Supporting College and Career Readiness
As we begin a new school year, it is an exciting time for educators. We understand that our influence will have a positive or negative impact on students. The main goal of education is student achievement. However, some educators place such a heavy emphasis on student achievement that they end up forgetting their purpose. In today's K–12 setting, the purpose of K–12 schools has been defined as preparing each student to graduate high school ready for college and a career.
Recently, policymakers, educators, and national education organizations have called for a shift from increasing high school graduation rates to a new goal of college and career readiness for all students graduating from high school (Achieve and The Education Trust, 2008; ACT, 2008; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009; Career Readiness Partner Council, 2010; Common Core State Standards, 2010; National Governors Association, 2010; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010; The White House, 2010; United States Department of Education, 2010; ConnectEd, 2012; Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012; North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, 2013). According to the National Governors Association (2012), "There is a national consensus that schools should focus on students' college and career readiness."
How can educators inspire all students, accelerate the gifted students, remediate and accelerate the struggling learners, focus on student understanding, and teach life skills? A narrow focus on skills or test prep will no longer support the goals of teaching and learning. The following recommendations will promote lifelong learning while teaching the standards. Educators want to make a difference. Here are five ways they can in 2013–14!
Focus on the Whole Child
According to ASCD's Whole Child Initiative, schools should develop goals around the following tenets: Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported, and Challenged. What does your school do well? Are all students challenged? Do you have school policies in place which promote healthful living? Do students in your school feel supported? Some schools claim to have high expectations. The only problem with this declaration is that they base their rationale for being excellent on last year's test scores. Some high schools may focus so much on their AP and IB programs that they overlook the rest of the student body. If teachers and administrators focus on the whole child, it will change the way they make decisions at faculty meetings, in school improvement meetings, at PTA meetings, and during conversations about interventions.
Revisit Your Norms
When educators begin a new school year, the focus is often on unit planning, assessments, and curriculum alignment. During the first faculty meetings of the year, administrators review school and district policies, introduce new programs, and provide an overview of the school goals. Most teacher teams begin the school year so focused on students and procedures that there is little time for establishing or revisiting team norms. Team norms are critical to the success of a grade level or content area team. If the science department has goals for students, then the team will need to have a clear understanding of the goals and team norms. Team norms are evident in schools that have embraced professional learning communities. Even in these schools, however, some teams struggle due to the absence of team norms. Student achievement can be the goal in each classroom, but a teacher team needs to have clearly established and agreed-upon norms.
Remove Barriers for Students
Goal one addressed the tenets of a whole child school. Barriers can be financial circumstances for a family, a lack of food for a student, or a learning disability. Another barrier could be when a student enters the 9th grade and struggles with reading. School staff need to identify ways for the student to get additional reading support and intervention. Some students enter high school with low self-esteem. Educators who focus on GPA, class rank, and SAT scores alone may overlook the opportunity to provide the student with a mentor or help the student find a club which assists with a positive self-esteem. When you look at your class of 25 students, you can probably identify a barrier that needs to be removed for each student. You don't need to remove barriers alone. Utilize your counselor, social worker, assistant principal, band director, coach, student resource officer, principal, club sponsors, or others. Once barriers are removed for students, learning will accelerate. Establishing college and career readiness for all students means that barriers need to be removed.
Be A Risk Taker
Teachers and administrators need to be risk takers. When I observe classroom teachers, I enjoy seeing teachers who take risks and push students to do the same. When we take risks, we grow as learners. For some teachers, technology integration comes easy, but for others it involves risk taking. Be a risk taker. Some schools may be implementing Understanding by Design® for the first time. Curriculum development can be a carbon copy from one year to the next, but risk takers reap the benefits. Be a risk taker when you develop new units.
Teachers across the United States are implementing the Common Core State Standards. Some teachers say, "This is the way I have always taught." Risk takers approach the Common Core State Standards with excitement about new units and new ways of assessing student learning. Be a risk taker. When you take risks, you are modeling what you want students to do with their assignments and when they enter the workforce. Multiple choice tests don't require risks, unless you take the test blindfolded. Teaching and learning in 2013–14 requires risk taking.
If we want to develop critical thinking skills, creativity, collaboration, and communication, educators must ask questions. Essential questions are among the best strategies for forcing students to think. When educators ask students questions with one correct answer, it discourages students to think.
Six Benefits of Essential Questions:
- Essential questions establish a learning focus for students.
- The process of identifying essential questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
- Essential questions promote critical thinking.
- Essential questions can be used with project-based learning, community-service learning, class debates, research, experiments, outdoor learning, and essays.
- Essential questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
- Essential questions help students see the big picture while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.
Teaching and learning require educators to focus on students while taking time to focus on the craft of teaching. It is easy for schools to teach courses for one semester and then realize they were focused on the wrong thing(s). In 1903, a professor at the University of Mississippi wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness." In 2013, the goals of a K–12 education have changed. College and career readiness is the new goal for the youth of our nation. Each teacher has a role in supporting this goal and preparing students for life after high school.
Steven Weber is a former classroom teacher, assistant principal, and state Department of Education consultant in Arkansas and North Carolina, and is currently the principal of Hillsborough (N.C.) Elementary School. He is a former board member of North Carolina ASCD and a featured guest on the Whole Child Podcast. Connect with Weber on the ASCD EDge® social network, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @curriculumblog.