July 23, 2014

College and Career Readiness: What Else Matters?

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At the heart of the Common Core standards is a mission that has become as well known as the standards themselves: College and career readiness. No matter what your position or belief about this rally cry, most educators agree that the purpose of education is to serve students in ways that help them find success after high school. While surely sound instructional standards contribute to this goal, every skilled educator knows that success in not incumbent upon standards alone, leaving us to wonder: What else matters?

To help us think about this question, we turned to some of history’s most successful people to see what they had to say about success:

Albert Einstein: It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Thomas Edison: I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Robert Kennedy: Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.

Abraham Lincoln: Always bear in mind that your resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.

As we look at these quotes, we notice a thread of commonality amongst them that seems to suggest that mindset is an important factor in success.

Cognitively challenging work evokes a myriad of responses from students ranging from “This is hard.  I can do this” to “This is hard. I’m not even going to try.” No matter how wonderfully we align a lesson to standards, when students decide that they “don’t know” or they’re “not very good” at something, we/they make little progress. We have to explicitly address the issue of embracing problems and the relationship between effort and success or there’s very little room for great teaching to prevail.

In the chapter titled “Be the First Penguin” in his book The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch wrote about repeatedly saying to his students that “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” He wanted to remind them that “failure is not just acceptable, it’s often essential” (p. 148). To help students understand this, at the end of each semester, Pausch rewarded risk-taking by handing out “The First Penguin Award” to the team of students who failed to achieve their stated goals but demonstrated outstanding out-of-the box thinking.

In thinking about our original question–What else matters?–we believe that working to create classroom learning cultures that laud effort, celebrate failure, and promote perseverance is another important factor to consider when reforming education.

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