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For many students, preparing for college and career readiness requires a shift in attitude concerning both academic skills and interpersonal skills. It’s easy for us, as educators, to sometimes forget about life beyond our own classroom, as we are all responsible for teaching state benchmarks, meeting content expectations and preparing for high stakes standardized tests. However, everything we do and how we do it, profoundly affects our student’s college and career readiness in some way, shape or form. As such, it is essential that we intentionally model rigor, vigor, passion and purpose to help guide our students into their future endeavors, be it college, vocational institutes, the military or a direct path to workforce.
Methodology meets manners
Teacher at our school are trained in Great Expectations methodology, which empowers educators to provide students with the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to ensure success in the classroom and beyond. Emotional intellect, interpersonal communication skills and life principles are not just taught, but actively practiced by both students and myself. By developing a rapport of mutual respect in the classroom, the students learn and communicate in an environment similar to what they will encounter in college and the workforce.
Real-life communication skills in the classroom
Any visitor to our school likely will sense a different atmosphere here than in most high schools. Students are the first to initiate conversation and are very helpful to guests and visitors. Students are also expected to act with the social competencies that would be appropriate in a college classroom or corporate climate. Both students and educators share the responsibility of maintaining these communication principles.
Students are expected to greet teachers and fellow classmates at the door with a solid handshake. When we hold classroom discussions, students address the instructor and classmates by name demonstrating mutual respect. As educators, we also celebrate both academic and personal successes stories of our students and staff. This includes praising and displaying student work, honoring a student of the week in all core subject areas, as well as individual recognition for passing driver’s test, getting a new job, getting a raise or getting admitted into college. Our goal is to develop lasting relationships and foster communication skills that will be helpful to students beyond high school.
Supporting communication skills with critical-thinking skills
While developing a positive climate of respect is one of the essential domains of our approach, developing rigorous academic skills, problem solving, and critical thinking skills truly supports college and career readiness for all ages. Pairing the practice of real world skills with the instruction of benchmarks, state standards, and AP coursework gives students the best chance for future success everywhere.
One strategy that works well in our school is to have a daily SAT prep question and enriched vocabulary word of the day. This small commitment helps students develop their critical thinking and increase their vocabulary repertoire. You might also find students participating in “walk and whispers,” in which students traverse the hallways while reviewing and discussing material they have learned with each other. These “walk and whispers” address a vital part of academic preparation: the ability to review key material that was just taught while incorporating movement which automatically engages both hemispheres of the brain increasing retention and real learning (Eric Jensen, Teaching with the Brain in Mind).
In addition to teaching college-level material, as educators, we must also teach students how to approach college-level schoolwork through disciplined study habits, annotating and note taking strategies, and meaningful discussions of key content with their teachers and peers. Devoting time to collaborative studying helps prepare students for the academic discussions that happen in a college setting and in the career world as well.
Bringing it all together
Whatever your college and career readiness strategies look like, it’s beneficial to have your entire school speak the same language and model the life principles you are trying to develop in your student body. With almost 90% of Bay City Central High School’s staff practicing a consistent methodology, our college and career readiness practices also are consistent, practiced and reinforced.
Having the same high expectations throughout the school day makes it easier for students to develop good habits and implement them in life both inside and outside of high school. As I’ve seen in my school, when students and teachers share a common goal there is greater student success. It all starts with administrators and teachers making the commitment to model the life principles and uphold the same high expectations and standards to which they hold their students.
Connie Beson-Steger is an Advanced Placement social studies teacher at Bay City Central High School in Michigan. She is also a Great Expectations instructor and educational consultant who focuses on engaging students in the classroom.