As we wind down the calendar year, your school is probably on its winter/holiday break. It’s always helpful to reflect on where we’ve been so we can plan a little better, so let’s take a look at some of the things happening in the marketplace today. As you read these observations, think about how they impact education today, and what you can do to facilitate learning by recognizing these trends.
Also note that these items are listed as “bullet points,” rather than as a numbered list. Why? Because whenever a list is made, the common assumption is that’s what’s listed as #1 is the most important. For instance, if a consultant has made five recommendations to an organization and numbers them, those who are charged with carrying out the recommendations come to the conclusion that they can’t do everything at once, and decide to tackle what’s #1 first. Unfortunately, that’s why many improvement plans fail. We like to think “plan” since that’s the way we’re taught to think. We must change that way of thinking to Systems Thinking, so that, indeed, all those recommendations can be implemented simultaneously. In the words of Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles, it’s “Everything. All the time.”
The overarching trend for this crazy year we’ve endured is that the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” is dead. Chances are, it’s been disrupted by the pandemic. From working at home to attending school online; from wearing masks to event cancellations due to social distancing limitations; and from state imposed restrictions to government stimulus money that will have economic consequences in the year ahead, nothing is “Same as it ever was,” as David Byrne sang in “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads. Our lives have been disrupted by politics, hatred, sickness and death…but new opportunities spring from the ashes of the world as we knew it.
Unfortunately, though, even with a vaccine, we will not “return to normal;” there will, however, emerge a “new normal,” just like our airline travel life at September 11th, 2001. With that in mind, here are the trends:
- Everyone’s still talking about how to manage Millennials, especially with the new “Work From Home” opportunities, but members of Generation X are becoming the decision makers, and have no clue how to handle it. Unfortunately, Generation X is the “Me” Generation, where it’s all about “me,” while with Millennials, it’s all about “us.” Just as Generation X was the first generation to realize that their lifestyle may not be better than the generation which came before them, Millennials have little loyalty to the organizations they work for because they’ve witnessed actions in the marketplace that dismiss employees who have given a good part of their lives in service to the company they work for. Taken to an extreme, those GenXers may believe that it’s “all about ‘them,'” and not necessarily about the organizations they’re appointed to lead.
- Filling desks in the classroom at a private or faith-based school which charges tuition isn’t the same as filling desks in the school Why? There are usually different tuitions for different grade levels. If schools were indeed run like a business, two things would happen: 1) Tuition would be higher than the cost of education, and 2) Higher tuitions would be charged for higher demand spaces. For instance, all-day Kindergarten would have a higher tuition than the middle school grades. Interestingly, if that type of framework was enacted, and tuitions were lower as the child progressed through the school, faith-based and private schools might be more apt to retain students, since, as has been observed, higher tuitions in the higher grades combined with yearly tuition increases are not conducive to keeping students enrolled in these educational environments.
- “Now” is the “understood” word, rather than just “you” being understood. The inference is “Immediately if not sooner.” For instance, if someone said, “Do this!”, that has historically meant, “You do this!” Today, with the immediacy of technology, the inference has become, “You do this – NOW!” And as we move forward, anticipation will become the expectation. Today’s Millennials “expect” to get an invoice AND a reminder if a payment is due. We’ve become, and continue to become, spoiled by technology’s artificial intelligence capacity, and now, with predictive analytics, the expectation will soon be that things will happen before we need them to. A recent publication by Daniel Burrus titled “The Anticipatory Organization” has some great insight regarding the expectations of business which can be applied to education – especially when we’re preparing students for an unknown future.
- Convenience and Anticipation. Unfortunately, a prolonged and inconvenient process is unacceptable. And “convenient” doesn’t mean what you consider to be convenient; it’s what your customers think is convenient…which may turn out to be very inconvenient for you or the employees at your school. Customers also don’t want you to “make it right;” they want you to “get it right.” With that in mind, you now get one shot – not three chances – and you need to start to anticipate what your customers want.
- Game mentality. Unlimited “do overs” have taken the place of “win/lose.” There is no medium or compromise because in sports, every game has one winner. It seems that in the classroom today, “Everybody wins,” and “Win or go home” is considered to be intolerant. Research has shown that failure can foster resiliency, but only if handled correctly. The ability to fail should be expected as a part of the learning process, and rather than stigmatizing someone with a constant “F,” evaluation is necessary to autopsy the failure and its underlying causes. Schools today don’t let kids fail because failure brings ridicule and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, the ability to bounce back from a setback is a skill which needs to be taught to today’s students.
- The “Millennial Mantra” seems to be “I have ideas and they are valid.” In the workplace, “Just do your job,” “Your job is what I tell you to do” or “Your job is what I need you to do” is completely unacceptable. What the supervisor “needs” today’s younger employees to do frequently has nothing to do with the job description. “You have to pay your dues” is also unacceptable, as it assumes the Millennial needs to be seasoned through experience. Then the Millennial points to Zuckerberg…who created his own experience.
- Hope is important and necessary, but it is not a strategy for success. Faith-based schools are full of hope…but they keep looking to consolidate, rather than seeking evangelistic solutions to fill their schools and worship sites, preparing to embrace God’s goodness to make a positive impact on the world, as well as for the time when they’ll move on to eternity. It’s part of a deeper problem, also fomented by technology, which keeps reminding us that everyone is an individual, rather than a part of a larger entity that relies on each other. We have somehow lost the meaning of the phrase, “United, we stand; divided, we fall.”