Across from my desk in my office I have a bookshelf loaded with all the same ‘best practice’ books owned by nearly all administrators. Each of these books, while excellent in their own right, address a specific focus in education. They don’t claim to be the magic bullet, they aren’t guarantees to the perfect school, and they don’t change instruction by themselves. So what does make a difference? What must be done to address our nation’s high school crisis?
I don’t profess to have all the answers, I am but another administrator working as hard as possible for the success of all kids. However, there is one word I have found to be the most powerful in student buy-in, effort, engagement, and success. RELEVANCE Yes, relevance.
Why do we go to work each day? We see the pay-off in monetary, social, and emotional benefit.
Why do kids go to school each day? What is the pay-off for them? Sure there is a social link, no question there, but what about the emotional and intellectual benefit? Do our kids see that connection or do they simply go because they have to? Here is where the relevance comes in…
We have all heard the question “When am I ever going to use this?” regarding math, or language arts, or any other fill-in-the-blank subject. This is the challenge teachers face on a daily basis – how to make their curriculum relevant.
At Rock Springs High, we made the move three years ago to career and college readiness through the use of two career pathways. Implementing the Health Occupations Academy connected well with many students who believe they want a career in the medical field. Creating the Energy Resource Academy was essential in a community driven by natural resources and the energy industry. These two academies have been very successful, with the primary reason for their success being teachers finding a way to take the current curriculum and making it relevant to their students. The teachers deserve the credit for this work, it’s not easy, it’s time consuming, but it makes a difference in the lives of our students.
I state college and career readiness in a way I consider a ‘parting’ from the vernacular used by politicians. My sincere belief is the term is used in a way that implies “if you don’t go to college, start your career in the vocational arts”. I struggle with this, as I feel in today’s times students must have some form of post-high school education, whether that is a technical school, training courses, apprenticeship, or a number of years in a community college or university. If they are not doing this, then we are talking about “job readiness” not career readiness.
How do you make the connection between school and that ‘pay off’ down the road for all students. Putting them alongside adults already in the work world-adults who will tell students many of the same things we educators tell them, but from a different point of view. Giving them the opportunity to take college level coursework while in high school-let them see what lies ahead of them while they still have the support network that is high school. Put kids in positions to be successful by connecting them to the world they will enter soon while they still are in our world.
Just my two cents – but making education relevant for students, allowing them to see where all this theory and practice is actually applied to real life situations is the hook, the connection, the link between high school and real life success.