the student engagement torch on its own.

DANGER! Reacting to outcomes is retro! From the Six Sigma playbook: quality of inputs determines quality of outputs. To maximize process effectiveness, improve then monitor input quality and the process itself to ensure ongoing effectiveness. Outcome metrics only indicate whether a process was effective, raising a flag when adjustment is needed. But any resulting action is after-the-fact, corrective, reactionary, and too late—damage is already done.

The shift from quality control (sorting defects out) to quality assurance, from problem resolution to prevention via continuous improvement is not easy! After over twenty years the private sector still struggles to turn the corner. I’m a hopeless dreamer…the two worlds can learn from each other!

Common Ground: Teacher and Leader Professional Development

Teachers are critical-to-quality process inputs. Yet, a recent Gates Foundation study found that teacher professional development is fragmented and ineffective, per teachers themselves.

Following: input from UK education innovator Lisa Kavanagh (Explore Education is a private group).
“… teachers do need to be trained in an entirely different way. The shift is less about deepening their ability to express subject knowledge, as this is just the starting block. The key is to facilitate learning desire and curiosity in students. Understanding how students’ brains work. How to ask questions that cause students to become critical thinkers. Supporting collaborative learning. Allowing students to make time-consuming mistakes. Be willing to stand back and observe and then ask quality questions. Far less instructional imparting of facts.”

Specific to-do’s to maximize the capabilities of teachers were noted in the Gates study. And we know a good deal about what impacts learner capabilities. Leadership soft skills training has been the private sector rage forever with enough material to choke a horse. Yet the Gates study found conspicuously absent teacher development opportunities for social, emotional, interpersonal, relationship-building skills. Soft stuff delivers hard improvements in key metrics and real bottom-line gains (there is plenty of data for doubters, but data bores me. My creative side takes serious exception to analysis paralysis).

Leaders and teachers are make-it-or-break-it role models, critical to improving young peoples’ learning, increasing citizens’ civic involvement, boosting working peoples’ capabilities—and to increasing engagement levels of youth, citizens, workers.

Soft stuff, hard bottom line results.

Common Ground: Social / Emotional Skills for Leaders and Teachers

  • It Starts With Me, and My Values. What are values, where do they come from, why are they critical, what are mine, how do they impact my daily actions, and my goals?
  • General interpersonal / communication: listening, group / team decision-making, conflict resolution;
  • Leadership skills: coaching, mentoring, role modeling;
  • Social and emotional learning boot camp: concepts and applications. Projects and exercises can differentiate applications in the different environments;
  • Understanding engagement theory, leveraging universal elements of engagements in specific environments. Same application approach as SEL

See the Engagement LINKS, above: It’s More Than ‘Employee’ Engagement.

(2) Critical Thinking (Process / Analytical) Skills
Same rules, slightly different game.

In education it’s called critical thinking skills. In the workplace it’s problem analysis, resolution, continuous improvement, quality management. Same stuff, no-brainer common ground. Workplace quality improvement techniques have applications in administrators managing their school, in teacher professional development, and in lesson planning and delivery.

GOAL: learn to speak the same language, use the same tools. ACTION: Provide leaders and staff with hands-on experience with the toolbox, which they then pass along to students in classroom lessons and project assignments. No limits to this one!

Common Ground: The Toolbox (leaders and teachers first, then model, mentor, coach)

Once leaders have hands-on experience with them, most tools can be easily adapted to fit later elementary, middle school and especially high school, learners. If you haven’t used these, they probably sound more complex than they are.

  • Basic flowcharting to be used in process analysis, storyboarding, project planning;
  • Fishbone diagramming for cause and effect analysis and categorized brainstorming;
  • Problem definition, root cause analysis and resolution. The Five Whys, causal chains;
  • Identifying improvement opportunities and continuous improvement techniques
  • Modified Failure Mode and Effects Analysis: criteria-based decision / risk analysis tool;
  • Basic quality management concepts from ISO9001 and the Baldrige Criteria. Process management, critical-to-quality factors, control plans, measurement and analysis;
  • (Advanced) Systems thinking basics, understanding interrelationships among activities and events;

An absolutely natural alignment is possible in teaching statistics, the Mother of all Tough Subjects. Use six sigma and statistical process control theory and tools, applying them to real world workplace / process problems. Statistics all of a sudden becomes a whole lot more relevant. Even more effective: young and working learners learn together with both workplace process problems and current social issues used in classroom lessons and project assignments.

Common Ground: True Project-based Learning

From the age of about 10-11 learning should be largely project based, with private sector providing workshops, training in the areas of expertise. If students have a choice of the type of projects, the teacher (facilitator) can cover all additional learning that supports it (maths, english, science). If we have enrolled in a project that we connect with, then we will be motivated to learn the supporting maths, science etc. Suddenly it has relevance. It becomes real. It matters. (more from Lisa K)

I’ve seen far too many assignments short-cut project-based learning. Maybe the teacher looks at PBL as an easy way to get out from under daily classroom management = more time to do all the administrivial crap that’s been heaped on their plate. A humongous issue for later…

Teaching accountabilities need to be realigned, re-focused on teaching.

Effective PBL requires learner input in project selection, with guidance: the right subject areas, right-sized projects (purpose and scope is critical), the right HIGH expectations. REAL WORLD relevance is a must. Then, ongoing guidance, support, expert resource help provided as needed from the teacher and, ideally, from adjunct subject matter experts. Suddenly the teacher has a new role: project consultant and coach for learners! And learning reaches a new depth that is inaccessible through traditional memorize > regurgitate methods.

Project work becomes part of a learner’s portfolio / vitae for their post-education employment search. This ensures absolute relevance and connection for students to their education careers.

Local employers participating at a deep level salivate upon seeing budding candidates growing from the seeds they help plant and nurture!

And guess what, Business Kahuna? You’re getting free consulting, from an army of energetic young legs to chase your issues for you. Ditch the pre-conceived notions you’re entertaining right now…too many times the obvious solution is such low-hanging fruit you’re knocking your head on it and still not seeing. Been there done that. It’s amazing what fresh, new eyes can see and what still-open, unbiased minds that have not yet been jaded by the everyday hassles you have grown addicted to can come up with.

Common Ground: Teaming, Coaching, Leadership Skills

Teaming is teaming and coaching is coaching: the same ground rules apply in the classroom and the workplace. The lack of appropriate skills is an issue among teachers, private sector leaders, students and workers. In the workplace and the classroom, teams fail. Expectations to “work as a team” are issued with little or no guidance, and no training on exactly how team players and leaders are supposed to behave and make decisions. The effectiveness of both team and leader is not considered in grading classroom exercises, or in most performance assessments in the workplace. In both cases grading and evaluations are based more on “how well did you get the work done? Is it correct? Was it done on time?” No weight is given to “how well did the teams and the leader function in getting the work done?”

The universal concept: people need support to achieve the goals they are accountable to deliver on. If they don’t get support, you the leader have set them up to fail. What gets measured gets done: set expectations, provide needed skills training, monitor performance, coach, praise or take corrective action as needed.

There’s always more…
…but that’s it for now. Moral of the story: we’re in this together, let’s work and learn together. It’s the only way to ensure broad and lasting acceptance and sustainable, meaningful social change.


Closing the Chasm Between Education and the Real World-Part Two

Part One made the case for change, Part Two presents a few starter targets. Part Three defines common ground between the two worlds-it’s not as difficult as we may think to narrow the gap.

(1) Define and Align
STRATEGY: provide access to meaningful, balanced, and relevant lifelong learning. Every toddler, child, adolescent, adult, and senior citizen has the opportunity to be all they can be from early development through traditional education and workforce skills training.
STRATEGY: alignment among stakeholders of education’s purpose, goals and roles.
ACTION: define strategy, reach agreement among stakeholders.

A fundamental question RE roles: why is workforce prep even an academic concern? Educators educate, job trainers should train on job-specific skills. We need to redefine the purpose of education in all phases, and who-does-what. And we need stakeholders to step up and own their own issues. Above all we need to rally around one flag, one system. Coordinated, sustained collaboration among stakeholders is essential to achieve lasting improvements.

(2) System Design: Benchmark!
It’s all out there: CASEL, America’s Promise / GradNation, Edutopia, Gallup’s work on student engagement and strengths-based learning to name a few. None have the stickiness they deserve. They are pretty much stand-alones just waiting for the pieces to come together under one banner. But there is a major question to resolve.

Should education be centrally managed, government-controlled? Or should control be in the hands of the states and local school districts? An important question, but what we’re talking about here is not control. Proposed: a broad benchmarking initiative, then standardize the existing best practices. Build it, they will come…design an irresistible model out of the high-quality materials that already exist. If the model is not embraced, let competition for economic growth create demand for and acceptance of the model…reference back to “Serious ROI” in Part One. Results and profit are powerful recruiters.

(3) Learn a Common Language
Many of the same soft skills apply for leaders and followers in education, the workplace and the community. The same “hard” skills are relevant across the board too. To up the radical ante…young students and adults learn to speak a common language, use common concepts, tools, techniques and applications.
STRATEGY: standardize across all sectors. Start with leaders from the community, education and workplace learning to speak the same language and mastering the same skills so they can model those skills as mentors / coaches (which are also learned skills) for their respective circles of influence. Collective learning and continuous application in private sector, education, family, community and government is the key to sustainable, systemic improvement and social / economic betterment.
ACTION: identify common learning opportunities. Benchmark existing or design new material to provide via an integrated delivery system.
ACTION: explore shared classroom co-learning opportunities. Youth and adults physically learning together…don’t poo-poo it, think why not? Young people would thrive on additional adult interaction, and adults stand to learn a good deal by looking at the same old world through young eyes. We’d boost the power of social norming while we’re at it!

Reality Check: a shared classroom doesn’t always make sense, but at minimum we need standardized learning objectives and a high level of communication to share experiences and extend learning beyond classroom events.

The classroom and the workplace also share a skewed order of priority. #1 enables #2. So #1 is the priority, yet it’s the most lacking. In Part Three we’ll identify specific common ground between the two worlds for #1 social and emotional learning, and #2 process /analytical skills.

The Need for Systemic Focus
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is the nation’s  leading organization advancing the development of academic, social and emotional competence for all students. The 2015 CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs provides valuable information on designing an effective SEL system, and identifies a broad range of top-tier programs that meet rigorous review standards.

CASEL maintains that the only way to achieve long-term, lasting change and impact culture is through “systemic effort—a well-planned, well-executed and lasting strategy with common goals that ensure shared focus among all stakeholders.”

CASEL targets social and emotional learning in education, but the four success factors that follow are also relevant in the workplace and the community for making improvements with stickiness. Common effort must be initiated across all stakeholder groups. Potential for success is greater when all success factors are initiated and not treated as entrees on a lite menu: “choose any two of the following.”

Change a few words and these apply equally to social/ emotional and process analysis skills development.
1. Staff models, mentors, coaches behaviors that create a supportive environment for SEL. Leadership at all levels leads by example: SEL talk is consistently walked by all;
2. SEL philosophy and values are integrated with other subjects. Mentoring, modeling and coaching opportunities present themselves regardless of subject, activity, situation;
3. Policies and organizational structure supporting social and emotional development are implemented. Structural support is developed to support achieving clearly stated goals. The private sector approach to performance management is a valuable process here: set clear goals and behavioral expectations, then monitor performance and provide real-time feedback;
4. SEL is taught directly in free-standing lessons, it is a clear point of emphasis. All lesson plans, all communication are consciously crafted to include SEL elements. SEL is reinforced with stated expectations for specific action (#1), monitoring and follow-up.

Maximum-Strength Chasm Closer
Employers need job candidates with the right stuff. Students must learn the right stuff. Their education should be a resume-building experience, generating a personal portfolio with the results of project work and individual assignments providing objective evidence they have the right stuff. Rhetorical question: who must play a critical role in defining “the right stuff”?

If employers were active participants in education, schools would be developmental league farm clubs. Capabilities (NOT ‘current skills level”) and even the right attitudes would be observable in this interface. Graduates could be offered a position or internship even before they leave school, a sure match between candidate and company for both soft attributes and a solid foundation of the right hard skills upon which to build.

The most talented high-potentials are especially valuable to employers. If more than one company is part of a local collaborative, they would have to engage in a bidding war for the prize students. What a powerful, real-time incentive for students to excel.

Most employers have some form of tuition assistance. Students who are hired can fill in the gaps and fine-tune their skill sets once they are on-board. Earn-while-you-learn!

It’s rare to find two colleges where similarly-titled courses are taught the same way using the same text. Let the student and employer beware: all degree programs are not created equal.
How about this for a really radical idea: the US Department of Education / ACE-PONSI offers the means for companies to make their internal courses college credit-earning. For a small fee, companies can have their catalog assessed for academic rigor. The result: incredibly relevant and targeted additions to students’ degree aspirations.

Add a little synergy: a network of companies offering standardized credit-earning courses with project work that targets the individual company’s specific needs. Why create a bunch of redundant stuff? Unless companies are in direct competition, why not collaborate?

Closing Thoughts
(1) The right stuff is already “out there” in both quantity and quality. The real work is in bringing all the pieces together under one standard system, with all stakeholders aligned around common goals that are executed with coordinated effort.
(1a) While across-the-board is the goal, it doesn’t have to happen nationwide to start. A local stakeholder alliance among community, private sector, education and government can have a great impact on the local terrain. It just makes a lot more sense to design one track for all the runners. This race will be won by the swift to act, the finish line is economic and social vitality. Collaboration, not competition!

(2) The need is for balance between (1) social and emotional learning, and (2) process / analytical skills. As #1 is known to enable #2, #1 should be the priority. Yet it is the most lacking, in education and the workplace. Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all (Aristotle)

(3) We’re in this together, let’s work together and learn together. It’s not so far-fetched and it’s the only way to ensure broad acceptance, sustainable results and meaningful change.

Education Collaboration Delivers ROI, Economic Growth, Well-being

Private sector leaders: if you must, go straight to the “Serious ROI” section. Private sector involvement in education is CSR in a fancy gift-wrapping that doubles as a potent sustainability strategy in disguise.
This is a WHAT and WHY overview. Part Two offers a few starter targets, and Part Three some specific areas of common ground where we can start closing the chasm between education and the real world. While some may be old news to education professionals I’m an outsider layman, and this is in layman terms targeting my private sector peers. The dicey part: improving education requires private sector involvement and insider collaboration. And education and the private sector haven’t been the greatest allies in the past. The chasm between the two drives many of the issues and suggested actions that follow.
DISCLAIMER: these are musings and suggestions from one non-expert outsider. We need more people unafraid to think and offer what they have, for better or for worse. Engage!

It’s a causal chain: companies need a rich and deep talent pool to survive; they will starve without the necessary quantity of high-quality human resource nutrients > a well-prepared, highly skilled workforce fuels company productivity and economic growth > the education system doesn’t meet companies’ need for well-prepared workers > companies under-perform, economy stagnates, social fabric unravels.

An innovative education system can do a whole lot more than stock the talent pool to feed local companies. Education can be the catalyst for private sector sustainability, economic prosperity, community betterment, and individual and social well-being.

Really???! How?
Parents move to areas with the right education opportunities for their kids, so the community’s population grows with young wage-earners moving in. Trickle-down hits: the local housing market, merchants and service providers all thrive. Major employers relocate to areas with an education infrastructure that can sustain a highly skilled labor pool, existing employers expand too. Students fully engage with their school experience (remember the “innovative” qualifier?), achievement and attainment levels skyrocket and the labor pool grows deeper and richer.
Quality of health care services is a key indicator of community infrastructure strength. Hospitals need full capacity utilization to provide quality services. It takes bodies (unfortunate choice of words, sorry) to fill beds and justify high-tech diagnostic equipment. Population grows>health care services improve. Side Note: health care is in the midst of a transformation away from treatment to preventive services—a huge boost in well-being is the expected result.
Community prosperity soars and poverty, crime rates, social issues drop. Citizens are fully engaged and support community projects, participate in council / local government meetings, strive to become a responsible electorate. Young people stay as there is opportunity. Workers once again realize the lost dream of a lasting, highly satisfying career with one employer and there’s no longer a need to wander forever in search of a meaningful, long-term career. People pack away their transient baggage and families once again become more deeply rooted.

We all benefit: learner, private sector, education, community, society. While broad effort is ideal, there’s no need for national legislation. Local alliances among community, education and the private sector can reshape the local terrain. Early bird gets growth and prosperity worm.


Serious ROI
The private sector’s three most crippling and high-cost workforce issues are:
1. Retention: attrition / turnover;
2. Recruiting from a numbers and talent-challenged labor pool;
3. Disengaged employees and potential hires.

Forward-thinking companies that are deeply involved with and committed to their community’s education system can minimize the Unholy Three’s impact and realize significant returns too:

  • A more highly engaged workforce, bottom-line payback in every area that matters;
  • High regard in the surrounding community, impact on image and branding. This is the new corporate social responsibility with far greater and much more clear ROI;
  • Employer-of-choice status. Current employees stay, new candidates stand in line to get in. Retention and recruiting are both greatly enhanced;
  • Sense of community and a company culture that lasts anchored by social consciousness and a feeling of being a part of something that is truly worthwhile;
  • A well-stocked, continuously replenished talent pool—highly skilled and eager job candidates. Barring economic meltdown, a surefire strategy that ensures sustainability.

Why would any leader say “no thanks” to a business proposition that can deliver those goods?

Closing the Chasm, Education to Real World

The education system needs an overhaul. While there’s plenty going on it’s mostly disjointed, independent activity. We need coordination, collaboration, common focus beyond common core and standard test performance, a shared mission that spotlights balanced whole-person development from infancy through senior years. We need better preparation of young people to ensure their success in the work world that awaits them—a world that needs more, and better qualified, highly skilled resources. Physical, mental, social and economic well-being is at stake.

Following is a grab bag of education issues. You can’t pick and choose which to tackle now and which to leave for later…this messy plate of spaghetti is what systems thinkers call a reinforcing loop: there are interrelationships among what appear to be unrelated issues. These are in no particular order, as each is connected to the others.

Education is out of touch with the needs of the real world, and is not providing well-prepared workers. Classroom material and teaching methods are outdated. We’re obsessed with STEM at the expense of social and emotional development. Students are disengaged, attainment levels low, dropout rate high. Professional development of teachers is incomplete and ineffective per teachers themselves. They are underpaid, overburdened, stressed out, burnt out. We’re destroying dedicated, passionate educators with a bad system that produces defective outputs. NCLB / obsession over standard scores and teaching to the test have failed.
Cost and a long payback period makes college a bad investment (Goldman Sachs proposes a new education model is necessary!). The relevance of a college degree for many positions is being challenged. Those who do graduate are unskilled where it counts in the private sector. Accessibility is the only hot education-related campaign issue (US), a secondary problem if the right stuff is not taught the right way.

The collective impact: lost productivity, economic decline and along with it lower quality of life, rising social issues including poverty, crime, drug abuse and unemployment, wasted human potential. Is the list incomplete, or too much? Overly harsh, or painfully accurate? Worth our attention, or carry on with business as usual?

We must address the systemic issues noted above and minimize the gap between education and workplace. The gap can be relatively easy to close…if all the players rally around the same flag and do their part. And there is incredible potential in aligning.

Next: a few starter targets.