Friday, June 23, 2017

Supporting Your Grad's Adult Transitions

Regardless of the distinction between current generational circumstances and those past, the improvement of current circumstances will almost always provide a better future. Parents have the ability and responsibility to help their children fulfill their potential. Whether making the transition from grade school to higher education, or looking to enter the workforce right after graduation, a child’s parents play a huge role in how successful they'll become later in life.

Many grads head straight into college, community college, or trade school, hoping these paths will give them a leg up on the competition for future earnings.  However, many others are choosing to simply forego more education and simply “get a job” at the first place that's hiring.  Parent engagement is not just for K-12, but also includes the phase that comes after high school.  Knowing how to do this well is important.

Graduation from high school is the first time in a long time when "freedom from forced learning" is granted.  However, as all successful adults know, the need for learning never stops.  So, instead of bucking the whole idea of learning in a regrettable error of rebellion, the healthier trajectory is to assess new options and choose what makes the most sense.  This is where parents can be a big influence, and make a big difference, even if they never were involved much during the school years.

It is the very rare grad who already knows what they want to commit their whole life to. 
  • What do I want to do for work?  Sit at a desk?  Work outdoors?  Work with people, with my hands, with animals, with plants, with numbers? 
  • What kind of earnings do I want?   Monthly budgets and bills paid?  Savings and retirement accounts?  Big house and exotic vacations?  
  • What kind of work place do I want?  Whether you want to be an orderly or a surgeon, the surroundings of a hospital can be a comforting certainty.  Whether you are the groundskeeper/maintenance person or the lead pastor, going to work at a church every day can be a pleasant thing.  But, taking a first job as a helper on a sewage pumping truck can lead to a whole life of filth, grime, and foul odors. 

A life trajectory is the choice of every high school graduate.  With diploma in hand, what’s next?  Being prepared to answer that question may come immediately, or years later.  Many who enter college chasing one major, shift their course toward an entirely different career part way through.  While that may be a normal part of growing up, parents can have a huge impact on the self-knowledge and confidence it takes.  Most grads have never made such an important decision and find it hard to believe they can choose any path they want.

It makes a lot of sense for some grads to sign up for a short hitch in the military, learn some discipline, learn some skills, save some money, get a bit of college funding, and then choose a life path from a more mature perspective.   Sometimes community college with a job on the side does the same thing, providing a chance to grow up before establishing a more permanent life direction.  From the parents' perspective, the point of these choices is not what path is chosen, but how well these choices fit the person, how ready a child is when “choice time” comes, and how cohesively the family dynamics evolve. Good parenting is about influencing the child toward things like:
  • handling life responsibilities like financials, relationships, and chores
  • embracing good character development for its long-term value
  • developing wisdom and good judgment, courage, trust, and respectability
  • taking advantage of one's best possibilities
  • maximizing their potential in their own unique way
  • becoming a good - and improving - decision maker 
  • creating and sticking to a plan
  • finding their place in the world and the satisfaction that comes with it

If the child chooses "what my parents would want me to do" they have failed to be their own adult.  If they don't know themselves well enough to see how wants, dreams, ambitions, and effort must be genuine to succeed, they may end up chasing a false path and never be happy on it.  If they haven't learned to make decisions and commit to a plan, they may linger in vacillation for years.  

So, parents, please do not underestimate your importance during the K-12 years.  Everything a child believes about themselves, dreams is possible, and dares to go after in life will be significantly - but not entirely - impacted by you.  Knowing this beforehand empowers you to choose as best you can to be the influence you want to give.  Your child’s choices will have risks.  Protecting them from the possibility of harm is not always the best choice.  Falling in love is risky.  Having sex is risky.  Just walking out the front door is risky.  So, when they face choosing an initial life trajectory, it isn’t so much a case for safety as much as one of weighing the possible outcomes.   Having prepared them to do well means you have done well

Whether it's at home before Kindergarten, during the school years, or in their twenties, children want parents to be relevant, involved, and good at being parents.  Input and influence from parents who have been involved all along will undoubtedly be more relevant and more accepted by the child during adult transitions.  So, if you are a parent who is unsure if your involvement in their learning matters… IT DOES.  Get involved earlier and know you will get better at it.  As I said, successful adults know that the need for learning never ends.  So, jump in and learn… because you love them.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Of Ignorance and Learning

We are all ignorant.  Of something.  No one likes to admit it, but it’s true. 

A learning culture is about embracing that truth; that we are ignorant of a great many things, and... most importantly... that we can do something about it. 

In a day and age of global-interconnected social media, we see the effects of giving every mind a platform.  We see people who are irresponsibly overconfident, spewing their opinions into the minds of innocent audiences who choose to listen.  But, should we trust the overconfident?  What do we know about their research, their thinking process, their knowledge, and their ignorance?  And, what do we know about their own awareness of these same things, as well as their sense of responsibility to them, and us?  On the flip side, just because we think something, does that mean it is something good for others to think?  I offer this blog post fully aware that I am ignorant of what you know and want to know.  So, being responsible to that ignorance, I am offering these thoughts carefully and constructing a path of reason in the hope it will bridge some gaps.

Unlike a blog post, parent engagement requires the exchange of thought.  Teacher thoughts mixing with parent thoughts, all around what the child is thinking.  There is bound to be a ton of ignorance on all sides.  Yet, instead of just admitting it and embracing the opportunity to bridge some gaps, we see a lot of frustration over the other person’s lack of understanding.  We see teachers who want parents to support them, and parents who want teachers to support their thinking.  We don't see a lot of, "I wonder what they know that I don't."

In a learning culture, the opportunity to eliminate ignorance is something that all participants appreciate.  It is a shared goal.  It also means people take responsibility for the potential that their ignorance has for causing errors.  And instead of shouting ignorant opinions from the rooftops, or from their digital dais, they work to find more solid ground, ground they can trust to lead others to stand on.  The focus is more on serving the unified certainty than being the revered source. There is a lot more humility present in their intentions than hubris.

The world is still in a great debate about climate change.  Among the many offered opinions we see, are ones that scream “CONSPIRACY!” “HOAX!” and “It’s just weather!”.   But, why would someone offer such opinions?  Have they done the research?  Have they analyzed decades of data?   Or do they just want to feel the power of being heard?  Sure, we live in a global community that allows and even encourages our competitive verve to freely voice our thoughts onto the world stage.  We can post on Facebook or Twitter any sort of opinion we have.  But, is that responsible?  Are we really aware of our ignorance, and do we care? Are we really sure that the ground we stand on is solid - solid enough to invite others onto it, too?

If one person hears a few thoughts, facts, and opinions (offered out of ignorance) and twists them into some imaginary plot, they might feel the need to scream, “CONSPIRACY!”, but does that make it so?  The question is actually one of filling in the ignorance gaps; of learning.  What do you really know?  What can you prove?  What's changed since you learned it?  

It isn’t always responsible to raise an alarm based on unproven thoughts.  In fact, it rarely is.  With our platform comes a responsibility; the responsibility to consider the impact of our statements on others, to consider how much we don’t know before we send that thought into someone else’s mind.  Just because we think it, does not mean it is true.  And, even if it is true for us does not mean it is true for someone else.  Much of this “thought throwing” culture is based on pure speculation and the interpretation of many other people’s ignorant opinions.  With a digital dais to speak from we take on the role of leader.  We are openly choosing to offer our influence, to actively sway the thoughts of others.  To do this, responsibly, we must consider the effect we actually cause. 

If we are leading a wagon train across the 1852 Mojave desert, is it responsible for us to shout “Water!” and point to a mirage?  We must consider the effects.  In the absence of other opinions and any true knowledge, we may be leading others further into doom.  If we scream “HOAX!” about global warming, just because we can’t see it or understand it, there may be little effect.  But, if others who are still undecided take us at our word, we may actually lead them into trusting us and following us, and eventually… toward global destruction instead of away from it. 

When parents speak to teachers, they must do so with a responsibility to their child.  What they tell the teacher will impact the instruction.  What they learn about helping their child at home will impact the child’s education.  And, vice versa, when a teacher is speaking to a parent they must also be responsible about the effect of their influence.  The need to be aware of their ignorance about the child, about problems in the home, and other relevant points because what they learn from the parent will also impact the child’s education. 

When we take this to the district level we see passionate parents arguing against an entrenched and immovable system.  We also see a myopic bureaucracy refusing to learn from their community.  This frustration can cause both sides to hunker down into their ignorance and throw thoughts at one another.  This is where a culture of inquiry – the commonly accepted practice of eliminating ignorance instead of proving it – will bridge gaps, form allegiance and alliances, and create consensus.  

If there was one place we would expect to find a learning culture - a focused and accepted custom of admitting and eliminating ignorance - it would be in the education system, right?  But what we see instead is a culture based on the dais.  In order to become part of the education system you must be a teacher.  You must become excellent at speaking from the front of the classroom and distributing what you know and believe.  Therefore, everyone in the industry is mostly focused on offering what they know, not on eliminating their ignorance. 

Instead of asking, “Why do parents think that?  What do they know that we don’t know?” they would rather tell parents why it won’t work.  Educators want to educate.  So, it makes sense.  But, it doesn’t bridge gaps.  Parents know what is going on in the real world, the world their children will have to enter.  Teachers and educational administrators live, work, and breathe in a separate reality.  There is much they don’t know about corporate culture, corporate learning, global integration, and the future workplace their students will encounter. 

Whether we are parents trying to change the system or teachers within the system, when we take on the role of “platform speaker” we are given a great privilege.  We are availed the opportunity to lead others.  If all we care about is our own knowledge we may fail them because of our ignorance.  Imagine the wagon train leader who struts and marches with a glow of affirmation because sixty some-odd people have placed their confidence in him as they march farther away from water.  Sure he feels the boost of having a “following” but there will come a day when they are dying of thirst and he will have to face the truth of his ignorance.  It is truly better to have admitted ignorance early on, than to face the dismay of having brought others with you into a bad outcome.  Having people follow our thinking is not proof we are right.  It is proof they trust us.  That trust deserves a responsible approach, a truthful admittance of what we do and do not know. 

In parent engagement groups that create and build a learning culture, the specter of ignorance is defeated by facing it.  By facing our ignorance we become empowered to discover new knowledge.  We can safely ask ourselves, “What do I not know?”  We bridge gaps.  We learn.  And we lead others to do the same.