Grades, numbers, and percentages have a gravitational pull on how we summarize what learners know. But there’s an equally strong pull that those measures lack— the explanatory context learners need to grow and ultimately self-actualize.
Timely, authentic feedback enhances performance and engages learners. EL Education’s Ron Berger tells the story of Austin’s Butterfly which illustrates the transformational power of models, critique, and descriptive feedback to improve student work. Likewise, Berger shows how the relationship to learners is a relevant part of the equation, not just a fluffy afterthought.
Authentic feedback helps learners broaden their perspectives, build professional networks, and cultivate reciprocal rewards. When we shift our mindset to focus less on numbers and grades, we start to understand feedback as generative far beyond the investment it requires. Feedback may include narrative comments, guest assessors, as well as cross-curricular, competency-based assessment. Growth requires more than words alone– growth needs feedback built on a supportive relationship.
Building connections to support meaningful feedback
An authentic way to nurture feedback is to have students seek experts, mentors, and professionals outside the classroom to weigh in on their project development. In practice, this means pushing kids out into a world they don’t understand, rather than putting the challenge of understanding on the adult mentor.
“When kids are getting feedback from someone other than their teacher, it forces them AND their teacher to think less, or critically about the “grade.” That’s generally a good thing for authentic work,” states Tim Kubik, Co-founder of Project ARC.
By inviting guests into their learning communities, a learner acknowledges the wealth of information and resources available and develops the ability to harness it by connecting with those working in the respective fields. Once these connections are made, learners have a stake in the game– they are faced with specific problems and develop first-hand experience in making a local and/or global impact. These benefits play out in a number of ways, which we’ll explore in the rest of this piece.
Many students don’t often circulate outside the neighborhood or city they grow up in. Building networks beyond those often unintentional confines, allows learners to step into new circles and expand the types of information and feedback they receive. Escuela Verde, a Milwaukee charter school, empowers students to build community partnerships in order to broaden their perspectives.
Cynthia Gonzalez, advisor and administrator, states, “Our students have big dreams; the ability to connect our students with experts in their professional field of interest allows them to envision themselves in those spaces.” Escuela Verde cultivates strong community connections by hosting weekly “Future Fridays” sessions, where different professionals, representing a diversity of races, cultures, and lived experiences, are invited to share career insights. “Future Fridays have a powerful impact on our learning community,” states Cynthia. “Having access to community members who are willing to share their knowledge with our students has always been key to the success of our curriculum.” Inviting guests into the project process allows learners to tap into different life sources of information. For youth, what you see is what you think you can become. Increased exposure helps students bring context to their prior knowledge and understand the relevance of their studies in depth.
Build Professional Networks
Perhaps more tactical than broadening their perspectives alone, students will more naturally seek out their own sources and build networks that will continue to provide feedback and broaden their lens. This can be especially powerful as students develop professional skill sets and prepare for their future careers.
Julia Freeland Fisher, Director of Education at the Christensen Institute, summarizes their research, “It’s not just what but who you know matters. Every student needs a support system and should be the builders of their own social capital to be successful in this world.” Her new book Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations that Expand Students’ Networks explores how schools can invest in the power of relationships to break the pattern of inequality in American classrooms. The Christensen Institute recently published “5 Steps for Building & Strengthening Students’ Networks as part of a playbook that features 5 key steps for schools to take to support students in building their networks. Establishing a network is key to cultivating working relationships where feedback is welcome and reliable. The powerful feedback learners receive is an invaluable asset as they forge their own paths forward.
Cultivate Reciprocal Rewards
Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) is a non-profit organization recognized for building networks and employer partnerships across the nation to best support its ~75,000 participants. Jenn Beal, JAG Director of Education states, “Our Employer partners see these skill sets on display through various activities – from classroom visits, to hosting students in their offices, to co-creating Project-Based Learning modules that develop JAG participants’ skill sets further, all while solving community and business problems.” The tiered JAG Career Pathways model below highlights how partnerships are woven into the building blocks of career-building for their participants.
Employer partners explore how participant engagement can add value to their industry, whether through job shadowing, internships, or career exposure, then make these opportunities available to participants. Rather than engaging in a one-way exchange, such as bringing in a guest speaker, identifying reciprocal value is the key priority when organizing partnerships. JAG uses Headrush to invite their partners into the project process by becoming guest assessors in participant project work. Without any account setup or in-depth effort by educators, they can quickly send guests a link to provide contextual feedback on student work, optionally providing the rubric and capturing any narrative feedback the guest may have. The guests’ assessment instantly appears for the educator and student, making the feedback easy to obtain, timely, and authentic.
This depth of collaboration and sharing allows for a rich exchange of information and allows partnerships to thrive.
In similar, but different ways, Project ARC investigates with schools how to leverage partnerships between technical experts, teachers, and technology to cultivate authentic, complex learning. Co-founder Tim Kubik shares, ”Too many people view the relationship between schools and partners as one of gaps and gifts, and partners burn out on that. It should always be a gifts and gifts relationship, acknowledging that today’s students have something valuable to offer.“
By providing greater explanatory context and bringing the outside in, learners are more likely to bridge theory and practice, to apply value to different sources, all while they gain experience and training beyond their classroom walls, making feedback more than just words.
Breanna Morsadi is the Founder of Morsadi Inc. and former educator/nomad at @TGSTHINKGlobal.
Shane Krukowskiis the Co-founder of headrushlearning.com.
If we want to accelerate social change, it’s time to distinguish a new approach to education.
Picture this: an equitable education system in which every child is known, loved, and equipped to live fulfilling lives. Every family and caregiver is supported to find nearby learning hubs that offer safe spaces for learners to build stable relationships and have places of inquiry. Not a day goes by without seeing learners engaging in questions and making a difference in the community. Aspiring learning facilitators have preparation programs that prepare them to support human development in ways that align with holistic learner outcomes. Local, federal, and state-level structures and conditions enable the community to be a playground for learning.
At Education Reimagined, we call this vision “learner-centered education.” It’s a transformational vision aimed at every child in every community being equitably and powerfully supported to thrive now and into the future.
We know there are thousands of people, learners, policy leaders, educators, caregivers, and the like, who want education for young people that looks more like this vision. For decades, pockets of places have been working to shift the direction of education to place learners (including their interests, backgrounds, well-being, and aspirations) at the center, rather than centering the requirements of our education system, and bringing this vision to life. These communities often have clarified for themselves what they believe about learners and learning, which has enabled them to build incredible learner-centered environments.
Organizations like Big Picture Learning,NACA Inspired Schools Network, and Montessori focus on learner-centered models, initiatives, and research projects that have often operated on the periphery and against the grain. The youth development and homeschooling sectors, which largely exist outside the K-12 education system, have a plethora of insights and evidence into ways learners and learning can be organized and supported. And, there’s an abundance of researchers and authors focused on realms such as human development and learning sciences, including The Future of Smart by Ulcca Joshi Hansen and Difference Making at the Heart of Learning by Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag.
And, of course, there are thousands of people (possibly you!) who are bringing to life a transformed education every day.
Recognizing our shared commitments
Yet, by and large, these efforts operate in silos or on the fringes. Learner-centered education is happening across the country, but the unifying string that weaves together the learner-centered landscape can go unseen if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
We often aren’t aware of or don’t prioritize the need to step back from what we do to examine our mindset and commitments. And, when with others who share similar commitments who are outside our immediate work, it’s not obvious to look past the differences of what we do to see how our unique contributions interlock and take us one step closer to every child having learning experiences they deserve.
The same can be said when someone else’s work sounds interesting but may not be aligned with your mindset and commitments.
Take for example, a recent conversation I had with a researcher studying the effects of what he calls “personalized learning” and “student-centered learning” on elementary-aged children. The children worked on self-paced math and reading lessons on their computers, game-based lessons, and opportunities to form mini book clubs on shared topics of interest. His commitment was to raise standardized achievement scores.
While we ended the call appreciative of one another, it was apparent that we weren’t quite up to the same thing. Despite the similar language we might use, our fundamental commitments differed. Oppositely, I’ve had many conversations where work and language seem disparate—perhaps they create state budgets or engage with cub scouts—but, after some time and intention, the pieces of our work and mindset click together within the larger vision.
For those committed to truly transforming the education system, how will we engage policymakers, researchers, foundations, and the general public in a larger conversation when we aren’t even aware we are in the same movement? What could be possible if we saw ourselves as collectively building this distinct learner-centered field to increase its visibility and social impact?
A clarion call for distinguishing the field of learner-centered education
No matter the field, be it aeronautics or anthropology, having shared language and commitments enable clearer conversations and collaboration across people and organizations. A pilot can be anywhere in the world and concisely communicate with air traffic control their need to make an emergency landing.
Without distinguishing the field in this way, we stifle our ability to quickly get to the core of what we are working towards, in this case, learner-centered experiences for every single child.
In the way “success” has overwhelmingly meant “high standardized scores” in education, imagine instead a learner-centered starting point to think about questions like What does success look like? What does equity mean? What makes quality learning?
Education Reimagined’s Learning Lab seeks to bring clarity and awareness of the learner-centered field that’s lying just beneath the surface and is one attempt to equip participants to distinguish the field. State and district administrators, learners, researchers, educators, community members, you name it, come together to dive deep and gain clarity on making the once invisible lens of learner-centered, visible. The result is a growing group of people who can see their commitments and who are contributing to a distinguished field and movement.
David Cook, Director of Innovative Learning at Kentucky’s Department of Education said, “The Learning Lab Orientation serves as a reminder that the learner-centered lens is the foundational piece. We can throw around education terms like ‘project-based learning’ all day, but we need to get clear on what we are up to, beyond individual practices. It only benefits state agencies, district administrators, community members, and others to have a shared starting point to begin thinking about what education could really be, otherwise, this work won’t spread.”
Tom Rooney, Superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District said, “The decision-makers, finance people, principals, educators, union representatives, and learners with whom the learner-centered vision resonates, should join the Learning Lab. It is through this clarity that there is new potential of aligning our systems and practices together. This clarity leaves each of us reflective and clearer about what we can do to work towards that vision.”
Whether you are in the pursuit of learner-centered education in your community or you hold a different vision, consider the power of distinguishing what you are working towards. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
If you are committed to contributing your leadership to the creation of the learner-centered field, we invite you to join the Learning Lab Orientation—an entryway into a growing national community of 850+ learner-centered people. The spring cohort is forming now and will run from February 3 to April 28. For more information, click here.
Lindsy Ogawa is the Director of Practice & Field Advancement at Education Reimagined.
Schools are no strangers to gathering data. Standardized test scores, student to teacher ratios, and enrollment trends are but three examples. Data is ubiquitous and likely will only increase. Yet, journalist Amy Burroughs suggests we adopt an approach that fits with what the experts are saying, “the essential ingredients for a data-driven culture have little to do with data itself. The real shift occurs when everyone in the educational community starts to change what they talk about and how they respond to conversational outcomes.”
It’s not the numbers or even qualitative data that matters most. It’s how we use it that makes all the difference.
Many schools have turned to dashboards in an effort to improve the visibility of student learning and academic achievement. Evidence-based practice (EBP), though not a new approach, appears in a position to revolutionize the traditional narrative. Also known as the “what works” agenda, EBP is about merging research and contextual evidence. The contextual evidence is resultant when there is honest engagement in conversations around the data. This helps inform so standardized protocols can be developed and transparent pathways for improvement might be articulated. Further, forming an alliance between all constituents is pivotal, as planning the implementation of strategies and advocacy. Optimal educational attainment is the goal.
A Seemingly Transitory Time
While schools continue to be situated on political grounds and the pandemic is not yet in our rearview mirrors, one certainty remains; the lifeblood of education and a common yearning to support all students. Administrators, teachers, parents, and students alike share in this and without a doubt, EBP has a role to play in this support.
In Walks MARIO
The MARIO Framework came about as a result of a commitment to improving learner outcomes. Leveraging robust research, MARIO positions students for success as personalized learning experiences that are:
One-to-one learning structure
Through MARIO, students are being empowered by sustainable and personalized learning approaches in over 15 countries. Founder of the MARIO Framework, Philip Bowman imparts, “The primary focus isn’t actually on MARIO. Rather, the focus is on privileging what matters most to each individual learner. It’s time we, as educators, listen more and talk less.” And Universal Design Learning (UDL) principles are woven into the fabric. “UDL strategically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s goal of ultimately creating successful, self-directed, expert learners,” shared Dr. Katie Novak, one of the leading experts in UDL.
The Humanity Behind MARIO for Me
Clearly, the pandemic has helped shine a light on some of education’s darkest issues—one frontrunner being the need to focus on social and emotional learning (SEL). MARIO for Me, a cutting-edge software solution, connects students, teachers, school leaders and families. The software suite features a much more organic way of gathering meaningful data and then utilizing it in a purposeful way. For example, sleep, mood, and friendships are a few data points that may surface in one-to-one learning conversations. The evidence-based MARIO Approach shows the efficacy of highly targeted 5-7 minute conversations twice a week, which can improve the overall grade point average for neurodiverse learners. “Some data is quantitative, while other data is qualitative. Regardless, it all helps paint a more accurate reflection of who the learner is, where they are, and where they want to go,” suggests Bowman. MARIO for Me permits all stakeholders the opportunity to peer into a student’s life and leverage personalized tools to empower how the learner meets their goals, academics or otherwise.
Free Access to the Latest Research
MARIO Framework’s recently launched MARIO Memo seeks to inform, empower and inspire educators worldwide, bridging the gaps between researchers, academia, and our classrooms. Best of all, it’s free to all readers!
focused on neurodiverse learners but the information and research applies to all educators.
published by a team of more than 15 dedicated educators from around the world.
delivered to your inbox twice a month.
available as a downloadable audio file.
The regular review of current and relevant educational literature ostensibly has the power to elevate a teacher’s craft with drip-fed evidence-based practices. In the end, the hope is to improve learners’ experiences, but also for teaching to be more effective and equitable.
Matt Piercy works at the International School Bangkok. You can follow him on Twitter @mpiercy35.
Tutoring is having its edtech moment. Whether the hundreds of millions raised by edtech platforms or the string of ongoing requests from districts for new interventions (the latest being Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and a $50m request-for-proposals to tutoring solutions to help students recover from the pandemic), tutoring is being touted as the answer to bridging the pandemic-induced equity gap in education.
We feel that to support English Language Learners (ELL) who have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic (growing roughly 30 percent slower than a year of typical student growth) tutoring needs to be built with careful strategies based on research-backed methods. Tutoring works best when research-backed frameworks and methods are placed into the hands of quality human teachers when well-designed technology meets the best of human teaching and is aligned with the efforts of local schools and districts.
For classroom teachers that need to pivot online, we know getting started can be daunting so we’ve asked our community of online English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers to offer some tips to their classroom counterparts.
Online ESL Tip #1: Build Smart
“I find it most effective to be flexible with my lessons. This means following a curriculum but incorporating relevant resources as the need arises.” –Claire Ellis, South Africa
Research shows that ” effective online learning results from instructional design and planning”. Designing unique materials or an entire curriculum is not feasible nor a good use of time for those starting out. When developing your skills as a tutor, do so in stages; find a starting point that suits you. You cannot predict the language proficiencies of your potential student. Instead, create a teaching infrastructure that allows you to support the needs of your students.
Online ESL Tip #2: Be Yourself, Be Human
“Building a relationship with a student is key. It allows for more meaningful conversations to arise as well as learning to happen more naturally.” –Craig Lockley, United Kingdom
When a teacher remains professional but authentic they are able to forge a genuine connection with students, particularly important for online ESL teachers as class sizes are smaller, often consisting of a single teacher and student. When a student feels connected to their teacher, they are more likely to feel more comfortable exploring new concepts and of course, making mistakes. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Online ESL Tip #3: Set Standards
“You should create rules that guide student interactions. You also need to develop a protocol to overcome unexpected situations or. interruptions that arise from being online”. –Sarah Rose, Spain
In any student and teacher relationship, it is important to establish a set of standards that help guide the trajectory of a lesson. For example, in order to address student communication needs on a video conferencing platform, you need to train students to use it effectively and then utilize functions that benefit you and the standards you have in class. This might involve requiring students to have stable settings and regular internet access.
Online ESL Tip #4: Meet the Learner Where They Are
“Treat each student as an individual and so their learning should be personalized. Explain that the learning process is flexible, not linear; they might have to review concepts several times before retaining them.” –Peter Spraggs, United Kingdom
Online teachers often get stuck into the trap of a “one size fits all” approach, lumping learners into beginner, intermediate or advanced categories. Yet it is critical to understand the individual needs of each student you encounter. This can be deciphered through unique assessments that address different aspects of language learning. The outcomes of these assessments should guide a teacher in making a personalized learning plan for each student.
The most successful learning is done when a student feels valued, honored, and empowered.
Online ESL Tip #5: Invest in Yourself
“It’s so important that you invest in a good headset!” –Samantha Fouche, Namibia
“Buy yourself two books: ‘How languages are learned’ by Nina Spada et al., and ‘The Teacher’s Grammar of English’ by Ron Cowan. The former will help you develop strong teaching strategies while the latter provides an excellent understanding of grammar and the types of errors ESL students make while learning.” –James Heywood, co-founder Off2Class, Australia
As a tutor, you may think that the most important thing you need to invest in is your students. However, when you make an investment in yourself, it makes others want to invest in you! Make room for learning and individual growth.
Kris Jagasia is the co-founder and CEO of Off2Class, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher toolkit that saves time and drives equitable English Learner outcomes. Off2Class is used as a curriculum, assessment, and professional development tool in ELL district teams across America, and thousands of individual ESL teachers use Off2Class as their education infrastructure, to tutor online and in-person, in over 120 countries. Kris has built many of the key teams within the business including teacher support and success, marketing and sales, and takes an active role in managing U.S. K-12 operations.
The Immokalee Foundation was established 30 years ago to support education and professional development for students in Immokalee, Florida, where more than half of the children between the ages of five and 17 live below the poverty level. Like many other low-income communities across the country, the children of Immokalee have more responsibility and less support than most of their middle-income peers. And, because many of these children’s parents are migrant farmworkers, they have additional challenges that are complex and unique: they live far away from a large town center with opportunities for entertainment and employment; their parents work from dawn to dusk harvesting food to feed our nation; and they often have to help with younger siblings. They may even have a job to help pay their family’s bills.
Even so, The Immokalee Foundation is making a difference for these kids in a way that will not only allow for a more productive future but will positively impact their community. The Immokalee Foundation’s students have achieved outstanding academic success. Remarkably, 100 percent of the students have graduated from high school, 100 percent have a post-secondary plan for a professional career, and 92 percent graduate with a postsecondary certificate or degree. These results are best-in-class among organizations serving children at risk.
And these best-in-class students are succeeding with great enthusiasm. By participating in the Foundation’s programs, students in this community are choosing to spend their personal time participating in additional educational events. Not many young people today welcome the chance to essentially add extra educational activities to their already busy school and work schedules.
Understanding the unique challenges
As migrant farm workers, many parents of the Foundation’s students harvest produce and follow the crops up north in the spring and early summer. This means students’ school schedules are interrupted on an annual basis, having to leave school in April, enroll in another state to complete the school year, and then return to Immokalee in late October. It’s not hard to imagine how challenging it would be for these children to stay engaged and learn in school while having to adapt to new people, places, and routines. And it’s easy to understand why it is hard for Immokalee’s young people to envision anything outside of their normal lives without opportunities and/or individuals who can guide and encourage them to strive for more.
Defining the best approach for maximum impact
When faced with so many challenges, it’s difficult for educators and community leaders to determine which needs to address first and how to help. The Foundation conducted a needs assessment in 2006 to identify priorities and inform planning efforts. The result determined that early literacy, after-school educational programs, college preparation, and technical skills were the most essential needs that the schools could not address at that time, primarily due to funding issues. The Immokalee Foundation was providing grants and scholarships to the community, but after the study, the Board decided it was best for the Foundation to provide direct programming targeted to specific educational needs.
Creating pathways to success
The first step is helping students establish a strong reading foundation. The Immokalee Readers program works to build literacy skills for elementary-aged children who are reading below grade level. The program comes with a personal touch, providing high school tutors, supervised by certified professional teachers, to work one-on-one with young readers – helping to enhance reading skills, and most importantly, build lasting mentor-like friendships.
In addition to services for elementary-aged students, The Immokalee Foundation provides a variety of services to help prepare the community’s middle and high school students for college. These services include college scholarships that have enabled a majority of them to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
In 2019-2020, the Foundation launched a new initiative called Career Pathways, designed to prepare students for professional careers in job categories that are in demand in Southwest Florida. The individual pathways include:
· Business Management & Entrepreneurship
· Education & Human Services
· Engineering & Construction Management
The overriding objective of this initiative is to ensure that every student acquires the technical skills, hands-on experience, and marketable credentials that lead to a professional career and financial independence.
To avoid the outdated misconceptions and stigma often associated with technical education, the program does not pigeonhole students into a college-bound vs. technical school track. Instead, every Foundation student is exposed to a common career-oriented curriculum and is empowered to discover and pursue the career path that best fits his or her interests, capabilities and goals.
Utilizing education technology to personalize and differentiate instruction
Everyone likes to talk about personalized learning that is focused on a student’s goals, but how do you expose kids to these things when their worlds don’t allow them to understand what opportunities are available to them? While many of the community’s students are being raised in non-English speaking households, literacy remains essential to helping these children become successful. The Immokalee Foundation found Achieve3000 Literacy to be a great fit for their program.
The online learning platform includes a Career Center that is designed to help students connect learning and literacy to future opportunities. The students can see their current reading level and the requirements needed for the careers they are interested in, all while becoming exposed to news and articles about their chosen industry. It’s truly a personalized, wrap-around educational experience. Not only are improved reading skills a benefit to the students, but the school district benefits because students are able to test out of remedial courses and take advantage of dual enrollment and career academy courses. (Read more about Immokalee’s work with Achieve3000 Literacyhere.)
Gaining hands-on experience with project-based learning
Because it’s difficult for students to access work experiences outside the community, the Foundation decided to bring work opportunities to the students. One example is The Learning Lab, an innovative new component of the Career Pathways initiative, and an 18-home subdivision in Immokalee that will serve as a hands-on professional career experience. Students who are following the Career Pathway curriculums for Engineering & Construction Management and Business Management & Entrepreneurship work with industry professionals to learn about and experience the processes of land development, home construction, and marketing and sales.
Creating more than just great student outcomes
According to Collier County School Board member Roy Terry, “Over the past decade, Immokalee High School has increased its graduation rate from below 40 percent to 93 percent. Without the intensive interventions and support of The Immokalee Foundation, most students would not have a postsecondary career plan. The Foundation provides the afterschool and summer education, professional development and career counseling needed for Immokalee’s youth to take full advantage of the school district’s Career and Technical programs. The Foundation also provides students with postsecondary scholarships that lead to well-paying, in-demand professional careers.”
To learn more about the foundation, visit immokaleefoundation.org.
Noemi Y. Perez, who was raised in Immokalee, has worked for The Immokalee Foundation for 12 years and currently serves as the foundation’s CEO. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Hodges University, Perez chose to use her knowledge and experience to serve her community through The Immokalee Foundation’s programs and services.
In the U.S., and in many other nations, K-12 education is defined by a short list of school subjects. Mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies occupy more than half of instructional time. From there, we can make some reasonable assumptions and ask some reasonable questions. For example, we know that mathematics runs the cycle from Kindergarten through high school, and Social Studies begins, in earnest, around fifth or sixth grade. And so, it’s reasonable to assign less than 10 percent of instructional time to Social Studies, or about 1,000 hours of in-classroom learning. Roughly, the same is true for Science.
How is that time spent? See, there’s the tricky part because, unlike Mathematics, neither Social Studies nor Science remains static from one year to the next. New things happen. Social Studies adds material on social sciences and media literacy. New perspectives emerge. Unfortunately, the number of hours devoted to Social Studies does not change.
In 2020, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the world to stay at home, shutting down schools and businesses as we waited for a miracle vaccine. The U.S. elected its first female vice president. And from a teaching perspective, everything became more complicated because topics must now be approached from multiple perspectives, as with Black Lives Matter. All of these lessons are very important and lend themselves to expanded conversations. Unfortunately, these conversations take time, but again, the number of available hours devoted to Social Studies will not change.
We need more time, but that’s not likely. Instead, we could ignore, or minimize, our conversation about Black Lives Matter, but that seems ill-advised. We could chop and prune, reducing the time devoted to, say, the Magna Carta or Reconstruction, or the study of India or China. Most teachers don’t spend much time on these subjects anyway. Would less be so bad? (Yes.)
Last year, I spent some time with Ahmed, 13, and Hazem, 14. Both of these students live in Cairo, but they’ve traveled some. Ahmed plans to design cars for BMW. Hazem was so upset about George Floyd, he drew a poster to express his concerns. I knew almost nothing about their country—only the Pyramids and the Suez Canal. There are about 200 countries in the world and many more cultures. There’s no time to teach everyone about all of these places, so most students know almost nothing about most people and most countries in the world. People on earth are increasingly dependent upon one another—for reasons related to climate change, public health, and more— but we’re not likely to care about those who live elsewhere if we know nothing about those people or those places. Actually, that’s not quite true. Kids learn a lot from YouTube. They just don’t learn much about the world from school.
Every year, the story becomes more complicated. There is more to cover. There are more ways to learn, and not all of them are school-centered. More and more, students are learning what they want to learn, in the ways they prefer to learn it.
That raises a mighty question. What must every student learn—and remember? Must every student learn about the atomic bombs that the U.S. dropped on Japan? Should they know that no country except the U.S. has ever dropped a nuclear bomb on the people of another country? Should students discuss how and why the decision was made to drop these bombs? Should they know “the Fat Man” was a plutonium-based weapon, and “the Little Boy” was based on uranium? What should they know about life in Hiroshima, or Nagasaki during the Second World War and people who live in those places today? What should today’s students know about internment camps where Japanese citizens of the U.S. were warehoused, about wartime production, refugee crises, or FDR’s immigration policies?
Me, I am more curious about Truman’s decision to drop the bombs than I am about nuclear fission. You may be fascinated by the leap from quantum theory to world-class weaponry. That’s fine—we’re both interested, but each of us wants to pursue our own path. Mine may lead to comets and asteroids, and the destruction of the dinosaurs and 3/4 of the animals and plants on earth some 66 million years ago. Your curiosity may shift focus to Europe, and the remarkable Winston Churchill. We may meet up in quantum physics, at least for a while. That’s fine. Each of us should be able to learn what we find interesting to make the connections that bring the stories, and our history to life.
Unfortunately, we can’t do that. There’s a test coming up. There is a standard curriculum. In short, somebody else has decided that Winston Churchill isn’t worth much time and that FDR’s immigration policies have almost none at all—impact on my family.
In short, we have a conflict. On the one hand, we have the ever-expanding Social Studies (or Science) curriculum, composed of far too many small pieces and the dim likelihood that students will remember much of it. On the other, we have the entire world and students who are becoming quite skillful as they explore their own curiosities. It’s not a fair fight. It’s only a question of how much longer we will prevent students from learning on their own terms, reinventing the job of the teacher to make the future possible.
Howard Blumenthal created and produced the PBS series, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? He is currently a Senior Scholar at The University of Pennsylvania where his projects include Kids on Earth, Reinventing School, and extensive work on the future of learning and school for 21st-century students. Learn more: www.hblumenthal.com.
As schools resume this fall, will learning be the same? Will Covid draw to a parenthetical close – or will it take a new, decisive turn? As educators and administrators struggle with the realities of the pandemic, it prompted many to venture into new territories and try new things. In the same vein, each student and family had to find what worked (or did not work!) for them, as they were placed in front of the stark reality of learning on their own. New tools and ways were found, created, sharpened – and new ways to teach and learn made their way into routines. Many will be soon left to the wayside, but a few might be here to stay.
To this point, Karin Veldhoen explored in a previous Getting Smart blog the opportunity to use post-pandemic education as a “creative moment”, to prepare children to thrive in what she calls “The Age of Acceleration”. In many ways, Covid simply accelerated trends and changes already on the way – but gave them a huge push on the adoption curve. The first, of course, is the very adoption and comfort level with technology, as kids’ screen times went up by 50% during the pandemic. EdTech was already changing the playing field before Covid (as valuations such as Chegg, Coursera, and Course Hero demonstrate, the market saw potential) – the pandemic opened the door to new adopters in hungry eyes of learners, avid minds of teachers looking for solutions, or administrators looking to cope (or for a chance to reinvent). Big data and AI are making one-on-one learning possible at scale – giving everyone a chance at a personalized class, learning experience, and ultimately way of learning. Ultimately, Tech paved the way to new expectations, and a set of new attitudes towards learning and teaching, some of which are making their way into the mainstream.
Many generations expected to see their children in the same way that they did themselves, with a few minor adaptations. This generation might face a different ballgame, for better or for worse. The World Economic Forum, in its analysis of innovative pedagogical approaches that drive change in the education system, outlined five categories:
In each of these categories, new approaches are supported by a myriad of tools – presenting an opportunity for schools, institutions, and teachers as they make their way through a variety of models, from Hybrid, Blended to HyFlex. While the future will tell which of these tools are here to stay after the dust settles, what is much more interesting than the individual tools is the emergence of new categories that support these pedagogical approaches:
While Maria Montessori noted a long time ago that children learn better by playing – through the indirect method – it seems hard to imagine today’s K-12 learning tools that are NOT playful. Education has learned so much from gaming – and gamified, playful learning, around for a while, is here to stay. Osmo, for instance, “combines hands-on play and digital adventure for 21st-century learning”. Nearpod uses gamification as a way to generate data through formative, ongoing assessment, providing real-time insight into student understanding through gamified interactive lessons and videos. TinyBop works on apps that help children grasp concepts through play and experimentation, sparking curiosity and drawing children into immersive learning experiences.
Problem-solving and critical thinking quickly went from being the “cherry on the cake” of traditional education to being a sine qua non for the 21st-century workplace or modern life – and “critical thinking” learning emerged as a new area. Elon Musk’s Synthesis, originally available to SpaceX families but now open to all, is an experimental school to develop students “enthralled by complexity and solving for the unknown” to exercise judgment, make sense of the world and collaborate to solve difficult problems – learning to make tough decisions. This is rooted in the observation that true agency, critical for the future, may happen in the life of elementary or middle school students – but by accident rather than by design. In order to nurture problem-solving skills, Synthesis places students in a position where they can solve big, real problems (yes, students want the real thing) – and collaborate on doing so.
Children learn better through movement and interaction – movement creates experiences that are better processed and engraved in memory than concepts. While learning math through song and dance existed for a while, speech recognition tools such as SoapboxLabs create new ways of practicing and advancing language, compatible with accessibility needs (as data pinpoints where accessibility is needed). Children use the Soapbox voice engine to speak out loud and get immediate feedback on their pronunciation while giving their teachers a clear idea of where they struggle and thrive.
Finally, multiliteracy focuses on the multiple ways language is used and shared, connecting to diversity and cultural awareness. Adaptive writing tools such as NoRedInk encourage students to “play with language” and generate questions based on their favorite celebrities, making the content fun and engaging – and culturally relevant and responsive. The Social Express uses animated interactive lessons targeting core deficit areas – and shows statistically significant improvements in groups of students with disabilities using the tool for 10 weeks or more.
As the education space evolves, it is interesting to observe the emergence of not just new tools but new categories within the space – while the jury is out in terms of winners in each, the reshaping of the space represents an opportunity for innovation, growth – and a fresh approach to teaching and learning. Ultimately, a big opportunity will be the ability to integrate many of these in a coherent whole – and it will be interesting to see which players will be vying for that role. Until then, happy discovery this fall!
Anne Olderog is a Partner at Vivaldi, leading projects on growth/innovation strategy, positioning and brand architecture.
Aya Asali is a brand analyst with Vivaldi and Zenia Tangri is the engagement manager at Vivaldi.
Ō hele, aia nō ka ʻai a me ka iʻa. Go, the sustenance you need lies ahead –Pele to her sister Hiʻiaka
Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk — we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs. –Brene Brown
In March 2021, out in the deep ocean off the coast of Hawai’i Island, students in Kumu Pualani (Pua) Lincoln Maielua’s Migrations of Moananuiākea Capstone class float in a circle, treading water. It’s as if a Harkness Table appears from the ocean depths. The group shares, one by one, the most impactful moments they have had out on the water for the past four days as they learn to steer and navigate a traditional Hawaiian canoe. Each learner speaks with joy and reverence, reflecting on how this voyage impacts and illuminates their own individual Capstone projects. Each learner reflects on how their unique skills and capacities allow them to succeed out on the water and also in the classroom.
Modeling Authenticity and Your Connection to the Class
Without rooting authenticity in pedagogy, curriculum, class culture, and lesson plans, the story highlighted above is not possible. The starting place for all of this is the teacher. Kumu Pua reflects, “It always starts with yourself as a teacher, be grounded in who you are and what you do. Put yourself out there, share elements of yourself with your class.” Explaining and showcasing personal connection to the lesson, content, skills, and capacities that define a class/program is an entry point for a teacher. Sharing out a personal story, and leaning into the values of vulnerability and trust, acts as a model for students, and proves that teachers are willing to do what they are asking students to do in the class; that they will put in the work. Kumu Pua’s mission at the start of each school year is to create moments where her students see her personal connection to what she is sharing with them. She models her connection to the content through authentic storytelling. When teachers do this, it enables students to see relevance and relatability in the lesson and content, and in Pua’s words to “interweave their own stories into those moments as well, while starting to see themselves in the content and skill development.” By demonstrating her authentic connection to not only the content but to the journey the class will embark on together, she displays her passion, vulnerability, and the trust she has for them, creating a shared culture that comes alive.
Our Student’s Origin Stories
When asked about that moment out in the ocean, Kumu Pua laughs, “The first thing I think about is safety and training, then I think about the emotions of that moment. The magic of that moment only happens because of all the work and training we put in beforehand; physical, mental, and emotional. This moment, circled up out in the water, became their most authentic presentation and assessment.” So, how do you build out this culture and community of trust? For Kumu Pua, she wants her students to explore and start to understand where they come from – their family, culture, skills, dreams, drive, and passions. She starts the year by having students explore their genealogy, ancestry, and the people that are key stakeholders in their lives. She wants them to understand that what they aspire to be is a reflection of who they are and where they come from. The students then look within themselves, engaging in a process of self-exploration and examining the ways they can contribute to their community. The goal here is for students to understand that their life experiences, their origin stories, their unique skills and capacities, can then be used to impact the classroom, their school, and the world. Now it’s your turn:
Start with a name. Have everyone explain the meanings and stories behind their first, middle, and last names. Use this as a springboard for the cohort to understand who they are working and collaborating with. Model the activity with your own name, sharing and adding a story.
Get out some big sheets of paper. An ideation and culture activity that Kumu Pua has masterfully made her own, optimizing it for her classes, is called Head, Heart and Purpose (inspired by an Echoing Green curricular activity). Take this basic template and optimize it for your class and cohort of learners. Update it to reflect the goals of your class and the learners you are partnering with. Have students take photos of their sheets of paper for reference throughout the year.
Importance of External Mentors
Fostering confidence and a sense of belonging in students empowers them to be their authentic selves. When students see themselves represented in the work and goals of the class, there is relevance and new found purpose. By partnering students with mentors outside of the normal structures of school, teachers can demonstrate to students that they are worthy of investment, and that someone who is not paid to teach them finds this collaboration important. This also makes the work and skill development authentic and real. A subject matter expert mentor can provide insight into student work that is timely, and allows students a glimpse into the area of the professional world that these mentors engage in. Kumu Pua reflects, “Students need to have diverse examples of adulting in their life, diverse examples of inspired passionate professionals in their life, and if you have an array of people to connect with, it allows them to bloom, and to have more models of collaboration and people who serve their community. Gaining this mentorship from other adults inspires and empowers them to be a mentor for their fellow classmates and others in the world.”
Authenticity and Thoughtful Learning Experiences Matter
Authenticity has to be at the core of all of our movements as educators because of what is happening in the world on a global scale. Students need to feel like they can own who they are, and they need a network of other people embarking on the same journey. Kumu Pua states, “The rigor of authenticity is what we need to survive this moment and that’s what is going to change the world and empower everybody in all walks of life.”
I have developed and written about something I call Project Based Mentoring®. It is both new, and as old as time… What is it? What people does it help? And How?
Essentially, this idea, this methodology, is about knowledge transfer. But this is not knowledge from an educator, a theoretician, or a book – rather it is knowledge transferred from an expert in the field, a hands-on practitioner. The idea is simple: “learning from doers and learning by doing.”
Project Based Mentoring® puts a project at the center of an intergenerational relationship, where a student is the project’s leader, where the student executes to a master plan, where the student navigates real-world obstacles, and presents their findings – all while having a mentor/practitioner by their side who is experienced and from a like field.
This is a win/win for each constituent.
For a Student/Mentee, they are learning to think critically in a real-world environment. They are learning to plan and forecast, and to design actionable steps to a deadline. They are learning to collaborate and to experience the pains of their hypothesis gone awry. They are learning to present and defend their body of work to an audience of peers and professionals. Essentially, they are learning how to project-lead, but with guidance. At the end of 6 months or a year, they have a true accomplishment, a new confidence, a mentor’s endorsement, and a set of transferable skills that can be applied to a 21st-Century work environment.
Tim Kautz and James J. Heckman researched what they call non-cognitive skills, such as character, motivation, and goals – considered extremely valuable traits in the labor market. They found that the most successful non-cognitive skills are taught under mentoring environments (James Heckman and Tim Kautz, “Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions That Improve Character and Cognition,” National Bureau of Economic Research (2013).) Moreover, students exposed to mentorship programs have the distinct advantage of an “experiential education,” which has been shown to engender a complete learning experience for students. (Laura Joplin, “On Defining Experiential Education,” Journal of Experiential Education, 4, no. 1 (1981): 17.)
As I report under “Relevant Research” below, NFTE has performed its own studies of mentorship programs and found students exposed to a mentorship program outperformed unmentored classmates in numerous ways, including their comfort level in speaking, career-related knowledge and skills obtained, and the perception students have of the educational program.
For the Practitioner/Mentor, they are becoming an educator; they are learning to communicate simply, to manage expectations and disappointments, to share real-world experiences and be a motivator. Within the corporate world, mentorship is viewed as a form of management training, confidence building. The HR departments have also found that a positive culture shift happens when employee mentors bring this community experience back to the work environment. As well, HR is said to gain more millennial job applicants who prefer to work at a ‘do-good’ company that is not just profit-driven. Mentorship roles are known to build pipelines not only into STEM industries, but also to build a pipeline of new employees. Essentially, mentorship is creating community connections, and community educators.
Geriatric Psychiatrist Dr. Gene Cohen suggests that intergenerational support offers clear health benefits to the mentor—even if they are older or retired. An opportunity to do something with a common creative goal, and to bring together a rich diversity of perspective, makes the blended experience uniquely rich and motivating. One benefit for the mentor is a psychological reward—for being engaged and sharing your knowledge, and another is practical—in having a purpose, a schedule, and a value. “The benefits often extend far from the origin of the collaboration,” he says. (Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D, “The Creative Age,” William Morrow Paperbacks, 2001).
How did I arrive at this conclusion and methodology?
Through philanthropic interests, I was first introduced to NFTE, where I still sit on their national board. Back in 2001, I proposed to this nonprofit a new pilot called Adopt-a-Class. The thinking was: how can practitioners like me offer insights to youth without disrupting the classroom or the teacher? The core concept was: wouldn’t kids like hearing about my trials in building a construction company as a female entrepreneur? So, I was the first guinea pig mentor.
For 20+ years now, I have continued to mentor inner-city youth on developing business plans and taking their businesses to market. I have fostered close to 1000 students over the course of that time, working with 30-40 in a class for a full year each. I have 1000s of letters from my mentees, sharing their gratitude and their motivation to stay in business as a result of our time together. To expand the model, I wrote a 200-page plan on how to operate Adopt-a-Class, and saw the plan accelerate to 12 regions across America. I brought countless mentors to the NFTE classes in the Maryland, DC, and Virginia marketplace.
I was so excited about the impact the program had on my students and my fellow mentors that I wrote a book about it: Teach to Work: How a Mentor, A Mentee, and A Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America– expanding such that projects in all fields can be applied to this mentorship model, not just business. Others have been interested in how to bring together the corporate and academic sectors—in STEM, Cyber, Communications, Design—a host of fields.
To that end, I have written countless articles, the ideas have been covered in major news outlets, (Washington Post, NYTimes, Forbes, and Philanthropy Magazine, to name a few). I have numerous podcasts and radio interviews preaching the gospel of Project-Based-Mentorship ®. As well, I have been a consultant to post-secondary schools on developing corporate mentorship programs. And, lastly, I have been an invited speaker/author within the corporate world, the educational sector, for non-profit organizations as well as state-run education programs.
NFTE wanted to know how its mentored students fared compared to classmates that were not being mentored. In an abbreviated study only within one region10 NFTE schools and 221 students were tested (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Survey by the Research and Evaluation Department (2014). NFTE found the following:
The mentored students increased their self-confidence in public speaking (77% versus 63% of non-mentored students).
The mentored students were more likely to want to own their own business (87% versus 75% non-mentored students).
93% of the mentored students believed they had the ability to run their own business, versus 70% of non-mentored students.
83% believed the things their course taught them would help them if they chose a career in business, versus 68% of non-mentored students.
71% gave the course high ratings, versus 46% of non-mentored students.
60% reported having higher class engagement, versus 45% of non-mentored students.
In another study, Dr. Susan S. Harmeling, who holds a doctorate from the Darden School at the University of Virginia, undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Business School, has reported similar findings. Her doctoral research has shown that students who are exposed to effective mentoring can be transported to what Harmeling calls “new worlds.” (Susan Harmeling (2011) “Re-Storying an Entrepreneurial Identity: Education, Experience and Self- Narrative,” Education and Training 8/9.) The way Harmeling describes it, many students she encountered in her study of more than sixty inner-city NFTE students (from multiple states in the Northeast/mid-Atlantic corridor) are embedded in a particular, often disadvantaged reality she calls “Place A,” and although they may be exposed to “Place B” (a more desirable reality) on television or at the movies, in their minds getting to that place is unrealistic or unachievable for them. (Susan Harmeling, S Sarasvathy (2013) “When Contingency is a Resource: Educating Entrepreneurs in the Balkans, the Bronx and Beyond,” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 37.)
When those students are exposed to an adult mentor, however, one with a proven track record who is also accessible to them, a bridge suddenly appears between the two realities. A bridge between Place A and Place B opens possibilities. The mentor may be a success but not necessarily a star. The mentor is human, not superhuman, as he or she shares a personal trajectory incorporating struggles, missteps, dead ends, and painful disappointments. Once the students hear a real person’s life story, they can envision a new path for themselves. The story evokes the thought, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”
Why is this important in education today?
In its Great Jobs Great Lives study Gallup concluded that when six key factors are experienced by graduates during college, it doubled their odds of being engaged in their work and having a greater sense of wellbeing later in life. (Great Jobs Great Lives: The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report (Washington, D.C.: Gallup, 2014), accessed February 1, 2016, https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/galluppurdueindex-report-2014.pdf.) Gallup’s research, in my mind, dictates new educational priorities for better preparing youth for their future. Building on Gallup’s research and my own personal experiences and research, I’ve found that four factors can make a world of difference:
1. Incorporating the community and industry to help develop curriculum, teach educators on field-related requirements, and to integrate industry to better prepare youth for the jobs of tomorrow.
2. The critical importance of youth interfacing with adults during their school years, and in particular the importance of a Mentor – an intergenerational role model whose role is to support a student’s goals and dreams. This Mentor is to be a sounding board, a ballast, and a center for values and clarity. As well, the Mentor is a true practitioner from the real world and as such, offers real-world, practical guidelines. A Mentor plays the role of devil’s advocate and gently pushes against probabilities, all the while holding a mentee to task, and to timely completion.
3. The importance of applying what you are learning to a long-term Project. This type of learning is based not just on theory but on real-world experience. Within project development, a student starts from their own understanding of the world and a need that should be met, employing critical thinking. Next, the Mentee takes ownership in seeing that concept grow to become a reality—and successful or not, the journey is owned and in real-time. Indeed, this project becomes an accomplishment that has met a deadline, has a hard-and-fast result and is defended through a formal oral presentation. These are the skills the business world seeks.
4. An Ability to Plan. I have written extensively about Project Based Mentoring® and marrying the above three critical educational facets—industry engagement, mentorship and projects. To these, I add one of the most critical skills that is rarely taught today—the ability to plan.
I contend that the business world, the management world, the finance world, the science world, the tech world, the art world—are all project-driven. As an employee, a manager, or a leader, you are graded on your promise, your actions, your outcome, and your delivery/presentation.
Rarely in education are our students taught how to think critically, and to plan.
One of my favorite books is “Homo Prospectus,” written by Dr. Martin Seligman, the Dean of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes, “The ability to anticipate and evaluate future possibilities for the guidance of thought and action is the cornerstone of human success.” Rather than focus on the therapies of the past, he shows how human prospection fundamentally reshapes our understandings. We are much more likely to be successful if we can anticipate and invest our time effectively and efficiently—it’s vital to how we manage in life. Two quick examples:
He suggests that food deprivation can give a creature hunger and an urge to eat—but anticipation can intelligently regulate enabling a creature to avoid hunger in the first place.
The same is true in competition: anticipating your competitor’s next step gives you a critical advantage.
I also believe Industry Engagement is critical because these are the employers of tomorrow. How can Educators prepare youth for an ever-changing economy if they don’t understand the newest needs of the 21st-century workforce? Industry and Academia need to align and revisit what requirements and skills are essential to succeed. Otherwise, educators are shooting in the dark, and youth will fall critically behind, be underemployed and unmotivated.
Project-Based Mentorship ® is a form of knowledge transfer. As learners take on new knowledge, there are myriad ways of inputs and outtakes. “Learning by Doing, Learning from Doers” taps into a practical, hands-on methodology. Here’s how, now you try. A mentor is not a judge, an authority, or a person that grades you—instead, the relationship mimics a respectful work relationship, a collaborator. A person with whom you can play devil’s advocate, ask questions and exchange ideas. In so many professional fields there are apprenticeships, fellowships; I’m suggesting this becomes a more broadened institutional method for learning –from true practitioners with field experience. Indeed, with 20+ years under my belt and countless student letters, I know we broaden a youth’s capacity to see themselves through a mentor’s eyes and to give them new confidence to try in the face of adversity. In other words, mentors are motivators.
Project Orientation is also critical. There is a whole school of educational best practices on Project Based Learning. It is designed to engage students in the investigation of authentic problems; it affects motivation in learning. Indeed, learning sticks when it is connected to something students understand to be important to their lives, something where they are truly invested. When others are always calling the shots and telling youth what to do, students feel powerless. But anyone willing to learn directly from reality, rather than complying with a widely accepted narrative, is in a position to innovate, critically think, expand on ideas, and be an active contributor.
As Aunt Addie Norton said in Singin’, Praisin’, Raisin’: “I tell you one thing-if you learn to do it yourself, if you have to get down and dig for it, it never leaves you. It stays there as long as you live because you had to dig it out of the mud.”
Research and Development – Why Corporations Participate
I have often been asked why corporations should expend the resources on mentorship programs—including programs that exist within their walls, and those that expand outwardly to the community. And in both cases, my answer is the same: because everyone, including the mentors, the mentees, and the corporation, will benefit. Employees will develop leadership skills and stronger working relationships, they will become part of something bigger, and they will grow professionally. And corporations will see more employee engagement, retention, happiness, and even increased community relations.
I can say this because over the course of my own 35-year career, as well as decades of hands-on mentoring myself, I personally witnessed the tremendous benefits. And then I started interviewing dozens of corporations and researching the value of mentorship within corporate cultures and communities, creating a mentorship program that was adopted nationally. I also spent countless hours researching and writing Teach to Work. I can attest to how careers and lives have been permanently changed, and how corporations have implemented programs only to find the positive ripple effect that touch nearly every aspect of the company’s business: profitability, employee satisfaction, corporate responsibility, hiring, and corporate image.
Project Based Mentoring Builds Character and Competency
Project Based Mentoring occurs when a mentor and mentee collaborate on a real-world project. And that collaboration lends itself to six important life lessons that embody the mentor/mentee bond.
One of the most important personality traits a mentor brings to the relationship is “if I did it – if I made it through all the struggles and bumps – you can, too.” A mentor shares the peaks and valleys in the road that she went through. And from that relationship, the mentee will also grow confidence in making it through peaks and valleys. To a mentee, the mentor is a tangible, humble, and accessible example of what success can look like. And nearly always, that success didn’t come without flaws and uncertainties. The ideal mentor illustrates that successful people learn how to persevere, and by sharing experiences with the mentee, the mentor builds the mentee’s perseverance.
Second, the ideal mentor suggests in some way, “I’m here to help you – you can count on me – AND, I’ll be back.” Mentor/mentee relationships last for months, years, and sometimes even lifetimes. I still keep in touch with mentees I first connected with over twenty years ago. When a mentee continues to come back for more mentoring, for support, and the mentor responds, the mentor communicates – without words – that people can be reliable. Some people do what they say they are going to do.
Third, a mentoring relationship gives direction. The mentor and mentee work together on projects, and the mentor provides the important perspective of experience: “here’s how I might do this – now what do you think?” This exchange offers skill development opportunities, and the courage to try. And it provides a map of what skills might need to be sharpened while completing the project.
Fourth, a mentoring relationship gives the rare opportunity to witness a healthy, give-and-take dialogue. When troubleshooting a project, the ideal mentor will ask difficult or provoking questions, or simply play devil’s advocate. Mentors may even probe whether a mentee has thought through certain scenarios. What the mentee learns is that workplace dialogues can have a back-and-forth, compromise, and even redirection, all while being respectful. This provides important feedback on how to interact in an office setting without alienating or harshly criticizing others.
The fifth aspect a mentor relationship offers is gentle accountability. A mentor is willing to stand in the role not as a mentee’s judge, and not as a boss. Instead, the mentor should be more like a consultant, a non-judgmental listener. The mentee should feel a slight accountablity – and his consultant, his mentor, wants to see him succeed.
Finally, an ideal mentor wants to hear what the mentee has to say. The mentor volunteers her time and resources to the relationship and through simply listening, makes the mentee feel heard. This simple act builds communications skills and confidence. It allows the mentee to be the leader in respectful intergenerational dialogue.
In summary, I have witnessed the magic that can happen when educators invite Project Based Mentorship® into their classroom. It can be transformative for the mentor and mentee, and it provides countless benefits for the educator and the corporation and the community where they reside together.
Patty Alper is president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company, and is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.
In communities across the country, education administrators are opening their schools with a focus on these four C’s:
Calendars and class schedules
Content knowledge catch-up
More than ever, district and building leaders are puzzle masters, magicians in mayhem, and solvers of complex riddles. The 4C’s of reopening schools suck up time and energy. When one thing is finished, another gets added. Demands around these 4C’s have kept leaders away from other priorities that ensure our schools and students succeed.
Thanks to the pandemic, many class lists, and master calendars have been finished, only to need to be redone. Complying with school improvement plans feels impossible. In pre-COVID times, it made sense to say all teachers would offer hands-on learning and flexible seating. Those seem hard to do while practicing safe social distancing.
While these 4C’s will keep our school doors open, they will not ensure our students learn and grow.
Education administrators need to lead with two ends in mind: keep schools open and keep students learning. To make this second piece happen, leaders must embrace a different “4C’s.” Without them, students might show up when the calendar says, attend assigned classes and courses, stay COVID-free, but not learn or grow in the ways they should.
To succeed this year and beyond, these are the 4C’s students need:
Given how many demands compete for educators’ time, it may be easiest to fold these four currencies into discussions and decisions already underway.
Competencies are abilities that help students function in the world, including at school. Competencies are highly interdependent; when one is out of balance, the rest are too. They can be taught, practiced, and strengthened. They can also be depleted. Students need competencies in different combinations and quantities, depending on who they are and what they are doing.
Research on youth readiness, adolescence, and learning points to ten competencies that matter most. These are being able to focus and get things done; being able to think and create; applying learning; problem-solving and decision making; getting and staying fit; feeling and expressing emotions; persisting through struggles; sustaining positive relationships; being present, and using insights to grow and develop.
To prioritize competency development, elevate and invest in social-emotional learning, deeper learning, and career pathways programs. These should be schoolwide strategies, rather than being slated for a single class (e.g., health, life skills), academic unit, or a subset of students. Leaders can encourage teachers to design ways to plan and assess with competencies in mind. Consider using ESSER funds designated for “learning recovery” to support partnerships with youth development providers who can do this work with you.
Connections are the relationships that support students’ social health and wealth. There are three kinds of relationships students need: lifelines, door openers, and navigators. Lifelines help students feel safe, supported, and secure. Door openers introduce students to new options and opportunities. Navigators help students make sense of a place or situation. Since COVID-19 started, the social vibrancy of students’ lives has taken a hit. This has been hardest for tweens and teens because they are wired to connect. It’s how their brains learn, work, and process life. Because of this, education leaders must design learning environments so that students have ample opportunities to socialize and be in healthy relationships with others.
To prioritize connections, consider where students are free to interact and engage with others. Make sure those are available to every student. Add additional opportunities for positive socialization into the school day. Assess your extracurricular and enrichment offerings and make sure these socially rich environments are ones that all students can access, afford, and attend – especially since COVID-19 has changed many families’ circumstances.
Credentials are more than diplomas and four-year degrees. Learning after high school is changing rapidly. Today in the US, there are more than 600,000 different postsecondary credentials available. Not only are there more credentialing possibilities, but the pricing and quality among them are hugely variable.
To prioritize credentials, focus on making sure high school graduation requirements and college and career counseling reflect what students really need after graduation. Consider ways for high school and counseling staff to get professional development on the changing postsecondary landscape, both education and the workforce. Activate partnerships with local post-secondary education institutions and employers. Ensure students and their families have up-to-date information and advice when making postsecondary plans.
Cash matters. We know this personally, but often forget it when making decisions about students in school. However, when students experience financial scarcity, it hinders their ability to focus and learn. Things get worse when students live in financial crisis or poverty. Additionally, there are key learning and developmental opportunities reserved for students with financial means. This includes school sports, band, theater, and the arts. Students need support and resources to succeed in school when money is tight or when they experience poverty. All students should be able to participate in any school activity, regardless of economics.
To prioritize cash, leaders must have ways to support students when they experience cash scarcity or crisis. They also must ensure school activities are available to every student, regardless of financial means. Public school can be expensive. Between student fees, supply requirements, and associated costs of playing sports or participating in extracurricular programs, out-of-pocket costs can be thousands of dollars each year. This is another area where recovery funds can help. Just like making meals free for students, consider waiving student and activity fees this year (and forward, if you can).
Education leaders have been asked to run districts and schools in an impossible time of risk, division, and uncertainty. Even so, this is the third year of disrupted learning students have experienced, during periods of critical growth and development. The 4C’s of student success must be pursued with as much attention, passion, and focus as the 4C’s of reopening schools. It is hard and complex work, but necessary for our students’ well-being and well-becoming.
Stephanie Malia Krauss is author of Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World. She is the founder of First Quarter Strategies, a senior advisor with Job For the Future, senior fellow with Education Northwest, and staff consultant with the Youth Transition Funders Group. Stephanie is an educator and social worker, with experience as a classroom teacher and school leader.