A Useful Crisis

In his blog, Seth Godin defined a useful crisis as a chance to get a lot of us involved. He wrote that “the Cuban Missile Crisis was an actual crisis”, the world was quite close to annihilation. Since then, we “have invented and exploited crises on a regular basis, often at the expense of focusing our attention on the chronic conditions , which are the real challenges. We notice the amplified moments in a crisis but it is what happens, and what changes over the long haul that matters. (Emphasis mine) A useful crisis provides the opportunity to do things that were not possible before. The long haul, the challenge, is the persistent posture of creation and possibility.”

Many of us in the profession of education accept that we are involved in a Useful Crisis today. AS the eminent American philosopher, and Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Some of us have already begun to re-examine the Sacred Language of the Holy Strategic Plan from the perspective that we are being impacted by all 6 Forces described by Michael Porter and Andrew Groves. And it is way past time for us to question our business fundamentals, how we have always done things, in order to meet the changing expectations being placed on our graduates.

There is no “one size fits all” solution. The needs of individual schools vary greatly. Schools reflect the cultures, values, and circumstances of their communities. Solutions must honor and respect that.

But I will start with a common end in mind. The first job title assigned to most every graduate is “employee.” So why don’t we take a look at what skills “employers” are looking for in the post-pandemic workplace?

An article posted in “Fast Company” on 10/27/2020 shared that “the pandemic has created enormous changes in the workplace. Regardless of their jobs, employees need to adapt rapidly to massive changes, ranging from working remotely to changes in operation and fulfillment. But job skills were changing even before the pandemic.”

“Gartner data found that the number of skills required for a simple job was increasing by 10% a year. And one-third of the skills in an average 2017 job posting would not be relevant by 2021. Gartner also found that role-based skills planning wasn’t helping organizations develop the right employee skill sets. Grouping unrelated skills doesn’t build the skills that will create competitive advantage.” (Emphasis mine)

So what are the necessary skills for the future?

As organizations continue to operate in a pandemic and plan for the future, here are some of the essential skills employers will need, as identified by those who will someday hire our graduates. They will not be learned by osmosis, each of you can determine who well you are teaching them, and how successful you believe your graduates will be when they hit the job market.

  1. Self-direction: in the midst of so much change, employees are going to need to take ownership of their roles and be highly self-directed.
  2. Digital Capabilities: employees are not only going to need to be comfortable using digital technologies, ranging form collaboration software to videoconferencing, but they’re also going to need to accept its role in evaluating metrics. Analytics was the No. 1 digital investment for HR executives.
  3. Empathy: the ability to understand the challenges other employees and organizations are facing and help management is also a skill that employers seek and need.
  4. Communication Management: communication skills now need to extend across platforms. Employees have to know when to use which platform and how to use audio, video, and digital communication in ways that won’t create “Zoom fatigue” or lack of engagement.
  5. Adaptability: as many workplaces evolve to hybrid models or have other significant changes in how they operate, adaptability is an increasingly necessary skill.
  6. Motivational Skills: in addition to the intellectual ability to do the job, ability to adapt to change, and communication skills, motivation and persuasion also play a big role. Being able to self-motivate and inspire other to see your vision could be the catalyst to inertia in the face of uncertainty.

Bit of a challenge for some of us, I’m sure. But in one of the elite schools I worked in, we partnered with our business community and gained their support in implementing a Work Ethic curriculum. Every student, in every class, every day, received a score in each of the following traits:

  1. Attendance
  2. Character
  3. Teamwork
  4. Appearance
  5. Attitude
  6. Productivity
  7. Organization Skills
  8. Communication
  9. Cooperation
  10. Respect

The Work Ethic score appeared separately from the academic scores on both the report card and transcript. It was one of the keys to our success. A powerful message was sent to our kids each semester when potential employers explained it to our new students, and assured them that they cared more about the Work Ethic score than they did the class rank or GPA.

It can be done. But not if we continue to implement the text-teach-test model driven by compliance more than empowerment. In that model, it is easy to say that a student has learned something. But has it been something worth learning?

Many of us will utilize the opportunities of this Useful Crisis to transition into a model of teach-apply the learning. In an authentic assessment, in a manner relevant to the student. The primary purpose of school is to prepare students for a world we cannot imagine, so that when they are stuck with something they have never seen before, they can choose to think rather than just remember.

A foundation of this model is building teaching and assessment around what we call the 3 C’s: 1) Connected – the work is accessible on any device, not just the school issued device and Google classroom; 2) Collaborative – who will the student collaborate with doing the work that would not be possible in a traditional model; 3) Create – what product will the student create that would not be possible outside this model.

You can do this, many schools already are. They turned loose of the traditions of past practice and embraced new traditions. They understood that when the rate of change outside your organization is happening faster than the rate of change inside your organization, your organization is in trouble.

I sincerely hope that we will never return to what we were in March, 2020. We all have experienced many new things, different ways to teach, learn, and assess. As Oliver Wendel Holmes said, “A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.” The same is true of organizations.

There is no history lesson more crucial than this, “Yesterday’s methods can only yield yesterday’s results.”

That’s why we need to exploit this Useful Crisis, to focus on new growth, new opportunities, whole new dimensions in quality, productivity, and the absolute satisfaction of our customers.

From the certainty of all that has been, we can launch into the not yet discovered, the not yet achieved, the not yet mastered.

What the future holds is a shiny new destiny for those with the courage to embrace change, to seize the opportunities of the here and now, and to welcome the dawning of a new day.

And so it goes…

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