In Episode 35, we return to Cajon Valley Union School District to hear more about the World of Work program from teacher, Melanie Brandt, and learners, Stuart Frank and Layna Berni. You may recall from Episode 24, we first learned about World of Work through our conversation on learner-centered education with superintendent, Dr. David Miyashiro and Ed Hidalgo.
Learner-centered leaders help others uncover who they are as learners. These leaders guide learners to understand who they are as people and how they might approach learning.
Cajon Valley developed the World of Work initiative to help every child learn about the world of work through the discovery of his/her individual interests, strengths, and values. The learning process ensures every child knows there is a place for him/her in the world of work. The teachers and learners work together to connect what is happening in the classroom to the world of work. Teachers support learners as they better understand the “why” behind the work in order to better understand what is possible in the future in the work world.
In this initiative the teacher’s role has shifted. Just like a learning support teacher implements an IEP for each special education student, the teacher in the program implements a personalized plan for each learner.
Students complete the RIASEC and learn more about their interests and strengths.
As a result of learning what each learner’s unique interests/strengths are, the teacher is able to design a more learner-centered, individualized project. This year’s fIrst career exploration was “theme park.” In science, the students learned about energy (connected to NGSS standards) and transformed themselves into theme park engineers. Students then chose how to communicate their content knowledge as a group. Students designed a roller coaster and used different platforms (such as scratch program, Google Slides, hand-drawn blue prints, Google Draw, etc.) to pitch their design to a theme park company. The authentic audience and cross-curricular connections made the work relevant and meaningful.
How do the learners see learning differently in the World of Work? The learners shared they will learn about 48 different jobs over the course of their education in Cajon Valley. Stuart shared he has been exposed to many ideas, and there is really no right or wrong direction to go. Layna indicated she leads with social, enterprising, and artistic according to her RIASEC.
Stuart was on working on game designer when we chatted, and the process helped him uncover a more realistic view of the career – what he is going to do, and how he will like it. Now he wants to be a blade smith. He connected his RIASEC traits – drawing/artist, starting a shop/enterprising, etc. to the career he wants to pursue.
Layna indicated she really wanted to be a veterinarian prior to the World of Work experience. Now, she believes she wants to be a park naturalist. Through a field trip and experiences with experts, she realized the work would be more closely aligned to her strengths. Helping students dig deeper into the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of careers helps them make educated decisions about their potential career paths.
While there have been many successes, the teachers/leaders also experienced challenges. Because World of work is a recent initiative, there were unknowns, and at times that was frightening. Once teachers are reaching more learners’ interests/strengths, learner engagement has increased.
Roles for teachers and learners shifted in which the teacher became the supervisor, and the learners are supervisors/managers of their teams. Students become empowered, and they develop ideas beyond what the teacher may have initially considered. Students are so engaged that they want to continue this work during their “free time.” They want to keep learning, and this is evidenced by low absenteeism and even Stuart’s interest in taking summer school.
Through the World of Work, parents are getting involved and offering resources, and Melanie attributes this to the learners’ excitement and passion for learning. Building the home school connection has been a valuable result also as everyone benefits from these deeper connections.
Learners have agency over their work, and they are leveraging the agency to develop leadership skills – one being idea generation. Given a certain set of instructions, students can proffer other ideas. Students are always encouraged to create new ideas.
How do you make this happen in your district? In order to create this opportunity for students, it really takes the desires of teachers because they are the ones to give the frameowrk color and bring it to life for students. Developing bonds and strong relationships with stakeholders across the organization (including the early adopters and resistors) can help move the organization forward. Helping everyone understand the why and see the value in the experience is critical. Connecting teachers with other teachers can be a powerful learning experience and help them understand how they are a critical piece in this learning. As a result, some teachers are finding a new way to bring the content to life, a renewed energy for the profession. Relationship-building, sharing/re-sharing the why, developing an understanding of the common message across the layers, and providing coaching/support is critical in implementing this new vision/approach to career education.
Melanie shared how important it is to empower the kids to be part of the process. In one example, students created a virtual tour of a state or national park. They were going to present at an upcoming visit. While Melanie was sharing what they were going to do, she stopped herself and invited the students to share ideas instead of directing students to complete specific tasks. As a result, the students designed and presented an amazing simulation to the distinguished visitors in the school. This empowerment developed confidence in the students, and they are not afraid to share their ideas.
Melanie reflects after 15 years of teaching she has learned to put more on the kids because “they’ve got it!”
When asked what suggestions the learners have for other learners engaging in this type of exciting learning, the students shared… “Go on.. Don’t look back. Try as hard as you can and never quit. Think positive, be yourself, don’t quit, keep on working and you will finally get it done!”
Connections to Practice
- These learners are enthusiastic about their work. While we see some enthusiasm in our learners, is this the norm? Where in our schools are our students enthusiastic about learning? Where are they less enthusiastic?
- We have been talking about voice and choice. In Melanie’s example, she stopped herself and invited the students to share their own ideas. Do we release control to our learners?
Questions Based on Our Practice
- What exposure to computer science concepts and principles do our learners experience throughout their educational careers?
- Are our teachers frightened to try something new? How do we honor their concerns and alleviate the fear?
- How do our limited career paths impact our own approach to career awareness? What are those opportunities that will be available for our learners? How do we help others understand this?
Next Steps for Us
- Engage teachers in conversations about risk-taking.
- Talk with our learners about their experiences. If they were designing their own experienceships, what might they look like?
- Consider what experienceships are available to us, and how our community members can support this work.