Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Education Needs to Emphasize Soft Skills that Translate into Hard Cold Cash

No Child Left Behind mandates have school systems scrambling to improve teaching, update curriculum, raise teacher quality and analyze data between different populations just to name a few of the many actions each school is facing. Yet, given the recently released Nation's Report Card, securing significant change is going to require some non-traditional solutions.

Maybe it is time for public education to take a lesson from corporate America who is just now also realizing the impact of soft skills on the bottom line. During the last two centuries, businesses focused on controlling their employees. The work environment was one of control where individual actions required a chain of approval that went vertically up, then vertically down. This type of management style produced excessive waste and failed to capitalize quickly when opportunities were presented.

According to annual Michigan State University's national college employment survey, today's knowledge worker must have the following skill sets:

Analytical ability

Communication including verbal and written

Decision Making

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)

Leadership both individual and group

Personal attributes including work ethics, flexibility, initiative and motivation

Problem Solving

Team Building

Time Management

Yet, looking at most curriculums the focus is on cognitive content specific to the academic disciplines. The presumption is that this knowledge and the supporting skill sets as mentioned above will easily transfer to the workplace. Unfortunately, American business owners know that this is a fallacy because of information that is retrieved from such surveys conducted by Michigan State and other organizations.

For example, American students spend 12 plus years learning how to read and write. Yet if communication is more non-verbal than verbal depending upon how much of Dr. Albert Mehrabrian's research you believe, then most young people except for those in speech and debate have already been set up to fail because they don't understand that effective communication extends far beyond reading and writing.

Time management is another great example. Many adults have issues with time management or rather with better self management since you can't manage a constant that being time. However, the osmosis learning strategy once again rears its inefficient and ineffective head during the kindergarten through high school learning experience. Can you remember as a young student when you actually had a class on effective time management? In today's classroom with the ever-expanding curriculum, would it not make more sense to actually instruct young people on such a valuable skill instead of leaving it to the osmosis learning strategy?

Developing and nurturing those critical soft skills are what employers know will translate into success for their employees and cold hard cash for them. If public education wants to be truly effective, then the leadership needs to get ahead of the ball and look at the desired end results. Practicing another 33 years of reform where nationally 17 year olds have not gained any reading improvement will absolutely remove us from being the number one world economic force.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rebirth of the One-Room Schoolhouse

You know you're onto something hot when you look over your shoulder and see Donald Trump smiling with the same idea. I could not have been happier. Ah, but wait, I'm getting ahead of my story.

A hundred years ago school was serious stuff. Everything had to be memorized. Students wrote on stone slates with slate pencils. In one-room schoolhouses they were seated by grade; boys on one side, girls on the other. Discipline was strict and punishments prompt. All students walked home or in rare cases, rode horses.

Today, children go to school by bus to modern buildings. Every class has a different teacher who is stationary in their own classroom. Discipline is slack and new laws make punishment nearly void. The only serious concern students have is their threads and popularity. The dropout rate is blamed on indifference or pregnancy, not the old reason of "needed on the farm".

Three years ago, a pilot program implemented by a school district in Salem, Oregon created a new vehicle for learning in their community. This online high school served an eclectic group of teenagers from dropouts to brainiacs, and of course the popular "home-schoolers". All students accessed courses on the Internet, submitted their homework assignments via email and communicated with their teachers by phone as needed.

This is one example of providing alternative learning options for kids today and is a great safety net for at-risk students. Allowed to work at their own pace, they are closely supervised to make sure they attend their cyber classes on a regular basis. Real benefits include attending classes at any time of the day, seven days a week.

This is an excellent opportunity for teen parents or medically challenged students when traditional learning options haven't worked. When these kids finish high school and begin planning their continued education a new idea is coming into fruition: Webucation!

Most new terms beginning with Web- have been short-lived but Webucation is showing signs of survival. Distance Learning is an idea seen to have great potential and has the close attention of nearly all educational institutions. Everyone is clamoring to be in the right place at the right time.

It would seem that the one-room schoolhouse has been reborn. These days it is the dining room, upstairs guest-room, or the converted garage. Some of the students are teen parents but there are an increasing number of stay-at-home moms and jobless dads. Add to this the thousands of nine-to-fivers who feel their jobs are shaky at best.

If you saw this trend coming, as did Donald Trump publishing Trump University online, you would definitely be in the right place at the right time. Public education needs a lot of help and this may well be in the form of web-based education. I can think of fifty reasons why this would be advantageous for primary and high school grades, but in this case it still has miles to go.

Career courses are exploding as this trend matures and becomes the next billion-dollar industry. Villanova, Tulane, Notre Dame are only a few offering degrees online boasting: "accelerated, affordable, accredited, anytime training, anywhere knowledge". Streaming video lectures - just watch and listen to Professors on CDs and review as many times as desired. Learning doesn't get any easier than this.

Fortunes were made selling shovels to the gold rush miners. Obviously you don't have to have quality material that would make an online course worth publishing... sell the shovels, or in this case sell the courses. Hard to sell? Not at all! On-the-job experience doesn't go half the distance of a degree or certificate. Demand for skilled professionals has never been greater than it is today.

The idea of Webucation appeals to busy adults. It is perfect because unlike conventional courses with set time schedules they will be buying courses the other way round; adjusting them to fit their spare time. And all from the comfort of home. With a degree or certificate in hand they will be a much sought-after skilled professional and their earning potential increased tenfold.

Here's a bonus: sell these educational courses and take advantage of that by getting certified yourself. While you certainly can make a fortune selling the "shovels" it doesn't hurt to arm yourself with new wisdom on how to use this new wealth. A degree in Financial Planning, Tax Preparation or Real Estate will make you the person to see in a crowded room.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Student Leadership Program Should Create Future Knowledge Workers and Deliver Positive ROI

Leadership is a popular topic both in the business and education worlds. The main reason for this popularity is that effective leadership is a primary factor for the success of any organization. By implementing leadership at the middle school and high school grades, the belief is that this earlier intervention will ultimately help not only the students, but the local communities, small businesses and larger corporate citizens.

What constitutes an effective middle school or high school system wide leadership program that delivers a positive return on your investment? These 10 pointers may help you better answer that question.

1. All staff must be developed at leaders to ensure consistency of behaviors through modeling. From bus drivers to superintendents, these individuals become role models for many young people. If their behavior is not consistent with any curriculum, then the likelihood of sustained success is doubtful. Using a student leadership program that evolved from a proven adult leadership process is probably a better way to proceed.

2. The desired end results for this leadership program should be clearly articulated before adoption of any curriculum. Simple benchmarks could be improved grades, improved high school retention and less discipline referrals. All benchmarks need to be measurable because as the old adage goes "if you can measure it, you can't manage it." This is the beginning to determine a positive or negative return on your investment for the leadership program or any change initiative.

3. The curriculum should focus on the affective learning domain especially interpersonal skills. Additionally, the cognitive and psychomotor domains should include: communication, conflict resolution, goal setting and goal achievement, higher order thinking skills, team building and time management.

4. Alignment between the leadership curriculum and the other academic disciplines is also necessary to the success of such a program. There needs to be numerous opportunities to apply newly learned concepts outside of the leadership classroom.

5. A goal setting and goal achievement Action Plan is probably the most critical piece to the success of this program. This Action Plan for success should allow for all students to self-evaluate themselves and provide a mechanism to prioritize and organize current and future goals.

6. A mentoring or alumni program should follow the student leadership development program. At this juncture is when the youth can fully participate in community projects as well as mentor younger students.

7. Parents need to be informed and if possible included within this leadership program. With many parents lacking the necessary skills and tools to help their children, by proactively working with parents helps both the young people and the school.

8. Local small business owners to larger corporate citizens need to be also involved. These companies can help by participating as keynote speakers as well as work to fund scholarships to help offset the cost of the leadership program and employing the graduates.

9. The curriculum should be highly interactive, highly adaptable and flexible and modeled after the best corporate training and development programs. Also, this curriculum should be researched based and should reinforce sound educational research including emotional intelligence, cognitive retention, etc.

10. Any student leadership program should also include pre and post assessments both cognitive and attitudinal. Additionally, a mechanism should be included to track these students for longitudinal data collection. These assessments show both the short-term return on investments as well as the long-term investments.

Finally, this leadership program should be for the majority of your student body and not just the high performing students. The success of our country is due to the as much if not more so to the every day efforts of the average citizen.

If constructing a viable and sustainable student world-class leadership program is in your current or future plans, then these pointers should catapult you ahead of the class because you now know that you have created self-leaders who are capable of being the knowledge workers needed in the 21st century workforce.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Education - Improve Learning, Test Scores and Performance Through 10 Universal Laws of Learning

In the effort to meet No Child Left Behind mandates as well as to increase performance through corporate training and development, how to make students or participants learn continues to vex highly trained educators and professional facilitators. From my 25 plus years of experience in business and education, I have come to accept and believe in these 10 Universal Laws of Learning.

Universal Learning Law #1 -

Learning is an innate desire within ALL human beings. To ignore this first law of learning is what makes any student disengage themselves from the learning environment.

Universal Learning Law #2 -

Learning is multi-dimensional for ALL human beings. We have numerous senses from which to learn.

Universal Learning Law #3 -

Learning is an ongoing process for ALL human beings. Learning should never be an event, but a continuum.

Universal Learning Law #4-

Learning is a separate behavior from performance. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge. Performance is the application of knowledge.

Universal Learning Law #5 -

Learning needs to be relevant to each individual based upon his or her existing experiences or schema. Bordeom is a symptom of this law.

Universal Learning Law #6 -

Learning is a bridge between new information and the students' or participants' existing schema. The goal is to build the strongest and most flexible bridge possible.

Universal Learning Law #7 -

Each learning objective requires a one to one correspondence to each testing statement to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Do not play "gotcha" with your students.

Universal Learning Law #8 -

Learning is delivered in short sessions to allow time for interaction between students or participants.

Universal Learning Law #9 -

Learning must avoid the "Osmosis Factor" where a presumption exists that the students or participants will acquire certain knowledge and skills without direct instruction.

Universal Learning Law #10 -

The brain will only absorb what the butt will endure.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Education is a Kill Joy

We all sure have suffered in the hands of the "latest educational fads." Forty years ago, children would fail one subject and consequently had to repeat the whole year again. Sometimes, they would fail for missing as little as .25 points on a final exam.

Dedication, hard work, good participation in class, a positive attitude...nothing would count towards making the grade. They were considered failures, not of the system, but individual failures; it was their fault that they didn't make it.

I have a friend who is a sad example of this system. When he was in 5th grade, he failed Latin for, perhaps, half a point. He needed to repeat the entire year because of Latin, only, the discipline Latin was removed from the roll and was no longer part of the system.

In other words, he was held back for something that didn't exist any longer. How tragic is this? And worst, how did that make him feel?

Later on, the system determined that children were not supposed to be "punished" in such way. In came the theory that recuperation was a better approach to dealing with those who couldn't pass the class.

They would study during vacations to make up for lost work. Then they could go on, provided they made the grade. In my opinion this is a far better way to evaluate the students. And fairer too.

But the system kept moving forward until we arrived at today's democratic education, for lack of a better term. This system, though gentler to the student's self-esteem, is another disaster, for now, we have happier students who get into college without the ability to read and write.

Too many college students are in the "7th grade bracket." Now, when we think that these are the people controlling every single aspect of our lives in the near future, one wonders how we will ever survive the flood of semi-literate people leading our country.

The trouble is now that we have two extremes. If, on one hand we have competent people who have suffered because they were called "impaired," "dumb," "idiotic" and "slow" to say the least, we also have extra inflated egos who can barely write their own names.

So, what are we to do? How can we solve this paradox, and, not only prepare our students for a great and realistic world, but also to do so in a way that each one will have his place and be happy for it?

The educational system has failed us, the aggravation being that we think that everyone should go to college. I disagree; college education, for example, is not for everyone.

In today's society, only 25% of college graduates work on their chosen field. So, why waste resources, personal and governmental, in pursuing an education that will be useless from an occupational standpoint?

My point is that, as with every society in the world, ancient or modern, literate or illiterate, there is a place for everyone. Even in Brave New World the expression "to each, his own" applies. This means that, in the same way that we are not all made to be lawyers, politicians or artists, we are not all made to be janitors, mechanics, or truck drivers.

In a truly democratic society, where education inspires the individual to do his best in whatever occupation he or she chooses, everyone is a winner, because everyone is truly happy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

College Books - Tips and Tricks for Saving Money

College books are getting more and more expensive every year. University course textbooks are one of the biggest expenses of attending college and the average amount of money needed for college books is $800 per year. The cost of college textbooks is also constantly increasing by around 6% per year. Textbooks are essential for most college courses and can often seem impossible to afford however, it is possible for college students to save quite a bit of money on their books by shopping smart.

One of the best ways to save on spending a lot of money on college books is to borrow them instead of purchasing them. University libraries have a good stock of required reading books that students can use on the premises throughout their course and help lessen the impact of not having enough money for actually purchasing college books. Naturally the majority of savvy students have cottoned on to the fact that they too can save money on college books by using the ones stocked by the library so it may be difficult to be able to find the book not in use on a regular basis. If you plan ahead and set aside a few different times of the day and week to visit the library you may find the best options for you to be able to use the college books that you want. Not everyone wants to study late in the evenings, especially at weekends, but if your library is open and you are intent on finding ways to save on spending money for college books then this could be the perfect time.

Another avenue that may work to save spending a lot of money on college books is to approach your course professor. They will often have a huge stock of college books that they have acquired through various means over the years and it is a good idea to see if you can borrow a particular book that they may have. Not only may this help but you be able to find out if certain college books are really required for the course or if you are only going to need a chapter or two from them. With this advance knowledge you can obtain a copy of the book for a short period of time from the library or another student who has bought the book and read the relevant chapters without having to fork out the money for college books that you won't necessarily need.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

10 Reasons Adults Go Back to School

Over two million adult Americans go to school every year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. People start or return to school for many reasons. The following list is a sampling.

1) To learn more about a hobby or an interest. Do you long to play golf? Have you always wanted to learn write, knit or play the guitar? Then maybe adult education classes are for you. These classes could be offered through a university or college extension program or through a church or community center, or they may be at a place of higher education for credit. Participating in a class or two can teach you something new or how to do something with more skill than you already possess. And if you take a class for credit--say, European History to help with your genealogy project--you might find the basis of an education that leads to a second career.

2) To learn a foreign language for travel or fun. Have you always wanted to go to France or India or China, but are worried about not speaking the language? Enroll in a foreign language class so you have the basics to make your travels easier. Classes are usually categorized as "conversational", "for travel" or by level (i.e., French I, Spanish I, etc.). Any classes will teach you the basics--such as how to say yes, no, ask for directions, inquire as to where the bathroom is, order food, etc.

3) To set a good precedent for your children. Maybe you didn't get as much education as you wanted. Maybe you want your child to stay in school and to learn as much as possible. Sometimes the best way to lead a child is by example. If you do your homework every night, so will your child. And you can sit at the table together and use it as bonding time.

4) To get a career. Did you not have time to go to school like you wanted? You had your children at a young age, or the opportunity or finances wasn't there and now you are thinking of what you'd like to do with your life. The thing you currently get up and go to every day is your job; you wouldn't call it a career, but now you are ready for one. Going to school, whether a trade school, a community college or a university, can get you on track to create a career from your current occupation.

5) For career advancement. Maybe you are in a job you love but you aren't sure what the next step is: do you want to become a manager or a specialist? Additional education can make the difference between paralegal and lawyer or between medical receptionist and medical assistant.

6) To find a new career. Were you in a job that was recently phased out? Are you still using DOS while the rest of the world is using Windows? Sometimes it isn't your choice to go back to school, but the skills you have learned and the life you had been leading now seems passé. New job opportunities are created every year for people willing to be trained or retrained. Programs like the Microsoft certification programs and schools that train people to do new occupations in just a few months have been created specifically for people like you.

7) To change careers. A student named Raeeka arrived to the world of music on a road less traveled. She had been a corporate lawyer for a few years and was very successful, but financial gains did not fulfill her passionate longing--to be an opera singer. So, in her mid thirties, she gave up law and started over, moving to a new city, taking new classes and making new friends. At first she worried about how she would be treated by the other students, many of which who were more than 15 years younger. But her classmates waylaid her concerns. And this past May she graduated and has been demand as a soprano at opera companies around the country.

8) To follow a dream. Like Raeeka, you may have a dream. Maybe your dream isn't so specific. Maybe your dream is to just go to school and finish your degree. Or maybe you already have a degree and a career, but you've always dreamed of an advanced degree. It's not too late to explore other subjects, to take courses in something you'd really love to delve into more deeply.

9) Work is paying for it--so why not? Will your company pay for classes? Then why not take a few in something that interests you or something that your boss would be interested in having you take. Many corporations will pay for their employees to work on MBAs in the evening or on weekends. If one of your employee benefits is paid education, why not take advantage of this opportunity?

10) To meet other, like minded adults. Would you like to widen your social sphere and better your skills? Take a cooking, wine appreciation or any other kind of class where you can meet new people and practice a new art. Then you can dazzle old friends with new knowledge, and share your excitement with new friends.