Last week, our team at Growing Leaders enjoyed a stimulating day brainstorming with some key staff members from the Nebraska Department of Education. Rich Katt who directs the effort to prepare graduates for life and career, has led a mission to discover what employers most want and need in employees, and is now creating tools and strategies to meet those needs.
I was impressed during our day to review the eleven “Career Ready” Benchmarks they have created from discussions with leaders in the workplace. I was impressed by the individuals Rich has surrounded himself with who deeply care for students, for the economy and for the communities they live in. I was impressed with how clearly they have defined both the needs and the strategy necessary to connect with students who may have little knowledge or readiness to enter the marketplace.
Two thoughts emerged in our planning day that struck me.
First, so many good kids are getting stuck with what they should do after graduation. They have been pushed to “find their purpose in life” (which is good) but many become paralyzed at the options in front of them. They say they like “so many things” they don’t’ know where to start. The problem is, asking them what they want to do is only half of the equation. In addition to encouraging a student to ask this question, they must also ask: "What does my world need and how can I serve that need?" It’s wrong to stop at a “me” centered view of the world. It must be a bigger picture view that asks: "What cry must I answer? What problem am I suited to solve? What need can I meet?" Nothing engages students like solving a problem.
Second, students aren’t the only ones who’ve gotten stuck. Often, educators forget why they “got into this gig” in the first place, and drift from the real target they must hit. The “report card” for educators must not merely be test scores and graduation rates, it must be building employable graduates who understand the real world. Teachers and administrators must ask themselves what’s the real outcome they’re shooting for? What should a student look like when we’re finished with them? What proves that we have been successful in our investment in them? Nothing engages teachers and leaders like seeing a ROI, or “return on investment.”
I believe many kids drop out of school—not because they are unintelligent or unable to meet the standards—but because they’re bored and disengaged. Students today are conditioned to be very pragmatic. They find it difficult to continue in a direction that doesn’t seem relevant to their future. Perhaps if we connected the dots between what we teach and why, they will find purpose in the classroom, or the youth group or the athletic team. Asking the right questions will lead us to the right solutions.
Thanks Nebraska for reminding us all of these issues.
For additional ideas on preparing "career ready students," pick up a copy of Habitudes for the Journey.