Welcome to our new blog series, “The Path Forward,” which will engage leading experts in education and workforce readiness, as well as those who work directly with kids, in a conversation on how we can ensure students are ready – ready for the next steps in their education, ready for the workforce, ready for life.
The plan for this series of blogs was conceived pre-pandemic. We planned to engage thought leaders on the issues of the day around preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs: how to spark self-discovery in students and expose them to possible careers, the value of experiential learning, destigmatizing nontraditional post-secondary pathways, and more.
Then, in an instant, COVID-19 turned our world upside down, and we realized that helping young people find their path and plan for the future just got a lot more challenging. As the weeks have worn on, it has become increasingly apparent that our education system needs to seize this moment of crisis as an opportunity –to reimagine and rebuild the ways in which we prepare students for fulfilling careers, productive citizenry and happy adult lives.
Over the coming months, “The Path Forward” will pose thought-provoking questions to leading experts and practitioners in education and workforce development and share their responses here. We’ll focus on not only helping students navigate post-high school plans upended by new public health and economic realities, but also on generating a long-term readiness revolution in our schools and communities to ensure students are prepared for whatever the workplace – and life – will throw at them. We kicked off our conversation with the following question:
We don’t yet know the full depth of the economic fallout from coronavirus, but one thing is certain: the ever-changing 21st century workplace will demand levels of resiliency and adaptability like never before. What more should we be doing right now to help middle school and high school students better adapt to change?
Helen Russell, executive director of Apprentice Learning, makes the point that to help students adapt to new teaching and learning methods, we must provide tools that engage: “As adults, we are all struggling to adapt and find ways to feel productive and focused during our transition to work-from-home. For young people, these feelings are even stronger. A recent informal survey of our partner schools indicated that daily attendance for online learning is averaging 40% for our most vulnerable students. It is not just lack of access to technology. It’s lack of structure, lack of engagement, and in some cases, lack of an appropriate place to learn that allows a young person to focus without interruption.
“In under-resourced schools, most media is not purposed to its full potential as a learning tool. For youth who engage with social media, they show remarkable adaptability with TikTok and Snap Chat. But their skills with classroom technologies lag. We are seeing this with Google Suite apps like Google Classroom. Can we utilize the engagement generated from social media and apply it to technology tools for academic purposes? To help young people adapt, we must remind ourselves that learning starts with engagement. The achievement gap—and now the technology divide – could be better described as an engagement gap. Online learning must be a high quality, high engagement experience. Think production values, think visually stunning, think personalized learning.
“All of these tools are available but often not to under-resourced schools and communities. As a program provider, we want to collaborate with others to share resources to create beautifully engaging online lessons. We are creating more intimate learning opportunities: instead of a group size of 12 for in-person programming, we are planning on a group size of six that will allow more “airtime” in our virtual classroom. As we facilitate these opportunities for young people, they can become co-creators. Can we create “deliverables” or expectations for students to reflect their learning using some of these same tools and principles of design?”
Michael Joyce, vice president of programming for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester, points out that learning resilience and adaptability skills happens both inside and outside the classroom: “Assisting students academically as they return to the classroom setting will be important. Even upon their return the learning environment and processes will likely look different. I’m also assuming the employment opportunities for high school students will look vastly different so providing engaging out-of-school time opportunities that focus on career pathways (college, unions, service orgs., military, etc.) will be helpful to not only fill a void but keep students on track.”
Charmaine Arthur, director of programming for Freedom House, reminds us that students need both physical and mental supports: “Students need mental health support that is easily accessible and college students in particular also need laptops that do not require a deposit.”
Finally, Charles Desmond, CEO of Inversant, underscores the importance of equal access to quality learning opportunities: “COVID-19 has put the spotlight on the significant academic challenges faced by elementary and secondary schools serving low-income, first-generation, minority, and immigrant children. Most significantly, these schools lack the resources, technology, and academic resources essential for their students to develop the 21st-century skills necessary for success in a globally competitive environment. For students to adapt to the challenges of the future, we must ensure that all students are exposed to powerful knowledge that is benchmarked against world-class standards and that students have well-resourced teachers and technology that will enable them to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.”
In this unprecedented time of upheaval, another way we can equip students for the changing workplace of tomorrow is to help them uncover their own deep-rooted passions and interests. By determining what they’re good at and enjoy, students can start to think about how they will bring those natural aptitudes to a variety of occupational possibilities down the road – and there are ways to initiate self-discovery and career exploration even during remote learning (including our new digital tool Futurescape). In teaching and mentoring students, we should also focus on those timeless employability skills, such as time management, teamwork, communication, empathy and critical thinking, that enhance performance in any profession. If youth are given the opportunity to explore and develop enduring skills like these, they will be able to adapt to any situation thrown their way, even crises like COVID-19.