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Give Your Students a Competitive Edge

Kevin Duda
Kevin Duda - Product Line Manager

If previous generations felt unprepared for the jobs they filled after graduation, imagine what it must be like for students today.

The fleeting lifespan of tools, market demands, and business trends has placed a heavier focus on concepts and agility than narrowly focused training. It's now more important for students to graduate with the intangible skill of adaptibility than with a deep knowledge of a certain software program or theoretical model. 

“In the last few years, education technology has grown from an innovative new trend to a key component of the modern classroom,” writes Dr. S. Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, in this K-12 Blueprint article. “Technology prepares students to be competitive in today’s workforce – and for the jobs of tomorrow that don’t yet exist – by providing opportunities to learn vital skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and digital literacy.”
While technology plays an important role in the process, there are a number of efforts both in and out of the classroom you can take to prepare students for what comes after graduation. Let’s dig a bit deeper into these learning opportunities.


Competitive Curriculum

According to a report by the NCEA and ACT, Inc. titled The 20 Non-Negotiable Characteristics of Higher Performing School Systems, college and career readiness programs are a common theme among districts with the most competitive students. You are preparing students for jobs that may not even exist yet, and that means getting creative with your curriculum. 
The fact is, many of the “traditional” skills taught at the K-12 level are all but irrelevant to specialized higher ed programs and career opportunities. If you want your students to be competitive in their college applications, you have to be willing to take some risks. Foreign language programs, AP and IB subjects are important, but what about coding and computer science? Creative writing and digital citizenship? Robotics and 3-D printing? These are the skills that will set your students apart.
Hard skills aren’t the only consideration. Now is the time to explore new learning, such as flipped classrooms. This approach gives students more responsibility for their education and encourages a deeper understanding of the subject matter. When class time is devoted to discourse, interpersonal communication and collaboration will thrive. The best part about these soft skills is that they’re applicable no matter what field your students pursue.


Teaching Technology 

It’s a debate that seems to be nearing an end: encourage students to use multiple forms of technology and devices in the classroom, or ban and block? Go mobile, or take away phones at the door? This is no longer a question of old school vs. new school; the conversation has turned to “how can we best prepare our students for a world ruled by technology?”

Before you think about answering that question, it is imperative that you start with your teachers. Emphasize professional development, but don’t stop at conferences and tutorials. Show teachers how the technology at their disposal can be used to free up instructional time or deliver a more personalized learning experience to their students. The buy-in of your teaching staff must come first if you want anything else to follow. 
When in doubt, lead with pedagogy. Don’t try to shape your curriculum around your technical infrastructure – devise a strategy based on desired student outcomes first, then look at how your technology can help you reach those goals. Take the advice of Tim Landeck, director of technology at Pajaro Valley Unified School District in California: “It's not about the device – it's about the curriculum. And we want to be sure the device is going to support what the teachers are trying to achieve.”


Community Engagement

You’ve heard it here before and you’re likely to hear it again: family engagement is fundamental to student success. Statistics show that parents want to be more active in their child’s education, but few have any idea how. You can provide them with the tools they need to do so. Utilize social media, blogging, and a parent portal to communicate and disseminate information.
But engagement doesn’t end with parents. Give your high school students real-world experience by partnering with local businesses for job shadowing, internship, or apprenticeship opportunities. These businesses can help in other ways, too. Ask for a sampling of speakers from within the community to come into your classrooms and talk about the skills they use on the job or participate in activities with kids. Any of these opportunities can help your students get a better handle on the coursework or career paths they want to pursue.
If you have higher education institutions nearby, you’ll find another, even more accessible avenue for your students to expand learning beyond the walls of your district. Consider implementing a college day event where students can tour a campus and experience college classes well before graduation.
Give students the best chance to compete at a higher level by offering 21st century courses, finding useful ways to blend in technology, and promoting family and community collaboration. There’s no better way to give your students that competitive edge they’ll need to succeed at the next level.

To learn more about setting students up for a successful future, check out our white papers on Parent Engagement and Getting Ready for College.



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