President's Corner

Preparing Skills for Tomorrow and Safety Today
By Gail Pletnick/School Administrator, August 2017

When my husband was a young boy, he worked as a pinsetter for the local bowling alley. The job was pretty straightforward as were the skills required. When the pins were knocked down, he placed them back in the correct order. The job required a certain level of dexterity and the ability to duplicate an exact pattern with the pins.

The world no longer needs pinsetters, switchboard operators or gas station attendants to pump gas, thanks to ever-evolving technologies that enable humans to be replaced by automation. In fact, few jobs exist today that require only the most basic skill sets.

However, as we move from the information age to the innovation age, new jobs are being created at a rapid pace. One job that did not exist a decade ago is customer connection technician. Companies rely on this person to use social media tools effectively to interact with customers.

It would be great if educators had a crystal ball to tell us all the challenges, changes and opportunities our graduates will face in the future. That, however, is one technology that does not exist … yet.

So how do we support our students and ensure they have what they need to be productive today and when they leave our schools? We must redefine the competencies that prepare students for a new era of work and life. The focus on social-emotional learning we are seeing in education speaks to a skill set that is better aligned to living in an information and innovation age. Empowering students to own their learning and demonstrate competencies such as self-efficacy, grit and social awareness helps prepare them to adapt, adjust and create their own opportunities. Those competencies also help us create healthier and safer schools.

Public school districts nationwide are embracing the challenge to redefine, redesign and re-imagine schools, changing what we expect in a profile of a graduate. The Virginia Beach, Va., City Public Schools built a graduate profile that identifies competencies such as being personally and socially responsible and being problem solvers and value creators.

In my own district outside Phoenix, Ariz., the Dysart Profile speaks to graduates being effective communicators, being innovative and having initiative. Dysart is partnering with districts across the country to develop ways to help students and educators measure growth in these skills.

Incorporating skills into the graduate profile that address social responsibility and effective communication proactively supports a safe learning environment by creating a positive atmosphere. Helping students become problem solvers, develop grit and be personally responsible contributes to their positive mental health.

Embracing social-emotional learning and new-era life skills and dispositions can benefit our schools in both the short term and the long term. Short term, a positive learning environment is created that enhances safety and student social and emotional health and, in the long term, can better prepare students for the challenges and opportunities they will face after graduation. These skills and competencies are sometimes referred to as soft skills, yet research indicates these are critical life skills.

Our world continues to evolve, and so our educational system must continue to change to meet the new expectations and required outcomes. Not only must we redefine the profile of a college- and career-ready graduate, we must redesign our teaching and learning environments to meet the needs of the whole child and re-imagine our educational systems to support the change that must happen.

By embracing these skills, our schools will prepare students for their tomorrow, while tending to safe, supportive learning environments today.

Gail Pletnick
is AASA president in 2017-18. E-mail: Twitter: ­@GPletnickDysart