Monthly Archives: March 2015

Why Engagement is So Important

Last year, the Hay Group reported that “Organizations on the top quartile on engagement demonstrate revenue growth 2.5 times that of those in the bottom quartile.” They went on to report that companies in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement achieve revenue growth 4.5 times greater.” For a company with annual revenues of $5 billion, this could mean an increase of $1.8 billion if both engagement and enablement are in the top quartile. With high levels of engagement and enablement, employee turnover rates can be 40% lower.

It seems like such an obvious thing. If people feel more invested in the task(s) at hand, and if people have more of a stake in the success of the venture they are involved with, won’t they do better at it?

You may assume I am still talking about corporate success. But with 1.2 million kids still dropping out of school each year, many of whom claim a lack of engagement, we need to understand why kids are not engaged in their learning and help them re-engage. In other words, we need our schools to be successful.

Why are kids disengaged?

The fact is that the focus of so many is on the end state that the experience of education itself has been altered in a most unfortunate way. Common Core and its attendant PARCC testing have created an atmosphere of dissent amongst educators, parents and kids. Teachers have always worked so hard to engage their students. As do curriculum designers. So do all the EdTech companies pouring those millions and more of dollars into the next best educational app. But the engagement now is directed toward developmentally skewed goals and if anything is a distraction to learning rather than a worthy goal. It’s not easy to experience joy in learning when constantly in test prep mode.

Additionally, our kids have grown up in vastly different circumstances to those under which our “modern” concepts of schooling were developed. Spending eight hours a day, most of it at a desk and separated from the tools and means by which they are already learning outside the classroom may not be the best recipe for success.

What are we preparing our kids for?

I’m a big fan of backward planning, and so I consider the overall purpose of a P-12 education in terms of how well we are preparing our kids for their active participation in society and the workplace. At the end of the day, what are our kids going to be able to do once they leave the nest?

As identified by the 2000 SCANS report, schools should be preparing kids for their effective participation in the workplace by teaching a basic set of competencies that cross specific job types:

  1. Identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources (Resources)
  2. Work with others (Interpersonal)
  3. Acquire and evaluate information (Information)
  4. Understand complex interrelationships (Systems)
  5. Work with a variety of technologies (Technology)

How can we re-engage kids in their learning?

Just as with adults, learning needs to be relevant and it needs to be delivered in a way that attends to the individual’s personal learning style. The challenges of achieving these goals should be the real work of today’s edu/teacherpreneurs and learning designers.

  • Contextualize learning in real-life tasks that make sense at all ages of development. If we can enable and support tasks that necessitate acquisition of knowledge, learners will be much more immersed in these experiences than the abstract drill and practice that still pervades the classroom today.
  • Create pathways to learning that map to children’s interests. I can learn about physics through soccer-related exercises or through architectural planning, for example. There are plenty of computer programs that can access my interests and direct my learning accordingly.
  • Incorporate the tools for learning students already take for granted. The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement acknowledges that we need to “get students where they are at.” Smartphones in particular are great ways to engage kids inside and outside of the classroom in ways that they are comfortable and excel at.
  • Attend to each child’s style of learning so that she can pursue her studies appropriately. Neurodiversity is making a huge difference in how we understand thinking processes and deliver learning these days. There’s more work to be done to get this out to everyone.
  • Get kids out of the classroom. Not only do kids need to play and move around, but there are a wealth of resources available in your communities for extending mentorship to local businesses. Learning from actual practitioners can be a huge boost to engagement.
  • Add maker activities to your curriculum and maker space to your classroom if possible. The maker mindset is one that incorporates DIY (Do-It-Yourself) interactions with teamwork and an entrepreneurial spirit that speaks volumes about how things work in the real world. In fact, the maker movement is not limited to kids and has sparked a whole new economy unto itself.

If your child cannot engage in a traditional classroom, consider the alternatives.

This week’s previous blog covered this topic in more detail, but as part of today’s conversation around engagement, it should be noted that there are options for kids who despite whatever the circumstances, cannot engage in learning in a formal school environment. Online schools, alternative schools, transfer schools, homeschooling and unschooling are all ways to enable learning for kids cannot attend a traditional school. Learning does not stop once a kid leaves the building. We don’t think that about kids who attend traditional school; we should not think that about those who seek an alternative.

Curating Learning in the Workplace and as Part of Preparing for It

The 70:20:10 model for workplace learning has shown us that learning comes from many different sources. There is on-the-job (or experiential) learning, social learning, and formal learning. And as Charles Jennings has taught us, while the exact ratio of 70:20:10 is “a relic,” the mixture of these different sources of learning, with a large proportion of it learning by doing, is going to help people be most successful in the workplace. The same is true for our younger learners.

Just as many workplaces are looking to the role of “curator” to help workers engage more in their own success through more targeted learning experiences, so do we need to curate and design opportunities for learning that more effectively map to the mind of the P-12 learner.

“School” is by definition a formal place of learning, but we need to consider a different model to re-engage our younger generation.

What Kids May Be Teaching Us When They Opt Out of School

When a child opts out of school, it can be a very unsettling experience not only to that child but to the entire family. We are programmed to believe in cycles of life that may just not hold true for everyone, and when those societal values are called into question, it puts one or more belief systems into jeopardy. In this case, we’re forced to examine such things as the role of school, definitions of success, and standard practices for preparing our kids for adulthood and the working world. It makes us uncomfortable.

Kids Who Challenge the Standard Norm

As most parents learn at some point, there’s got to be room for flexibility along the way, and oftentimes we find ourselves behaving in certain ways (giving into food preferences, for example), or accepting certain behaviors that previously may have seemed forbidden territory (allowing more computer time than you are comfortable with, for example). When a child refuses to go to school, though, we tend to insist on their return. Many parents are convinced by school administrators and mental health professionals that a child suffering from “school refusal” (the accepted diagnosis) must return to school as soon as possible. Depending on the age of the child, the degree of anxiety and the adherence to standard norm, parents may choose to medicate said child, or to place child in one form of treatment or another, until the child is ready to return to school.

Or you can choose to learn from it.

There are many reasons that kids don’t want to go to school, whether it’s test anxiety, bullying, a sense of helplessness, or a lack of engagement. As the range of issues one child experiences may include both curricular and social challenges, parental response is not necessarily as straightforward as standard treatment plans may indicate. This is exactly one of those times when parental flexibility must kick in and looking at the whole child should take precedence over a set of symptoms.

What Happens to Learning When Kids Opt Out?

We know that 2-5% of kids are diagnosed with “school refusal” at some point or another. We also know that 1.2 million kids per year are still dropping out of school each year. What can we learn from these phenomena and from the kids undergoing them?

  1. When kids leave school, it does not mean they don’t like to learn. Rather than forcing a child back into the school environment, parents in these situations may be better off supporting alternative learning routes. There are a broad range of options, including more traditional ones as well as those that may be considered radical. Some schools may offer at-home instructional alternatives for short periods of time; or you may decide to homeschool. There are also free or fee-based online alternatives once a child is ready to school again. Unschooling alternatives support a higher degree of self-directed learning, which may be the right choice for the child who has opted out.
  2. Leaving elementary or secondary school does not mean that a child will not make it to college. Peter Gray’s study on families who unschooled their kids revealed that in 83% of families surveyed, their kids went on to college. Other studies show that kids who are educated at home tend to score higher on college placement tests and are more apt to complete college than other students.
  3. Many kids who leave school either already have or develop a passion that directs their learning in a way that a general educational curriculum cannot.And oftentimes, following that passion leads them to study many of the related subject areas in a more meaningful context than can be provided in a traditional school.
  4. Your opting out child may choose to seek credentials or return to a more formal school at a later time. Or your child may take community college courses or consider an early college program that does not require a high school diploma. There are choices out there these days.
  5. There is a groundswell of activity around homeschooling and unschooling now such that parents are no longer flying solo when it comes to support, advice, and community for re-engaging their child in the learning process. These families are ensuring that learning still takes place. Support includes academic resources, classes and tutoring, as well as mentorship to help students achieve their learning goals.

At the very least, we should learn from these kids that wanting to learn and being able to do so in a traditional school environment may not be the same thing. As our schools continue to undergo transformation, and we continue to advocate for meaningful curriculum, we cannot leave behind those who decide to opt out.

Diversity of Learning Styles and Alternatives

Opting out is not an easy choice for most kids and their families. And it’s not for everyone. It takes strength of character and a willingness to engage with children and their learning in ways that bust the current paradigm. At the end of the day, education these days should be about alternatives.

As I wrote last week regarding some of the great work being done by teacherpreneurs these days, there’s a growing body of evidence and related tools and processes for helping kids with different learning styles engage in their learning. Acknowledging neurodiversity and building tools that enable educators to account for it is one big step toward further engagement for kids who might otherwise be dissatisfied with their school experience.

It’s true that not everyone who claims to not like school needs to opt out. But as parents, educators, and entrepreneurs, we need to be open to the possibilities that some kids will leave school and will benefit from doing so. We need to both observe and learn from this movement and to direct some of the resources and innovations being poured into traditional education to support learners outside of “the buildings.”