students are told if they listen to their elders, do well in school,
score high on the tests and graduate high school and college,
ideally on time, then they will be rewarded with a bright future.
Problem is, it’s not true. A college degree is no longer the magic
ticket to success, but no one’s told our students or their parents
for whom that may have been true. While, today’s educational system
does a nice job of keeping everything in order in ways that are
easily measured, it leaves out the most important piece of the
equation, helping students answer the question, “What am I going to
do when I grow up?”
was a prime example of this. I was a great student. I did well on
tests. I graduated in the top of my class. Everyone was happy. I
helped testing companies profit with easily quantifiable data.
Politicians, teachers, administrators and my parents were proud, each
feeling responsible in part for my success. While their smiles
lingered, I was left with something very different. After I had
rushed through school to get my magic ticket, at age 19 I found
myself with a high GPA and a degree in hand but scratching my head
wondering, “Who Am I? What do I stand for? What am I passionate
about? What am I good at? What do I want to do with my life?” I
realized that during my entire school career while everyone was
patting themselves on the back for producing the perfect student who
did well on tests and had a formidable GPA in classes she could care
less about, they forgot about the person who was left with a diploma
in hand and no idea about what to do next. School prepared me to be
good at school but it did not prepare me for life.
I’m far from alone. I recently came across the following blogs and “About Me” pages of some smart high school students being celebrated by their teacher.
Amy’s About Me
Carlie’s About Me
Jessica’s About Me
Maria’s About Me
you read them you will notice these students are driven, motivated
to succeed, and strong writers, but clearly there has not been much
attention placed on helping these students identify and pursue their
passions, talents, and interests. In each bio you can see, the
students were all sold the same bill of goods. Do well in school, go
to college and the rest will take care of itself...BUT IT DOESN’T!
Here’s an excerpt from one of the bios that exemplifies the sentiment these student’s feel:
To me, life is like a stone path.
My plan for step one is to graduate high school.
Step two is to go on to college.
Step three though is a complete mystery to me.
still don’t know what I want my profession to be when I’m older. If
I work hard and apply myself, I know that I can easily get past
steps one and two. Hopefully during those first few steps, I’ll
figure out step three and continue on through the journey of life.
they may end up in some job that enables them to get by or even do
very well (but not necessarily match their undiscovered passions), but
why are our students spending 16 years of their lives in these
places called school that only prepare students to do well at school
rather than discover and explore what they want to do with their
is supposed to be a place where we get exposed to many things so
when we’re done we’ll be rounded and have an idea of what to do next
but let’s face it, the reality is school is a one-size-fits all
prescription for attaining learning objectives set out for us by
politicians or education committees that are by-and-large
disconnected from what drives our students. At a recent conference
with more than 1500 educators in the audience, the keynote speaker
asked, say one word to describe your high school experience. In
unison, the audience responded as though rehearsed - BORING! Is this
the best we can do for our students? Teaching them to be good at
spending 16 years being taught that learning is boring and doing well
at it is the key to success? In the end school is a place where we
are exposed to many things most of them boring and of other’s
choosing. I personally, did not have a class or subject that
interested me much in school and I did most of my learning outside
the classroom. It is rare that any teacher or administrator knows or
bothers to care what the talents, passions, or interests of their
students are. This is not their fault either. It’s just that knowing
that is not how they, their administrators, or politicians are
measured. By the time students have done all those things they are
measured by, like me, they’re left with a degree and likely a pile of
debt, and, for many, the love of learning is sucked right out of em.
After that they go on to look for jobs, working in careers that don’t
even have the chance to match with the passions no one helped
students bother to discover all those years.
Amy’s , Carlie’s , Jessica’s, and Maria’s
“About Me” pages need to be a wake up call to us all. Each student
is driven. They are each passionate. Each is motivated, but like
most high school students today, not a single one of them knows how
to direct their passion and motivation. Our schools are to blame when
they don’t help students do as Principal Barbara Slatin shares, “Find their light bulbs.”
What would happen if we helped these student find their light bulbs. In her “About Me” page, Jessica says this.
is the biggest goal for me, it always has been. My parents went to
college and pretty expect me to go as well. I know if I just do as I
am told and do the right things maybe my experience can be a fun
challenge. So what happens after college? The big question, I believe
the most asked question to all kids & teens, what do you want to
be when you grow up? Well that one is no answer for me. No lie, I
really don’t know what I want to be and what I want to do for the
rest of my life.
is right. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is likely the
most asked question of students. It’s also one that school spends
little time focusing on. The good news is, there’s hope. A growing
movement for innovative educators is something called passion based (or passion driven) learning. It’s the topic of a whole series of passion-driven blog posts organized by the passionate Angel Maiers who recently co-authored the book The Passion-Driven Classroom. I recently wrote about a school that Prepares Students for Success by Helping Them Discover and Develop Their Passions
where I share a vision of what this type of school looks like. In
it one thing is clear. When instruction is driven not just by data
but by the passions of the students behind the data there is no child
left behind scratching their head wondering what they’re going to do
with their lives. They know that success is much more than a number
and a test score, and these students do indeed know not only what
they want to be when they grow up, they know what they want to be
Cross posted at The Innovative Educator.
Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator blog and Transforming Education for the 21st Century
learning network. International Edublogger, International EduTwitter,
and Google Certified Teacher, Lisa is an outspoken and passionate
advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and
national media for her views on "Thinking Outside the Ban" and
determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and
providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms.
Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping
schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare
students for 21st century success. You can follow her on Twitter
Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.