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.

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