The Overlapping Worlds of Work and Education
How savvy teachers are aligning today's classroom skill building with tomorrow's workplace expectations
BY SANDY HUSK/School Administrator, August 2018

Sandy Husk (second from right), chief executive officer of AVID, with Edward “Lee” Vargas, AVID executive vice president, and middle school students during the annual AVID national conference.
It’s nearly impossible to read the news without being inundated by headlines about the changing future of work. The shelf life of workplace skills is shrinking. According to a 2017 study by the World Economic Forum, the skills of today’s college graduates will be due for a refresh as soon as 2020. The jobs that will be held by today’s kindergartners don’t even exist yet.

Gone are the days when individuals could develop skills for a career lasting a lifetime. To stay relevant and employed, individuals will have to not just learn, but relearn. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s a cycle that is no surprise to savvy teachers in K-12 education today. As educators, we know that learning extends beyond the classroom. Great teachers always have tried to develop lifelong learners who are resilient and adaptable. We cultivate skills, such as self-advocacy and organization so students have agency and can chart a course of their own.

And, as it turns out, the world of work is now catching up with the world of education. Terms like “growth mindset” and “executive function” now transcend careers and the classroom. Our focus on the whole child cultivates “soft skills,” such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration, which are also among the most enduring and prized skills sought by hiring managers, according to Paul Petrone, editor of LinkedIn Learning. But while great teachers value soft skills, organizing their classrooms and instructional schedules around their development can present a challenge.

How might today’s teachers supplement academic and technical content to prepare students for an increasingly dynamic and uncertain future? Based on what we are seeing from our Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) partners, some have started to figure it out.

Portable Skills
To ensure students develop personal skills that will remain relevant, teachers must implement a framework that integrates instructional tools that are compatible with any rigorous content.

Classrooms that prepare students for the future provide students with learning strategies that can be adapted to any subject matter. Collaborative study groups, or Socratic seminars, enable students to hone communication skills and the capacity for working effectively in teams, joint problem solving and peer learning.

Secondary school teachers in Wisconsin’s Mequon-Thiensville School District are making a concerted effort to teach students tools to apply to any subject, deepening their understanding of what they are learning and reinforcing specific skills. One strategy is Cornell note-taking, which allows students to practice the inquiry process and summarizing to clearly communicate what they learned. Once students master the process in one class, they then can apply that strategy to their other classes.

The effective use of such strategies will place content knowledge within a framework — a common language — that lends itself to the development of portable skillsets. This guarantees that students are learning these skills for a lifetime.

Teacher as Facilitator

AVID students at Innovation Middle School in San Diego participate in a Socratic seminar, a strategy commonly used in AVID courses.

Teachers in today’s classrooms are making the shift from knowledge givers to knowledge facilitators, creating an atmosphere of trust with the expectation that students own their learning.

Teachers as facilitators are creating environments where students can grapple with new skills, working toward mastery. They’re transforming classrooms into places where students take control of their learning. But that also means educators must give up some control.

In the Beaverton School District in suburban Portland, Ore., students are practicing a strategy called Socratic seminar, which initially involves supports like printed conversation frames, posted rules of engagement and teacher involvement. The goal is to give students the foundation to have a meaningful discussion about any given topic. Eventually, these supports are removed so the conversations can carry on without them. With practice, students begin to facilitate the conversation on their own, even to the point of bringing in their own topics relevant to the course.

This process illustrates how there must come a point when students can explore and apply knowledge on their own, a point when teachers offer guidance and support only when necessary. This is not always easy. Students are unpredictable, and as every educator knows, each class has its own personality. What happens in second period may not go so well in fourth period.

But with enough time and patience, students will build self-reflection and correction, authentic inquiry, communication skills, an aptitude for collaboration and more. These are all valuable skills that will help them navigate in the future.

Social Emotional Links
As students develop soft skills, they also need to feel comfortable actually using them. Their ability to deploy new skills can be tied to their level of social competency, or the impact of social and emotional learning. According to a study titled “Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health” in the American Journal of Public Health, social competencies taught as early as kindergarten can have a positive impact for students well into adulthood.

Classrooms that succeed in preparing students for an uncertain future emphasize competencies like self-awareness, relationship-building and multigenerational communication. These skills don’t magically appear when students turn their tassels at graduation. They need to be taught and practiced.

In the Cherry Creek Public Schools in Greenwood Village, Colo., these skills are part of students’ education starting in elementary school. Students are taught about dressing for success and the importance of looking people in the eye when speaking. In middle school, students advocate for themselves when they need help overcoming a challenge or presenting an idea to their group. Once students reach high school, they are able to more successfully complete group problem-solving projects and more confidently participate in college and job interviews.

When students are confident, the way they present themselves, speak for themselves and communicate with others will become natural acts later in the workplace.

When students are taught transferrable strategies and given the opportunity to practice them, they develop skills that last far beyond the classroom. With a strong foundation of learning, students will be prepared for a positive and productive future, no matter where that future may lead.

SANDY HUSK, a former superintendent, is chief executive officer of the AVID Center in San Diego, Calif. Twitter: @AVID4College

An AVID Career Resource
The 6,800 schools nationwide that operated AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, programs during the past school year were committed to college readiness for students who would be the first in their families to attend college and those from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education. In fact, AVID is one of the nation’s largest college readiness programs.

But AVID also serves as a vital resource for schools eager to attend to the career readiness of their students. Rather than focusing on academics alone, AVID helps teachers to develop and share the strategies that enable students to keep pace and succeed as they are exposed to new, and increasingly challenging educational experiences.

The work is about creating a culture of college readiness and high expectations so students are prepared to exercise a host of college and career opportunities. It’s an approach that’s working at scale. AVID reached nearly two million students across the country by the end of 2017.

From the moment students enter an AVID campus, they become steeped in a culture of college and career readiness. From elementary school through high school, AVID trains educators how to elevate lessons and conversations through academic language and deeper, more thoughtful questions. Classrooms and hallways are filled with college pennants and career-motivating paraphernalia.

Embedded in AVID’s professional learning and the “AVID College and Careers” curriculum guide are specific resources, planning guides and intentional practices to help students learn and exercise the soft skills cultivated on AVID campuses.

Find more about AVID at