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Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Content Conundrum

Schools are increasingly pursuing a wider range of learning goals for their students, which is a good thing (mostly). They are trying to bring more so-called “21st-century skills” into their curriculum, at a time when those skills are increasingly valued and rare in the world.

However, hours dedicated to learning 21st-century skills create a time crunch unless less one of two things happen: less time is spent somewhere else in the school’s schedule, or the traditional content delivery has 21st-century skills so seamlessly built into it that it doesn’t diminish the rate of knowledge acquisition of the traditional content. The latter option amounts to wishful thinking, for the most part, because it’s hard to focus on two cognitive operations or tasks at once. The dream of essentially doubling the value of instructional time (sidestepping the time tradeoff of traditional content and 21st-century skills) will go unrealized most of the time.

Schools will have to do what all of us have do with our limited time resource: make a deliberate, strategic, and hard choice about what will most influence future success. We need to look at our mission and our values and the promises we make to stakeholders. We need to allocate time bravely, putting it where it will have the most impact down the road. That’s going to be hard, especially for schools who have traditionally used “academic rigor” as the core of their value proposition.

If you know of a school that is navigating the content conundrum well, please let me know so I can learn from them.

P.S.: Not making a choice to pursue one of these options is a choice in itself, not one likely to create the best outcomes for our students.

Note to Parents: Fire Your Inner Micromanager

Parents, how many of you like being micromanaged? I’m guessing none of you do. Being micromanaged feels bad. You don’t feel trusted. You don’t feel agency. You don’t feel motivated.

Teenagers, like the rest us, also want to feel trust, agency, and the intrinsic motivation that results from those privileges. These factors enable them to internalize the notion that they are ready to be independent adults.

In the thousands of families I have worked with over the years, the most common source of tension is parental micromanagement of children. In teens, these signs are easy to spot: frustration, resentment, perhaps even rebellion. They are the same ones adults experience in their professional lives.

Full disclosure: I am a parent. I feel the pull to micromanage my kids a dozen times a day. I want to tell my son to not co-mingle sweaters and long sleeve t-shirts. I want to tell him how to more effectively transition from brushing his teeth to the next step in getting ready for bed, in part so I can get on with my day. This is the start of the trouble.

We parents instinctively want to teach our children everything. We want them to find success and fulfillment by avoiding mistakes that might hurt them later. But if we let our instincts run at full force, we will stunt our kids’ growth and limit their ability to achieve functional independence. Letting our micromanaging impulses run free feels good because it creates the illusion that we are dutifully showing our kids how to do things right, while assuaging our own fears that they are doing their work poorly. In practice, however, it has the reverse effect. Acting on our fear of their failures increases the odds that they will be less successful in the future.

So, is there a simple rule to avoid all this? Nope. Day-to-day challenges are far too situational and context-dependent for a “one size fits all” rule. But there is a simple first step on the path: butt out. Ignore your inner parent micromanager once a day. And when you commit to doing that, make it clear to your child that you are butting out and why, so they see you making the effort. Then talk about whatever comes next. Do a quick debrief. Next, try it twice a day, and keep debriefing. It’s the debrief that consolidates the learning for your child.

Go ahead and fire your micromanager, one day at a time and in little, unceasing steps. You and your child will both be better off.