Your District’s Guide to Preparing K-12 Students for Future Success
The rapidly changing modern world and its changing demands have altered how students learn today. Unlike the past, the challenge at present is to deliver a deeper level of personalized learning to every student, thus helping the individual achieve mastery of the core standards together with other skills and dispositions. And it’s here that an online counseling service for district schools can help.
With the help of such a tool, students of a district school can be directed to the right courses and career paths. For instance, the need of the modern times is to opt for learning modules that are personalized to the students’ needs and learning goals, are flexible to let them try different ways of learning and choose the best path, and create easy accessibility with engaging and interactive courses to draw them in, among others. Meeting these and some other aspects may seem like a tall order but they can be achieved by designing newer learning models and implementing them successfully. And with the help of physical counselors or an online counseling tool for district schools, students can choose the courses that meet their learning goals and future aspirations the best. Such direction and professional guidance is essential - right from Kindergarten to the 12th grade to fulfill the students’ learning needs and equip them to face the future successfully, with confidence.
Let’s take a look at how districts can get their students future-ready.
1- Use High School as a Stepping Stone to the Future
To get students, especially those in high school, career- and college-ready, counselors need to help them develop a mindset of better-informed decision-making that would help them meet their educational and career goals. However, the traditional high school approach may not be enough for college preparation. Rather, focusing on career and technical education (CTE) opportunities could serve a large number of students rather well in the present and future job markets. But if standalone CTE programs are chosen, which work independently of other college and career readiness programs, they won’t help students much. Thus, career and course pathways should be such that they serve a wider range of students and do not discriminate against or isolate disadvantaged students.
To use high school as a stepping stone to their future, students need to be guided before they enter high school. Counselors can help them focus on a career cluster based on their aptitude and interests. There are certain evaluation tests that can help find a student’s aptitude, skills (including social skills), interests, character, and values, among others. With the results of such tests, counselors can help their students identify a career cluster and then spot the core courses that target those specific skills, aptitudes, interests, etc. that they already possess.
Ideally, counselors at the middle school or junior high school should work with teachers and administrators to insert curriculum that is customized to student needs and help the students select the core courses. Additionally, they should encourage students to challenge themselves in the core areas by choosing electives or advanced classes in their core areas.
Some studies have found that the temperament of students toward their studies and school is influenced by STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities. School counselors can also integrate engaging STEM projects and learning opportunities for the mainstream student population to encourage authentic learning experiences and create lifelong learners.
Additionally, school counselors could prepare sample four-year plans for students inclined to take up different career clusters. Students can get inspired by these sample plans to create their own plans. Counselors can also help goal-oriented students, who have already decided to choose a particular career, by providing them the necessary resources.
Several states require a PE class, an art class, or an oral communication class. Counselors can encourage students to complete those classes during their freshman and sophomore years. This way, they’ll have more openings for electives during their last two years. When choosing electives, they can explore courses that would help them attain useful skills aligned with their future career goals or let them explore their career choices further. Thus, they’ll be better prepared for their life after high school.
Based on their aptitude and interest, school counselors should encourage students to discover variety, say by spending a few hours every week in a research lab to understand and explore the world of work better. Parents may often prefer to see their child choose an Advanced Placement class instead of lab work but counselors can make them see the bigger picture that aligns with their child’s aptitude and career interests. And an online counseling service for district schools can facilitate such choices.
Rather than being shortsighted and narrowing down their choices, students need to be encouraged to experience varied potential career paths in high school. And a data-backed online counseling tool for district schools can make the task easier.
2- Creating a Link between Classroom Content and Workplace Skills
To make students ready for future success, districts should help teachers to link classroom content directly to the skills that their students would need when they join the workforce. When classroom-based learning experiences aren’t planned the right way, students are found to struggle when they have to make the connection between what they had learned in the classroom and its practical application in the workplace.
There are different ways that teachers and counselors can use to make classroom content career-ready. For instance, linking concepts to students’ cultural, personal, or academic experiences can make their learning experiences more engaged and help them connect with their diverse backgrounds, thereby letting them build on this knowledge. Lessons that connect with your student’s background knowledge and cultural experiences can encourage them to contribute more in the classroom. Such lesson plans could also include interviews with a student’s family members or neighbors to learn more about their memories, values, and life experiences, and even understand the significance of such learning in the workplace.
Another way is to unite course content with work experiences. Instead of linking course content to abstract information and fundamental theories, counselors and teachers should connect them to solid work-life examples. This way, the content taught would be relevant to the job experience, which would make it more interesting and absorbing. When planning the classroom content, answering questions like these could help:
- How does it fit into the work environment?
- When you apply this content in the workplace, what type of behaviors will be noticed?
- What skills can you develop by learning and applying this content?
Helping students take ownership of their learning is another way to link classroom content to workplace skills. Instead of telling something, you can create an environment of sharing and encourage learning on one’s own. From asking powerful questions and starting discussions in the classroom that elicit meaningful conversations between students to asking individuals with longer and relevant experiences to talk about those and share their ideas, a lot can be done. All these steps would help the students understand and even share how both the course content and concept have been displayed in the workplace.
School counselors may even use gamification with the help of an effective online counseling tool for district schools like CounselHero to make the class content relevant to the workplace. Extending career guidance beyond the confines of the classroom is yet another effective method that can be put to good use.
When school counselors apply career guidance principles at every available opportunity, they’ll help the students become more aware of their career choices. At the same time, such guidance would help them identify how a specific concept may be translated into a skill. Additionally, counselors can focus on the importance of positive and active participation in the workplace and discuss how productive behaviors often initiate productive work skills. This way, students could be made career-ready.
Initiating real-world connections between classroom learning and potential job scenarios can also help. For instance, a classroom program can focus on teaching the students mathematical algorithms in a spreadsheet software application rather than just focusing on theoretical mathematical algorithms. Again, in the domain of business mathematics, you can create the class content to include discussions and practice of chain discounts in a distinctive repetitive worksheet format. But to make it more interesting and real-life ready, you can choose a real-life work scenario instead, as an example, and link it to different business roles to make the shared information much more real and practical.
3- Focus On the Development of Soft Skills
Modern educators are under a lot of pressure to link the curricula closely to standardized tests. However, doing so is likely to make it much difficult to prepare students with the soft skills they’ll require to become job-ready, such as collaboration, communication, innovativeness, time management, decision making, and critical thinking, among others. Thus, too much of focus on standardized testing would force one to compromise on the students’ employability skills.
Though state testing is important, it’s much more crucial to teach the kids how to be thinkers, work together as a team, share and collaborate, etc. – all of which are skills that would need in the workplace to survive and thrive. Yet, soft skills that are difficult to quantify and verify are often ignored by most. Hard skills are easy to quantify and even demonstrate such as being awarded a degree or getting certain grades in a subject that stands testimony to the specific level of mastery in those specific skills. Though soft skills are much difficult to quantify, their importance can't be ignored. And that's why it’s the responsibility of schools to make their students aware of these skills and even teach them the same.
When students move beyond school and get a job, they’ll depend on their soft skills like leadership qualities, teamwork, being detail-oriented, etc. to make a mark and create successful careers. Though hard skills, say for instance – mathematics or data analysis skills are focused upon, hiring managers would also look at the potential candidate’s soft skills. Thus, the school’s failure to integrate soft skills in its existing courses would decrease its students’ chances of landing their dream job offers.
But how can districts and their educators make sure their curricula focus on soft skills to enhance their students’ employability? Typically, some of the most important soft skills to possess are:
- Time Management
- Active Listening
- Critical Thinking
- Judgment and Decision Making, and
- Complex Problem Solving
Though there are different ways to teach each of these skills, let’s take a look at how some of these can be taught based on interactive activities.
3.1- Time Management
This is not just important for students when they’re studying at schools. It’s equally important when they’ll enter the job force. During their student life, students need to learn how they can balance different class assignments and other learning activities, while when they enter the workforce, knowing how to balance different job duties is crucial.
Time management can be taught via activities or challenges where students are given a group of tasks, which have a certain weightage. Students can be divided into groups and assign a series of tasks that can be completed in 10 minutes. They’ll have to score as many points as they can within the 10-minute limit. Such activities can help assess how well students respond to the time management challenge. And apart from managing the stipulated time well, such activities could also encourage the students to work together, communicate efficiently with other team members, and prioritizing tasks based on the ones that are the most valuable activities and can be reasonably completed within a limited time. However, to make the activities useful, the teachers and counselors need to correctly strike a balance between the allotted time, the list of activities, and the points that would be awarded for every completed task on the list. To get useful resources for these and other soft skills, an online counseling tool for district schools like CounselHero could prove to be helpful.
3.2- Active Listening
Students can become better communicators when they develop active listening habits. And this skill would help them immensely in their career. Thus, teaching active listening skills is fundamental to getting students ready for the workplace. You can teach active listening in different ways but whatever be the method, it should always ensure the student is extremely engaged. For instance, students could be paired in groups of two, where one acts as the communicator and another as the listener. From a list of random topics, the communicator can pick one to talk about. Then, the speaker would begin his presentation to the listener, while the latter will respond by engaging acutely with the presentation and following up with relevant questions. The entire activity should be guided by certain rules, which the teacher or counselor would communicate clearly before the activity begins. For instance, students should be asked to have a non-judgmental approach towards the speaking student and ask them probing questions as they would help explore how correct and extensive the student’s understanding of the topic is.
Active listening and communication help improve learning outcomes as they emphasize individual research, encourage a deeper understanding of new information by responding with questions that explore the topic a bit more and help create better sharing and coordination. All these qualities are crucial to thriving in the workplace, which is why students need to be trained in the soft skill of active listening.
The modern school curriculum tends to focus heavily on hard skills. But soft skills have become more important than ever in the workplace today, which is why students need to be trained in them. For instance, by placing a strong emphasis on teamwork and group dynamics, teachers and school counselors can imitate the type of work environment that many students will find themselves in after they join the workforce. But it’s important to remember that teachers and counselors won’t always have adequate time to customize activities that perfectly integrate both hard skills and soft skills. Yet, once they have identified a few key activities, they should adapt new lessons to integrate those same activities accordingly. This way, they would be able to create the type of integrated activity that would help students not only develop their content knowledge but even the ability of applying such knowledge in the workplace. With the help of a suitable online counseling service for district schools, planning such soft skill activities, sometimes with a gaming element in them, becomes a lot easier and more effective.
4- Empower Students with Future-Ready Skills
Students need to be equipped with skills that they can count upon even a few years down the line, unlike technology skills that need to be updated frequently over time. In other words, teachers and school counselors need to make sure their students master skills they will surely require even after technology evolves a lot. For instance, critical thinking is a future-ready skill that students would require throughout their professional life. Thus, they need to be taught this skill to ensure today’s students become the experienced thinkers of tomorrow.
Today where a smartphone is just a swipe away, access to content has become easy. You no longer need to drill information into your student’s heads. But they need to be taught the ability to make sense of that content or information, which requires thinking critically about it. The modern education system in district schools is often endangered not by lack of access to data and information, but rather by the students’ inability to drill out the essence or real value from them.
By teaching future-ready skills to students, such as critical thinking, decision making, time management, etc., schools can ensure they’re better equipped to face the challenges of the future and overcome them successfully. For instance, when teaching critical thinking, students need to be made aware of a structured approach to the thought process driven by logic, where logic refers to multiple systems that are used for reasoning systematically.
5- Encourage Meaningful Internships
Districts should have well-designed, meaningful internships in place to get their students future-ready. Such internships would not only expand the students’ skills and knowledge but also help them evaluate how well they can apply their new learning in authentic settings when trying to deal with real-life problems having real-world consequences. When created and implemented the right way, internships can become a robust boat that students can leverage confidently to navigate the unpredictable twists and turns of the workplace. In reality, these unexpected happenings are what separate classroom theory from what students have to face on the job.
To plan and implement quality internships, there should be careful planning and coordination among the local school systems. Additionally, knowledgeable experts with a successful track record as school leaders should be engaged as supervisors to keep a close eye on the progress of these internships and make adjustments or tweaks, where necessary. Tracking the progress of interning students can be made a little bit easier by using an online counseling service for district schools like CounselHero.
Similar to any results-driven work, future-ready internships for students need significant investments of time, energy, and resources, which many schools may be reluctant to make. Yet, it’s a necessity for the future success of students, which is why district schools should encourage them. With internships designed and implemented the right way, students would not only learn the skills to handle real-life problems by applying their classroom knowledge but even become prepared to deal with the challenges of leadership.
6- Role That CounselHero Can Play
CounselHero aims to support this initiative of district schools by building an aligned curriculum that would help the students develop the necessary skills (both hard skills and soft skills) to thrive in the workplace. With the help of this online counseling tool for district schools, you can give your students an engaging "gamified" way of learning. This approach would help them learn and strengthen these skills fast by navigating real-life situations simulated in a video game setting and earning points as they proceed and keep going up by completing one level after the other.