Monday, April 25, 2016

Young People Get Misrepresented - Don't Fall For The Old People Negative Hype

I recently attended an educational event where a panel of business leaders were asked what they were looking for in future employees. Answers centered around fairly predictable responses related to timeliness, professionalism and soft skills. However, there were also several criticisms of today’s young people as being lazy, unmotivated, and generally irresponsible.

We have heard this criticism before right? I have heard it for years and even more often recently. Indeed, does it not seem like each generation misrepresents and/or misunderstands the next generation? We usually criticize their culture (music, clothing, hair styles), as well as their general ‘work ethic.”
Walk into any adult gathering anywhere with folks aged 30 and beyond, you will probably overhear someone denigrating the young people of today. It’s not only a pattern that repeats, but it almost seems to be an obligation. I know my dad did about myself and my peers at times and I can guarantee that his dad did about him as well.
After 25 years of working with young people in six high schools and many other environments, I’m here to dispel and refudiate this notion that young people are anything less than their parents or grandparents. Indeed, I actually think each generation gets better….not worse.
When I graduation from high school in the early 80’s, I had never heard about or witnessed a peer of mine volunteer to do community service. It would have been a foreign suggestion. Less that 20 years later, I watch as hundreds of students I worked with created charity events, started new charitable organizations, raise money and awareness and so much more.

And that’s just the beginning. I have now seen young people own their own companies, become activists, be community leaders and truly impact their environments. They have their own websites, blogs, recording studios, non-profit groups, meetings and so much more. If one looks closely at all, you could be and should be amazed at what young people are doing. They are presenting, creating and communicating at levels that my generation never touched at that age (or maybe any age).

In addition to exercising what seems to be our generational duty, I think we often say and do these things because  we don’t understand young people - and maybe we don’t want to. Older folks see things they don’t understand (again cultural things) and then criticize, minimize, and even ostracize. We remember things one way and anything that deviates from that self-established norm is bad. We then attach this to all that they do and simplify them in terms like “no work ethic.”

This is not a human challenge limited to age or generational differences. We do this about anything that is different in people than ourselves - race, religion, politics. But that’s another blog or three.
Meanwhile, what do we do to fight this tendency or typical generational behavior? Well, if you’re an educator, I think it’s your duty to fight for young people and always find the best in young people. If you work with them, it shouldn’t be too hard. So, not only find it, but promote it, celebrate it and appreciate it. And for those that are not fortunate enough to work with young people, they need to be educated. Next time you hear the negative, don't be afraid to share the positive. Not only are our young people our future leaders, they are leading earlier and better all the time. 
Whether you’re an educator or bystander, check yourself. One, make sure you’re not falling prey to the generational tendency to criticize the younger generation. And two, make sure you’re not putting down anyone because of something you just don’t understand.

Our young people and students deserve our respect and trust. If we don’t demonstrate our faith in them, we could be limiting them in so many ways. Believing in students is fundamental to their development. Don’t believe the hype. They have work ethic and a whole lot more.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Buchanan High School)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

8 Lessons From The FFA For All Of Education

I was never an Agriculture or FFA student. Indeed, I have never been an Ag or FFA teacher. I have never taken an Ag Science or Ag Elective class. Actually, aside from eating food produced by the Ag industry, I’ve never even done much of anything related to the work that the Ag Community does.

However, as the former principal of Minarets High School, I got to witness and be a part of the great work that the FFA does, and has always done, that we can all learn from.

In fact, it seems that much of what we are trying to do with 21st century education and skill development, the FFA has always done. When it comes to what industry and the economy seems to be demanding from our students, the FFA has seemingly incorporated all of it from day one.

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When I became the principal of Minarets High School (Minarets High School) in 2008, the school did not exist  yet. We were tasked, among other things, with having a dynamic Ag Science & Natural Resources Pathway. With that in mind, we decided to make all of our science programs and courses Ag Science. We never looked back and our Ag Science and FFA  programs went on to National Championships and many other successes. It became one of the backbones and foundations of the school and community.
Our FFA chapter, advisors and students reminded me what works so well with all students and how it all relates to the bigger world. Here are just a few of the great lessons that I was reminded of while observing FFA advisors and teachers - lessons that all schools, programs and educational entities can learn from….

The Real World
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While most of education either drifted away from or continually ignore the real world, the FFA has always embraced it. They never stopped making Ag Science education hands-on, relevant, industry-related, career-focused and more. They have always maintained connections to industry, advisory councils, regional/state/national collaboratives and more. They realized that the real world was awaiting all of their students and that the real world was the true connection to their students’ learning.

The FFA has always competed. On dozens of Saturdays across the country, you can find hundreds of FFA Chapters competing in Field Days. Although winning is a good thing and FFA advisors are competitive, they also realize that competitions creates interest, engagement, urgency and importance for students. If you want to compete with athletics and all of the other interests students have, you better incorporate competition. When students compete, they again connect to the real world. They meet and collaborate with peers and mentors on a regular basis. Yes, we compete because we are competitive. But we also compete because it works. It makes all of us better. 


Everything the FFA does is collaborative. Teachers do not work in isolation, but have to collaborate with their peers on and off campus. Teachers are part of large Ag Teachers network and and students truly become part of a large, national community. Students compete as part of many different teams. Advisors have to meet with industry advisory committees. If collaboration and teamwork are as important as the experts predict for jobs and careers in the 21st century, the FFA is way ahead of the curve.
FFA  is the largest student leadership organization in the country. Above all of the individual competitions, projects and activities, they continually focus on leadership. All FFA students learn, practice and are modeled leadership skills. One of the primary skills that the world and our new economy is demanding is leadership. All future employees need to be able to be self-starters, entrepreneurial, creative, collaborators and more. This is leadership, and FFA is a one-stop leadership shop. If you documented the growth of students through four years of high school, you would see tremendous personal leadership growth as one of the many successful metrics in which to evaluate their students. Among all things, they emphasize leadership above all. And it shows. 

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Sense of Belonging
We have known about this secret sauce for eternity. Students who are part of something - anything - perform better and are happier. Belonging to something connects us to a larger purpose and provides everything from camaraderie, support and collaboration/teamwork. It is our emotional glue that maximizes and optimizes us. In high school, those that have been involved in athletics, the arts and other co-curricular activities have known this for a long time. Schools have wrestled forever on how to connect all kids to something that gives them that belonging feeling and experience. FFA personifies and typifies what happens when people belong. Through a variety of social interactions with common purpose, students improve in a variety of skills areas and enjoy themselves more while doing it. We all need to belong to something and FFA does this as well as anyone. 

Many educators and experts agree that presentation skills are now foundational to success for our students - both in higher education and the professional world. Indeed, I argue that interviews are now often presentations. And if they are not yet, they will be soon. The need to communicate ideas and concepts in a formal presentation utilizing multimedia and technology will transcend all industries, occupations and economies. The more comfortable one becomes at presenting the better. Indeed, those that can master presentation skills will have a huge advantage - whether it’s in class, in an interview, competing for scholarships or positions and  more. FFA students all get exposed to public speaking through contests, class projects and more. Additionally, presentation is also part of the dress (uniforms), the activities, the competitions and so much more.
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We have known for a long time that nothing may be more powerful in young people’s lives than that of a trusted teacher, advisor and mentor. FFA and Ag teachers see themselves this way and so do their students. FFA advisors eat meals with their students (feed them meals as well), travel with their students, practice with their students, transport their students, work throughout summers and holidays with their students and so much more. Their commitment extends way beyond the classroom and they have the same students often throughout one’s high school career. Therefore, they become that trusted mentor to many.

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It might sound cliche, but research backs this up too - both at school and at work. If we have fun, we learn more, retain more, apply more and sustain more. FFA figured out long ago that high school students are, above all, social. So, they don’t ignore that. They capitalize on it. All of the above is made more powerful if people enjoy themselves. FFA models lifelong lessons to all students. That is that one should be passionate about what they do and enjoy doing it. If that is the case, success follows as well. Visit an FFA chapter at any high school in America and you’ll see students working hard, but also having fun. It’s simple, but forgotten all too often.


(photos courtesy of Minarets High School / Minarets Charter High School)