college, education, effort, high school

An Open Letter to the Class of 2016

Dear Class of 2016 (and more specifically my lovely, kind, sarcastic, amiable, crazy, sweet, nutty, wonderful seniors),

It’s fall of 2015. An exciting time for you. And a scary one. Many of you are working hard at putting the finishing touches on your high school resumes and college essays. You are dreaming of acceptance letters, but having nightmares about standardized tests that require bubbling answers with #2 pencils. I know. I get it. I did it. I lived it. And it was rough. I’m with you.  

But I want to take a moment to make something very clear. If writing those essays, refining those resumes, and taking those bubble tests are not things you are worried about because you don’t need to be, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t let all this fall-time hype make you think that those things are the key to life. College is not the main route to success. Don’t feel ashamed–or let others shame you–because traditional post-secondary education is not your path. And certainly, very certainly, do not go to college if is not something you want for yourself.

Let’s talk about college. It was fun. Like, really, really fun. If I could go back, I would. But it was A LOT of work, too. I spent hours partying with my friends, but exponentially more time reading, writing, discussing, and presenting while I was in school. I stayed up all night laughing with my friends, but I worked the next two to make sure my psych project was worthy of a professor’s critique. I spent countless hours in the library looking for credible sources to round out my semester-long research projects. I took 4-hour exams, bombed papers I spent weeks writing, and cried over “bad” grades more than I care to remember. (Thank God my friends and frozen yogurt were accessible 24 hours a day.)

My point is: College is an academic institution. It’s for those who want to pursue careers that require (at least some sort of) scholarly prowess. You want to be a teacher? Go to college. Lawyer? Go to college. Rocket physicist engineer with a concentration in micro something-or-other? Go. To. College. But if your interests are more practical than academic, pursue something that fulfills your desire to use your hands or mind in different ways.

There is an important distinction that must be made concerning college educated people versus those who are not. Those with a degree from a post-secondary institution are not better, kinder, more helpful, more honest, or happier than those who don’t have one. And honestly, they are certainly not more successful merely because they went to college. (Success is an attitude; a way of life. It’s not represented by a piece of paper covered in soft plastic.) Yes, those with a degree spent years learning how to apply theory by writing about it in hypothetical situations, but that doesn’t make them any smarter or more successful than the young electricians, plumbers, entrepreneurs, military personnel, and mechanics out there who chose not to go to college.

In the end, my advice to you is this: Go to college if you want to go to college. Don’t go for your mom or dad. Or to make someone else proud. Do it because you want to do it. And if college isn’t your thing (whether it be now, or later, or never) don’t be ashamed. Be an apprentice. Travel the world. Join the military. Go to trade school. Make a plan and follow it by working hard. It’s your life. You are the only one who can live it. You are the only one who can shape it. You will succeed if you want to. College doesn’t make you a success. You do.

So enjoy the rest of this year before you step off the stage as a high school graduate. Your life is just beginning; and college or not, go forth with gusto, energy, sincerity, humility, and grace. Those qualities will help you find success more than college ever could.

I will always be here to support you, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. Work hard.




Michael Bloomberg Gives it to Us Straight Part 2: Tests are “the kind of pain you gotta go through if you want to have a future.”

Ask any educator about standardized testing and most will tell you that they disagree with it.  That it kills the love of learning and the sense of motivation teachers spend all year instilling in their students.  They will tell you many negative things about testing. But alas, my friends, it doesn’t look like standardized testing is going anywhere soon.  And Bloomberg pretty much sums it up as being a necessary evil. He admits in that tests are “painful” but also a deep rooted part of the educational landscape.

The concern here is not testing. Testing is here to stay.  (When I get to Washington I will change that, but for now, I need to work within it as I do with any government mandate.) The concern is the focus on teaching the standards that are on the test and not having time for teaching anything else, such as the soft skills needed to succeed in the work world. Students are not being taught the college and career readiness skills that are sought by current and potential employers. Now, the CCSS offer College and Career Readiness Standards, but those standards are academically based.  It’s not that I disagree with academic standards—they are very necessary—it is the fact that CEOs, managers, and other employers are clear about what they need in their workers (our students) and we aren’t teaching them the skills employers look for in a viable employee. 

Daniel Pink recently published a book titled To Sell Is Human. (Click here for the MindShift article that discusses Pink’s book as it relates to education.)  He discusses what traits employers look for in the employees they hire.  The #1 trait?  Being a problem finder. Yes.  A problem finder

So, why are we not teaching our kids to become problem finders? We teach them how to find the theme of a novel, how to find the central idea of a text, how to find research, and how to find the author’s purpose (among many other things), but we don’t teach them how to find problems; and that’s what the employers out there in the ‘real world’ want their workers to be able to do!

Now, how can we work teaching work-readiness skills into our already-busy schedules of finding themes and central ideas of texts??  Breathe, people.  Let’s integrate it into what we are already doing in our classrooms. Research has shown that self-assessment is one of the best ways a person can learn. And we know being a problem finder is a trait that employers want in their employees.  So let’s marry the two.  Consider the fact that most teachers implement some sort of self-reflection assignment into their lessons; that time can be used to focus specifically on finding problems. Ask students to find problems in their own learning.  Ask students to critique you (if you are brave enough, which you should be—they are our clients, their opinions do matter), and have students find problems in the curriculum, the assessments, the objectives, etc.  Show them not to take everything they read, see, and learn as it is, but to question things and be investigators.  Teach them to find weaknesses that must be fixed.  And show them that you are a problem finder, too by scrutinizing the same curriculum, assessments and objectives.  

You can do it, busy teachers, I promise you.  You can fit it in. Make it a once-a-quarter exercise.  Use one or two class periods. Students can work in groups (Speaking and Listening CCSS) and discuss the problems they found and then identify one to write about.  Then they can create an action plan (Writing CCSS) in order to combat the problem, then put that action plan into place during the next quarter, and reflect upon its success during the course of implementation (again, Writing CCSS). There is a genuine need for soft skills to be taught in school. We teach academic skills—awesome!—now it’s time to integrate teaching other relevant skills students need for their post-high school endeavors as well.    

So, yes, sometimes school is hard.  Sometimes tests are painful. But tests will never be as painful as the disappointments students will face in the work world if they don’t have the necessary skills to hold a job.  Let’s give our kids the academic skills they need to succeed in school and career, and the soft skills needed to be valued employees in the work force.