Mind-numbing challenge? We’re on it, these schools say
How about this for your water-cooler talk this morning? Eighty-five percent of the jobs in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. Eighty-five percent. That’s according to a report by Dell Technologies.
While you try to wrap your mind around that, consider what that does to our education system. Historically, schools have taught students to be prepared for work. Even just 20 years ago, the job market—and the jobs with the attending skills – were predictable.
No more. As jobs continue to evolve at a mind-spinning fury, that’s put schools front and center.
One option off the table is to do nothing. Already the state can’t fill good-paying jobs requiring middle-skill jobs, leaving Iowa at a competitive disadvantage with other states. But what to do?
The state’s Future Ready Iowa initiative has taken the lead in getting 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. In order to reach that goal, another 127,700 Iowans need to earn post-secondary degrees or other credentials.
And that, naturally, falls in the laps of the state’s schools.
One element that’s popping up at districts large and small throughout the state is a sort of vision statement of what students should be able to do upon graduation.
Some districts, such as Johnston Community School District, call the vision statement a Portrait of a Learner.
“It outlines the skills, dispositions and mindset that we want our learners to have so that they are prepared for work and life in the 21st century,” said Chris Bergman, Johnston’s executive director of teaching, learning and innovation. “The goal of the Portrait of a Learner is to ensure life satisfaction, civic contribution and, in line with Future Ready Iowa, being able to earn a living wage.”
Efforts to identify what skills students will need in the future is actually a national movement. Iowa hasn’t been slow to embrace the concept of Portrait of a Learner (its actual name varies from district to district).
Goal: 70% of Iowa's workforce will have post-secondary education, training or a credential of value by 2025.
- 58.4% of adult Iowans (25 and older) have completed education or training beyond high school
- High-skill jobs in Iowa = 35%, high-skill workers = 34%
- Middle-skill jobs in Iowa = 54%, middle-skill workers = 34%
- Low-skill jobs in Iowa = 11%, low-skill workers = 32%
“We’re preparing students today for tomorrow – when we don’t know what tomorrow looks like,” said Jen Sigrist, Van Meter’s director of personalized learning and innovation. “You have to prepare them to be nimble, creative thinkers who think globally, work outside their comfort zones. How do you prepare kids for that if you just focus on content?”
That’s not to say that content – such as historical facts, literature and the like – isn’t important.
“There was less access to content years ago when it pretty much came through the teacher and texts,” Sigrist said. “Today, though, kids can pretty much Google content. Our goal is now to help students make sense of the information they receive. It’s less about memorization and more about learning how to use it.”
To ensure the Portrait of a Graduate actually expresses the needs of the future, districts need to bring stakeholders to the table.
In the Johnston schools, they brought in over 400 people to solicit advice. They were given three questions:
- In the workforce and community, what skills, dispositions, behaviors and mindsets do learners need to be successful?
- In the workforce and community, what are the skills, dispositions, behaviors and mindsets that you are observing and hampering success?
- What experiences and opportunities within and outside of the classroom would enhance and develop skills, dispositions, behaviors and mindsets leading to student success?
“Some of the things they were saying they need us to work on is timeliness, such as getting to work on time, meeting deadlines, communications – in the sense that young adults spend a lot of time texting – and being able to identify the correct form of communication to use for the correct purpose,” Bergman said. (For instance, receiving a reprimand via text would be a classically incorrect form of communication.)
From there, the Johnston team was able to look into tardiness, attendance and connectivity.
“It’s important to understand the ‘why’ behind everything,” Bergman said. “If a kid is consistently tardy, you might learn that the student is taking care of younger brothers and sisters or they only have one car in the family.”
Working as a team, educators can deduce what activities might sharpen students’ skills that businesses are seeking.
“Attendance, community service, work experience, and being in two or more extra-curricular activities all play into building those skills,” Bergman said. “These things get students more engaged and help them develop social-emotional skills and resiliency.”
Van Meter’s Sigrist, who is contracted part-time with Heartland Area Education Agency to work with other districts in putting into action their Portraits of Graduates, is active in the Iowa Center, which is a statewide network supporting Iowa districts.
“The Center is supported by all nine AEA's and is comprised of educators, higher education partners, business and industry and other support organizations,” Sigrist said. “Today there are over two dozen districts using The Center statewide for some stage of developing their Portraits of Graduates. Our goal is to have 21 percent of the state creating a Portrait of a Graduate.”
Through her work with Heartland, Sigrist is collaborating with a total of nine districts in central Iowa. That group is working to expand the Portrait of a Graduate to include life-ready skills.
“What does life-ready look like?” she said. “Our second goal is how to create work-based opportunities from kindergarten through 12th grade. It may look like inviting various professionals and tradesmen in to talk about their careers, or it could be intentional field trips or even Skypes. We want them to begin thinking about the careers out there.”
For some, particularly the three R’s traditionalists, this approach to education can seem mind numbing. But Sigrist said this is the natural order of things.
“The old system was created to put people in industry, but industry itself has changed with technology,” she said. “Technology is impacting every part of our lives. Why isn’t it impacting our schools?”
That rhetorical question answers itself, as rhetorical questions do.
“We used to be judged by graduation rates and we did very well under those terms,” Sigrist said. “But we now know that isn’t enough. Today we have new information about what students need. The game has changed.”