“There is a real world out there and we should learn about it”

By Devin Vodicka

Last week during our Altitude Learning Partner Forum we heard from a number of students who reflected on their experiences over this past year.  They were insightful, candid, and they offered a number of excellent suggestions to help our network of educators to better serve all learners.  One of the comments that stood out to me was from a middle school student:

“There is a real world out there and we should learn about it.”

Middle School Student, Altitude Learning Partner Forum
Photo by Wesley Carvalho on Pexels.com

During my years as an educational leader, I’ve heard similar input from so many students who, in spite of their youth, already detect misalignment between the world inside schools and what happens outside of formal education.  I have also been inspired by my own experiences conducting an internship at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) through the Association of California School Administrators, the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab, and other immersive learning opportunities. 

For a long time I’ve been hearing about “the death of distance” and how our youth will be competing for jobs not just within their neighborhoods, but with others from all across the globe. In 2018, remote working was a fringe movement with only around 3% of American workers spending more than half of their time working from home. Now, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen this change happen at an accelerated rate. According to David Berkus, “more than half of employees want remote work to be their primary method of working, and 75 percent said they’d like the option to continue working remotely at least some of the time.” (Leading from Anywhere, p. 5). 

Berkus also shares surprising research from Gallup showing higher levels of employee engagement who work remotely between 60 and 80 percent of their time, leading him to conclude that “Many employees will be permanently working from anywhere; which means you need a plan to lead from anywhere.” (p. 9).  Employers are taking note and recent surveys show that only 6% of organizations plan to return to “fully office” with the rest promoting some version of hybrid or remote working. 

There are a few key points about this shift to remote working that should be emphasized:

  1. 100% remote is not optimal for most people.  The most prevalent models are hybrid options and, even in “remote-first” organizations they frequently invest in “on sites” that focus on building relationships that support and sustain remote work.  
  2. 100% in-person is not likely for most people.  In addition to the research on effectiveness of those who have hybrid work experiences, now that so many workers have experienced the benefits and feasibility of flexible options they will demand it from their employers.  A friend of mine who is an executive at an insurance company told me that they surveyed their team and found that not a single employee preferred to be in the office five days a week.  
  3. Relationships are critically important for all people and all organizations.  Regardless of remote, hybrid, or in-person, the research on high-trust organizations reinforces the need for leaders to focus on relational trust:

Research on high-trust organizations shows that they report 74 percent less stress and 106 percent more energy at work than low-trust organizations.  They have 76 percent more engagement, are 50 percent more productive, and take 13 percent fewer sick days.  And individuals who work for high-trust organizations experience 26 percent more satisfaction with their lives and 40 percent less burnout.

Leading from Anywhere, p. 39 

All of this leads to me ask a few questions:

  • Are we preparing our young learners for the “real world” of increasing workplace flexibility?
  • What types of knowledge, habits, and skills will be most important for young learners given the changes in the world outside of schools?
  • How might we be more intentional about how to use time effectively when we are in-person or remote?
  • How might we be more intentional about developing relational trust in all of our endeavors?

When we listen to our learners, they are paying attention to the world outside of schools.  Are we doing the same?  

Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.

Use #LCLeadership to share your ideas

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