Student Success in the 21st Century: Why it Matters

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It’s interesting to consider how the pillars of student success have changed over the years.

Today my family was out taking a bike ride around our neighborhood. We live on a big, three-mile loop, so there are always people exercising. I mentioned to my husband that, while we were both working the other day (we share an office that overlooks the street), a pair of women went by on their bikes about 5 times. Kudos to them, for sure.

My husband made the comment that our road is flat without a lot of undulation.

I have a master’s degree but had absolutely never come across the word undulation before.

I asked him what it meant and he said it basically meant hills.

Then he got a checkmark under the argument about which one of us is smarter (to clarify, it’s a play argument we have that is ongoing because we both have common sense about entirely different things).

He laughed and said honestly, he only knew the term because of golf.

Without skipping a beat, I replied, “It doesn’t matter how you learn it, just as long as you learn it.”

That right there summarizes both student-centered learning and the struggle many in education have with switching to that model…and why the focus needs to turn to student success and not regurgitation.

Let me explain:

The future of the job market

When public education first became common, we were very much an industrial society. Putting children in rows and allowing them to complete the same tasks, in the same way, was what prepared them for the world that awaited them. The concept of individual student success was not as vital as it was to just train the masses to be good workers.

However, even as decades passed, it was still how so many of us were taught to teach because it’s what education was.

However, our entire worldview has changed since then.

We have become a tech-savvy, entrepreneurial society. What defines student success has changed completely…and it all comes back to what we not only value as a society, but the direction the world is headed.

Do you know what the top companies were going into 2019?

  • Uber
  • Lyft
  • Palantir
  • Pinterest
  • Slack
  • Airbnb
  • Postmates
  • InstaCart

Most of these companies didn’t even exist 10 years ago, let alone were household names.

How can we expect to teach students going into the world of Uber and Airbnb the same things that we taught students who were planning to find a job at a local company where they would work until retirement?

Don’t think that sounds reasonable? According to LinkedIn in 2015, the average worker had 10 different jobs before they retired and that number was expected to grow.

It’s simply not sustainable to teach our students the way previous generations learned.

It’s not.

Student Success in the 21st Century: Why it Matters

Defining Student Success

Truthfully, the concept of defining student success does, in fact, change as society changes. What was important a century ago has been long advanced upon and isn’t seen as important today.

While some factors ring true no matter the changes, ie. accomplishing tasks, goals, and being prepared for the future that awaits, what those specifics are have changed greatly for each generation that has come through our schools.

The definition of student success is a complex one. Although it varies from school to school and even student to student, we believe that when students are well-prepared for their future goals and feel empowered to achieve them, they are more likely to be successful.

Let’s start with some basics. What comes to mind when you see the word “successful”? A popular movie star? A famous athlete? A business mogul? Success does not mean simply attaining wealth or fame; rather, it is a much deeper concept. We want to feel fulfilled in our jobs, satisfied with the relationships we have cultivated, and content with the lives we are living. And while success is always unique to each individual person, there are some common behaviors that many successful people share.

Let’s break down some of these traits:

1) They invest in themselves * Always growing their knowledge and skills

2) They take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions

3) They put in lots and lots of effort while maintaining discipline and focus

4) They are persistent despite obstacles or failures * You often hear success stories that start with “I failed X number of times before succeeding.”

5) Their behavior is highly ethical and honest

6) They are constantly improving and looking for opportunities

7) They treat everyone with kindness * Even those they don’t like

8) They look for ways to give back and help others succeed as well

9) They care about their own personal development and progress * You can see this in those who naturally invest time in becoming better versions of themselves

10) They are able to maintain a positive attitude no matter how difficult their tasks or life gets

Teaching Our Future Generations

This is where I come back to the point that I made on my bike ride:

“It doesn’t matter how you learn it, just as long as you learn it.”

I am not sure why there’s such resistance to this in education. As our definition of student success changes as per the norms of the world we live in, the way in which we foster that success must stay updated as well.

Lately, I’ve been chatting with a lot of teachers on social media about burnout, their schools, and their administration. I’ve noticed one thing that stands out in all my conversations:

Schools (in a direct reflection of their administration) are either on point and rockstars or hot pits of a stressed-out mess.

The ones that fall into the latter? They’re holding on to methods that are outdated and are not working for our students.

Again, they’re not working for our students.

Take a look at this video and let it soak in for a minute:

This article from Best Colleges lays it out better than I’ve seen before (even with my own article about Generation Z).

I think this quote is especially telling:

Today’s young professionals also value diversity. Sparvell noted that “diversity, inclusion, and belonging are core values for Generation Z, and how businesses represent these values will impact their ability to attract and retain an entire generation of talent.” This is especially important given that approximately half of Gen Z in the United States is nonwhite, according to the Pew Research Center, making it the most diverse generation in American history.

If businesses are making a switch to be sure that they’re appealing to the next generation who will be working for them, then as teachers, shouldn’t we be doing everything we possibly can to prepare each and every one of them to rise up and be prepared to excel in the field of their choice??

I especially love this info graphic they use:

Gen Z Career Guide: The Best Jobs for the Future
Published on July 01, 2019

Student Success with Generation Z

I go over this in detail in our course “A Passion for Progress: Becoming a 100% Student-Centered Educator“, but the first thing you absolutely must do with this generation to help students improve their success is to find out their individual learning styles.

Once you have this information, your classroom potential is literally at your fingertips.

When you know how your students are learning, you have the ability to tweak assignments or activities to appeal to the way they will understand the information the best.

You can have multiple versions of the same assignment with minimal effort on your part and each student in your class will be able to work on it in a way that benefits them the most.

Differentiated education at its finest…and a direct path to student success.

Once your students are used to it? Your classroom begins to run itself and is quite impressive to your administrator during observations.

So again, it doesn’t matter how you learn it, just as long as you learn it.

Should be the mantra in all of our schools, shouldn’t it?

So as teachers, how can we foster student success and emphasize the importance of goals and grit? We can enhance student voice and choice in our classrooms; we can highlight the benefits of peer collaboration; we can teach students to react responsibly to mistakes and not give up easily. We can emphasize that what you accomplish is more important than how long it takes you. And finally, we must provide opportunities for student success for all by embracing diversity and ensuring every child feels included in the classroom.

By understanding what success means to us and how it can be achieved, we can prepare students not only for their present but also their future student success. Teaching students about goal setting, grit, and resilience allow them to flourish within a society that is constantly changing and full of obstacles they will need to overcome.

Student Success and the 4 Keys

Determining how to best foster student success in our classrooms isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.

If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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