Buzzwords or buzz terms have always been the rage in the world of secondary-level education. Change and reform seem to be consistent buzzwords in education over the past several years. The meaning of both words are often shaped and molded to the desire of the individual or organization using them. The meaning of both words can often lead to the meaning being lost in interpretation or translation. This seems to be the same situation with the most recent buzz term of “college and career readiness”.
Dr. David Conley, Director for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon and author of Getting Ready for College, Careers, and the Common Core, defines college and career readiness as “the content knowledge, skills, and habits that students must possess to be successful in postsecondary education or training that leads to a sustaining career.” What often gets lost in understanding is what knowledge, skills, and habits are truly essential to students being considered college and career ready and how to measure them. In a constantly changing world, education leaders, business leaders, political leaders, and community leaders often disagree on what is the most important content for students to learn, and what are the most vital skills and habits for students entering the workforce or post-secondary education. Dr. Conley’s research describes a college ready student as a student who can succeed in entry-level post-secondary, credit-bearing courses without requiring any remedial coursework or support. The ability to accomplish this task doesn’t simply rest on a student’s academic acumen or ability, but also depends upon the essential non-cognitive skills for students to reach this level of academic success.
What are these essential non-cognitive skills or “soft skills”? According to Conley, they include: time and goal management, study skills, social and personal responsibility, problem-solving, self-control, applied knowledge, critical thinking, and leadership to name a few. The prioritization of these skills is often debated among multiple stakeholder groups. The constant change of development and economic need has placed secondary-level educators in a mode of reactionary response. We have been constantly trying to respond to the economic and developmental needs of our society. It is has been impossible for all educators keep up with the fluctuating needs and the rapid improvements in technology. So, what are the essential college and career readiness skills that our secondary-level students need for the world today and into the near future?
The answer is that it depends on who you talk to, where you are traveling, what industry you are in, what sector is up-and-coming, and/or the needs of the local community may be at that time. As a secondary-level educator and leader, I do know one thing. The most essential of all skills to teach our students is the skill of “adaptability”. Conley describes a student with the skill of adaptability as a student that can “respond and adapt well to change, are comfortable with ambiguity, adjust priorities and thinking in response to change, manage pressure and setbacks, and maintain an optimistic outlook.”
This concept reminds me of the key quote from the 2011 movie Moneyball in which the Oakland Athletics General Manager Billie Beane described what was necessary for the baseball organization to become successful into today’s major league baseball environment. Beane stated, “Adapt or die.” Becoming adaptive to the changing needs of the world is an imperative skill to future of our secondary-level education system. We can no longer teach the way we used to teach, or expect students to learn the way they used to learn. Adaptability is the key skill to college and career readiness for all of our students in today’s world and in the future.
Teaching this skill is not easy nor is developing the mindset necessary to acquire it. Ron Heifetz, author of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World stated that in order to practice adaptive leadership, “you need to accept that you are in the business of generating chaos, confusion, and conflict.”
So, are you confused, conflicted, and feel things are a bit chaotic in today’s world? As we move forward in preparing our students for a world or job that does not yet exist, let us be aware that feeling a sense of chaos, confusion, and conflict may be not only completely normal, but it could be quite healthy. How we prepare ourselves, and our students, to work through the chaos, confusion, and conflict to find innovative solutions to problems and to deal with dilemmas is the fundamental to college and career readiness in today’s and tomorrow’s world. Adapt or die.
Assistant Superintendent; MSD Decatur Township Schools