Exhausted Teachers to Energetic Teachers…How To Make the Transition

I clearly recall a professional development session that I once attended in which the presenter showed an image of a disheveled teacher with his hair all a mess, shirt half untucked, sweat dripping from the forehead, and a pure look of exhaustion on his face. The presenter asked the audience of teachers to raise their hand if they have ever felt like this at the end of a school day. Needless to say, the majority of the hands in the room shot up immediately. He then followed it up with an image of a very well-kept teacher with a huge smile who was kicking his heels as he walked down the school hallway. The presenter continued by saying that at the end of the school day, it is the teachers who leave feeling completely exhausted while the students leave with enormous amounts of energy. This is because the teachers do so much of the work all day long! How can we turn the tables so that the students leave completely exhausted while the teachers are full of energy? One way to begin this transition is to involve the students as active participants in their own learning throughout the assessment process.

In the book Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning by Jan Chappuis, the author provides a framework of seven strategies that apply high-impact formative assessment actions across disciplines and content standards (p. 10). These seven strategies provide direction to help students reflect on their own learning process in order to answer the following questions:

Where am I going?

Where am I now?

How can I close the gap?

To answer the question Where am I going?, two strategies need to be utilized.

Strategy 1: Provide a Clear and Understandable Vision of the Learning Target

Giving students a vision of their learning destination will help them stay on the right track and check-in on their learning.

Strategy 2: Use Examples and Models of Strong and Weak Work

Help students sort through what is quality work and what is not quality work by using strong and weak models from anonymous student work. This lets students “see” what their ultimate destination looks like.

  

To answer the question Where am I now?, two strategies need to be utilized.

Strategy 3: Offer Regular Descriptive Feedback During the Learning

Effective feedback identifies student strengths and weaknesses with respect to the specific learning target(s) they are trying to achieve. Students also need to be given opportunities to act on that feedback to improve their work. This allows students to grow with guidance before being expected to achieve mastery.

Strategy 4: Teach Students to Self-Assess and Set Goals for Next Steps

This is the point in which the ownership of the learning is transferred to the student. When students are taught to self-assess and set goals, they are taught to provide their own feedback.

To answer the question How can I close the gap?, three strategies need to be utilized.

Strategy 5: Use Evidence of Student Learning Needs to Determine Next Steps in Teaching

During this strategy, a feedback loop is incorporated into the teaching cycle. After the lesson has been delivered and students have responded to the feedback, teachers determine further learning needs.

Strategy 6: Design Focused Instruction, Followed by Practice with Feedback

This strategy involves addressing specific misconceptions or problems identified in Strategy 5 by narrowing the focus of the lesson. Students are then given opportunities to revise their work based on focused feedback.

Strategy 7: Provide Opportunities for Students to Track, Reflect On, and Share Their Learning Progress

By reflecting on their learning, students will deepen their understanding and will remember it longer. Sharing their progress will help them develop a deeper commitment to making progress.

To learn more about these Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning by Jan Chappuis and how to effectively implement the strategies as part of the teaching routine, I highly recommend purchasing the book. Not only will the students take more ownership of their learning and show improved academic achievement, but teachers will appreciate the new-found energy that they now have from involving students in the assessment process!

-Michelle Jacobsen

The Long and Short of It

Chris Joseph explains on golfsmith.com, “The game of golf can be broken down into two elements: the long game and the short game….In order to be a successful golfer, a player must master both aspects of the game.”  If all students are to learn at grade level standards or above, Iowa’s school professionals must master decision-making simultaneously in the long and the short game in their MTSS system.  Despite the overwhelming learning curve involved in addressing both the long term and the short term needs of the system, the inertia of the existing system will not be overcome by solitary focus on one or the other.

The objective of the long game in golf is to approach the green with efficiency of strokes. The world’s greatest putter will not win a single tournament if they blow par in the fairway. Similarly, educators’ need to get to par in universal instruction serving minimally 80% of their students with no further need for intervention.  Schools are prone to attempting to intervene their way out of underachievement by allocating more time, personnel, and finances to their interventions. Alternatively, leaders need to keep their eyes on the universal instruction healthy indicators such as % of students meeting benchmark on the screener and % of students remaining above benchmark over subsequent screenings.  

As long as the universal core produces less than 80% of students at benchmark or fails to continue to support sufficient growth to stay above benchmark, then the school will continue to see the exhaustion of its intervention resources and the typical student achievement decline from kindergarten to 12th grade.  So schools need to examine and continuously improve the use instructional time, clarity around standards, use of effective instructional practices, selection of quality materials, decisions around formative assessment, and effective collaboration with parents and colleagues.  While none of these are quick fixes and require consistent quality professional development and coaching, neglecting these fundamental aspects by overemphasizing and over allocating resources to interventions will result in the system remaining “in the rough” indefinitely.

A great long game, however, without the finesse and accuracy of the short game on the green also leads to failure on the golfer’s scorecard.  Intervention is education’s short game that targets providing additional support to students performing below the grade level standards.  A sufficient universal instruction alone moves the vast majority of students, yet without interventions, leaves marginal students with increasing discrepancy to their peers over their school careers.    As MTSS has become more formally applied, a common insight regarding intervention has been the casual approach schools have taken with intervention.  With a staggering number of students currently in need of intervention, schools can’t afford to apply time, personnel and finances to intervention system unless it is organized for predictable success.  

According to Terri Metcalf’s article, “What’s Your Plan? Accurate Decision Making within a Multi-Tier System of Supports: Critical Areas in Tier 2” on the RTI Action Network,  schools wanting more out of the intervention system should focus on five critical decisions: intervention selection; matching students to interventions; monitoring student progress; managing interventions; and tracking intervention effectiveness.

Selection of effective research based interventions should be based around the predictable areas of need in specific clusters of grades and should be easily replicated. Consideration should address the availability of classwide interventions, as well as, tier 2 and 3 interventions.  Particularly, while working on improving universal instruction, effective classwide intervention helps the system compensate for students who are in the pipeline so we don’t continue to simply perpetuate the problem for the next grade.  

Matching students to interventions should utilize data, appropriate diagnosis and professional judgment.  Many times matching processes can be excessive in any of these areas.  Exaggerated reliance on either data or professional judgment can result in overlooking students.  Extensive diagnosis can waste time only to produce information confirming what we would have done if we would have stopped on a more basic diagnostic step.  

Monitoring student progress is critical to prevent the lingering of a student too long on an intervention that is not or is no longer producing significant growth.  Schools should pay attention to the frequency that students are progressed monitored and if decisions are being made with the data collected.

Just as important as monitoring the students, is managing the adult behaviors with interventions.  Critical aspects of each intervention should be explicitly identified, explicitly taught to all teachers using the intervention and periodically monitored for fidelity of implementation. Failure to monitor the adult practices may lead to drift from fidelity over time with declining results for students.

Lastly, the school needs to track over time that which interventions are most effective and ineffective.  If ineffective, the school should determine if its implementation has been with fidelity.  If an intervention has been used with fidelity and remains ineffective, then the intervention should be removed from the choices of interventions.

Stress on the school resources remains high because of the current state of universal instruction.  Consequently, the demand to provide the additional support for a large number of learners stretches the limit of the financial, human and time resources .  With political winds showing no indication of blowing in additional resources (and maybe not even as many), we must perfect the strokes in the long  and the short game of MTSS.  We don’t have the luxury to apply a singular focus on either the universal instruction or intervention.  The balance of the MTSS system relies on making progress by universal instruction reducing the overall number of students needing further support over the next few years AND selection and use of interventions effective at accelerating learning for students in our current pipeline.  

-Paul Beatty

Recipe for a Successful PLC

Ingredients for a successful Professional Learning Community (PLC):

  • 4-6 knowledgeable, motivated teachers with students and/or standards in common  (PLC Team)
  • One or more engaged, knowledgeable administrators
  • A growth mindset for all
  • Carefully chosen resources including standards-based curriculum and standards-based assessment
  • Established weekly meeting time during school day
  • Focus is student learning and results oriented

Directions:

  1. PLCs “whip in” Three Big Ideas:
    1. All students learn at high levels.
    2. Helping all students learn requires collaborative and collective efforts.
    3. Focus on results -- evidence of student learning -- and use results to inform and improve our professional practice and respond to students who need intervention or enrichment.  (Learning by Doing, 14)
  2. PLCs “fold in” ongoing collaboration as they determine student learning needs
  3. PLCs “layer” common formative assessment, data collection, re-teaching resulting in increased student learning.
  4. PLCs  generously “sprinkle in” research-based strategies to foster increased student learning
  5. Nurture PLC with supportive environment.

Yields:

“An ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for students they serve.”

                                            PLC Defined (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many, 2010)

-Kathy Learn

Good People vs. Bad Systems

We are lucky to work in many exceptional educational environments where great school leaders, teachers, and AEA personnel can be found.  Nobody should or can diminish the fact that these individuals come with their very best every day and work tirelessly for the success of all of their students.  They will not stop until all kids are successful. Every single one.  There are most certainly pockets of excellence where some students are learning and thriving at incredibly rigorous levels; paradoxically, it also can’t be denied there are volumes of kids who don’t have this same equitable educational experience…they reside within schools and classrooms on a daily basis that are marginal and failing.  Why is even one student not having their educational needs met accepted?  How can we continue to rely on the heroic efforts of a few, while passively failing students because we can’t fix the system and save them all? 

These students reside within bad educational systems….perhaps a system that has low expectations…perhaps a system that has no vision for excellence….perhaps a system that is focused on external problems rather than individual solutions for kids.  Regardless of which obstacle it might be, the people within the system can’t be expected to work any harder…or be expected to improve the system through pockets random and unrelated excellence.

If a bad system is beating our best people and students are suffering and tragically failing, where should we begin to support system change for schools?

The answer might not be as complicated as you might first think.  The beginning might simply be to stop blaming the people within the school and focus on fixing the system in which the people reside.  

-Karinne Tharaldson Jones

Switch

I recently finished reading the book Switch, by Chip & Dan Heath.  These authors discuss how to change things when change is hard.  I know there are a lot of books available about how to deal with change, but these brothers give an easy to follow method to manage change.  There are three steps: Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path.  You may be asking yourself, what do you mean by Rider and Elephant?   Well, each person has an emotional side (elephant) and a rational side (rider).  We have to reach both sides as well as shape a path in order for each person to succeed.

Direct the Rider

In order to direct the rider, we must follow the bright spots, script the critical moves, and point to the destination.  Following bright spots allows us to find what is working well and replicate it.  Scripting the critical moves means we have to step away from the big picture and think about specific behaviors, because ambiguity can exhaust the rider and uncertainty makes the elephant anxious.  We can take small, specific steps to eventually lead us to the bigger picture we are working toward.  Lastly, we must point to the destination.  “Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it (Heath & Heath, 2010).” 

Motivate the Elephant

In order to motivate the elephant, we must find the feeling, shrink the change, and grow our people.  Knowing is not enough to cause change.  We have to make people feel something.  I am much more likely to buy an unknown brand of pizza at Costco if there is someone there offering me a sample, rather than a sign that tells me how delicious it is.  Shrinking the change is best illustrated by the quotes of a couple well known coaches.  John Wooden said, “Seek the small improvement one day at a time.  That’s the only way it happens- and when it happens, it lasts.”  Coach Bill Parcells stated, “You want to select small wins that have two traits: (1) They’re meaningful. (2) They’re within immediate reach.” Finally, to grow our people, we must instill the growth mindset.  The brain is like a muscle; it can get stronger, it can get better.

Shape the Path

In order to shape the path, we must tweak the environment, build habits, and rally the herd.  Behaviors will change when the situation changes.  By tweaking the environment we make the right behaviors easier and the wrong behaviors a little bit harder.  I can tweak my own environment by removing all the chips from my house, in order to remove the poor eating habit.  Forming habits is mental as well as environmental.  To create a habit that supports the change you’re trying to make, the habit must advance the mission as well as be relatively easy to embrace.  Behavior is contagious.  When rallying the herd, we must help the positive behavior spread.  When shaping the path, a good change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”

-Beth Popowski

Grit - Part II

In a recent blog (“What does it Take to be Successful?” November 3, 2016), I began exploring the concept of grit --an important factor in success for educators and students (and parents, siblings, club members, etc.)

The good news is that grit is not fixed; we can grow it.  In Grit by Angela Duckworth(2016), she concludes  that four psychological assets are integral to developing grit:

  • Interest

  • Practice

  • Purpose

  • Hope

Interest: Duckworth also uses the word “passion” to define “interest.”  She describes passion as “sustained, enduring devotion.” (58)  It is important for individuals to be intrinsically engaged in what they do.  Well, that makes sense.  As educators, we know that students who REALLY like something will be highly engaged in it and motivated to keep doing it.

Practice:  Consider Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks coach, as he shares his philosophy: “Do things better than they have ever been done before.” (61)  He and others persevere in the work they have chosen (their passion). They practice, practice, practice because they want to get better-- at something they really like.

Purpose: Individuals who engage in (practice) their interest/passion do so because “it matters.”  They believe that their work is important to them and to others.  They see a meaningful purpose in what they do.  

Hope: Hope embodies/surrounds individuals with grit.  They have an inner confidence in their ability to keep going.  It is important to them and to others. They can make a difference.

Louis Pasteur wrote:  “Let me tell you a secret that has led to my goal.  My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”  Sounds like he had grit.

So can you.

More about how to grow grit in yourself or in your students in a future blog.

-Kathy Learn

Stress

Did you know that some stress is good for us?  Stress that comes and goes is healthy for us, but distress or continuous (chronic) stress is toxic to our brain and body. Low performing schools are toxic with chronic stress and apathy and this type of stress is very bad for behavior and learning. Recent studies suggest 30-50% of all students feel moderately or greatly stressed every day. For those from poverty, the numbers are even higher.  Poor children are exposed to more intense and longer lasting stressors and have fewer coping skills than students not living in poverty.

Students living with chronic stress experience harmful effects from that stress such as; greater impulsivity (blurts, talking back, less reflection, more scattered), poor working memory, anger or detachment, academic struggles, and less effort put out in class.  As stress rises in our schools, so do the serious risks related to stress.  

There are 2 filters we use when stressed:  Relevancy and Sense of Control. When we feel a lack of control we feel greater stress, but when we have a sense of control and the situation has relevance to us, our brain manages that stress better, and the result is a sense of excitement where we feel up to the challenge. Research shows that control over what you do and how it is done can boost long-term memory for the better.

How do we provide greater student control?  There are activities that increase sense of control over one’s life, which lowers stress. Activities such as teaching and modeling coping skills, increasing the amount and kind of choice students have, encouraging creativity by strengthening the use of the arts, increasing movement and physical activity and setting up a mentoring system in the school. Teachers should

  • provide choices (then “sell” the choices)
  • encourage input (voice, vision, 1:1 time, suggestion box..)
  • provide leadership opportunities (team, class, project or group leader roles)
  • set up real world or meaningful “classroom”  jobs
  • encourage reflection and student self-assessments

Unfortunately students are not the only ones affected by stress. Chronic stress is a very real issue in schools for both students and staff. There is a real shortage of teachers at this time, due to the stress related to teaching and the perceived lack of control that teachers have. Teaching today is stressful.  The demands and expectations are enormous. Effective teachers fill many roles for the students.  Effective teachers deliver content in meaningful and engaging ways, they entertain and nurture, and they are cheerleaders, disciplinarians, alleys and at times therapists. Teaching today requires more passion, commitment and resilience than ever before.   The world has changed therefore children have changed, and the profession of teaching is desperately trying to catch up.                      

When I graduated with my elementary teaching degree in 1991 I was not alone. Applying for teaching positions was a race and the competition was fierce. I remember applying for my first job, and learning that I was one of 100 applicants! How to stand out? How to impress? How to get my foot in the door…    Flash forward to today and school districts do not have 5 quality teachers on substitute lists, are lucky to get 3-5 quality applicants for an open position, especially in the world of special education and in areas of high poverty. These impoverished districts are hiring teachers with temporary certificates and “not so clean” records, to get people in the seats.   

Schools are in the business of kids.  It has never been a school’s job necessarily to address the stress level and health of its teachers.   However, helping teachers manage their own stress will help them teach students to manage stress.  Should stress management be part of a school district’s plan? Should stress management be part of the training programs in colleges and universities that are training and preparing new teachers for the field? It makes sense that incorporating time for teachers to de-stress and learn to manage stress, as a group, would result in more people going into, and staying in, the profession. 

We could all use some stress relief.  This year, more than others, I feel stressed and I feel the stress of my colleagues. It’s important that we all remember to take care of ourselves. Try some of these de-stressing activities!

  • Decrease worry by accepting the worst case scenario and then setting a plan to improve it
  • Interrupt negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones: use the 1 week rule (Will this matter in a week?)
  • Keep a joy journal
  • Develop deep relationships with others/ talk it over with a friend or colleague
  • Allow time every day to unplug, recharge, and re-focus your mind
  • Sleep and drink enough water
  • Increase movement during the day/ exercise (preferably outside)

-Geri Massey

Coaching Athletes and Coaching Students – One in the Same…Or Are They???

I often use sports analogies when talking about education because there are many similarities between the two. For example, coaches and teachers alike are willing to do whatever it takes to help others succeed. This success comes in many forms. Sure, making the game-winning shot, winning a race, and receiving a top score on a test are all evidence of success. However, improving your personal best by one second, getting three points higher on your math test than you did last time, and reading two words per minute more than you did last week are also evidence of success. What is the common factor in all of these examples of success? Well, there are two: coaching and practice.

I currently have the privilege of reading a book by Elena Aguilar titled The Art of Coaching Teams. Throughout the book the author provides numerous examples, both the successes and the struggles, of her experiences in coaching teacher teams. Throughout the book she provides useful, relevant, and meaningful suggestions on how to effectively develop both teams and leaders. In the opening paragraphs of the book, the author states, “There isn’t a formula that can be used to build an effective team. All teams inevitably look and feel different – they are made up of people, after all, and it is these people who make teams potentially transformation and also challenging to lead”. (p. xv). Whether working with teachers, students, coaches, or athletes, one thing is for sure: knowing the individual people who comprise the team, capitalizing on their strengths and weaknesses, and building one’s own capacity as an effective leader will result in successful achievements, whether athletic or academic.

Athletic and academic teams alike contain 3 dimensions as identified by Elena Aguilar.

            1. Product: A great team gets something done that is valuable, useful, and appreciated.

            2. Process: A great team’s collaboration skills increase as a result of working together.

            3. Learning: Members of a great team learn.

I challenge you all to reflect on your participation on a team. This can be when you were an athlete, a teacher, a student, or any other team you may have been part of. Was your team successful in its endeavors? Think about how your team fared in each of the three dimensions identified above. Was there something that was missing from your team that prohibited the team from reaching the desired outcome? If you answered yes to any of the above, you are not alone. In this journey called life, we have all been part of a team and we have all encountered successes and struggles. What’s important is that we take these successes and struggles as learning opportunities to do better. Opportunities to foster future development of the team or other teams we have been part of. In the next few blogs, I will share with you tips that Elena Aguilar shares that can help foster academic teams. In my comparisons between academics and athletics, I will share how these strategies and ideas are applicable to both settings.

As Aguilar states, “We can’t do it alone. No individual alone can transform our schools into places where all children get what they need every day” (p. 7).  You are not alone. Together we will share stories and ideas that will enable and empower us to be better team members and enhance the success of our teammates. Together we will discover effective strategies to help our students and athletes develop and grow into their highest potential. Together we will look at ways to help our students and athletes receive feedback and engage in practice in a way that is purposeful and meaningful.  Together we will positively impact those around us, one athletic or academic team at a time. Stay tuned for future posts and please share your successes, struggles, and ideas for coaching teams in the comments box below so we can help one another. Remember, you are not alone and I believe in you!

- Michelle Jacobsen

Making or Breaking of My Identity

A friend recently shared a quote from Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Uninvited, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.  What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”  I have yet to come across any statement that so succinctly states the conundrum placed on teachers’ hearts when we ask them to respond to the statement, “All students can learn grade level benchmarks.”  The manner in which this statement is posed to staff makes the critical distinction of whether the consequence which flows from the exercise makes or breaks the identity of the teachers, individually and collectively; has a positive, motivating effect or a negative, diminishing effect on their motivation; or elicits reflective growth or dismissive resistance.  Proactively providing clarity on the purpose increases the likelihood of tapping positive energy of staff.

The value of inquiry about staff belief about the ability of all students to learn at grade level is NOT whether they answer yes or no.  The value lies in how much the dialogue inspires curiosity about the validity of the current belief of their personal and collective ability to affect student learning.  

Efficacy beliefs are the foundation of human agency. Unless people believe they can produce desired results and forestall detrimental ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties. Whatever other factors may operate as guides and motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to produce effects by one's actions. (Bandura, 2001)

Consequently, prior to submitting the inquiry to a staff, it is important to create a safe environment for staff to be candid about their beliefs.  Teachers should be assured that the survey of their beliefs is not to indict them, but to promote their individual and collective wonder about barriers that prevent the full attainment of the grade-level benchmarks by all students.  We want their minds to feast on which students are not learning and why, rather than fending off a perceived attack on their prior extent of success.   John Hattie endorses the importance of safety in professional dialogue among his six signposts toward excellence in education stating, “School leaders and teachers need to create school, staffroom and classroom environments where error is welcomed as a learning opportunity, where discarding incorrect knowledge and understanding is welcomed, and where participants can feel safe to learn, re-learn, and explore knowledge.” (Hattie, 2009)

By identifying varying experiences and perceived barriers to a greater extent of learning in a safe learning environment, staff members can have cognitive dissonance.  Therein lies the opportunity for progress.  Teachers may not make the cognitive leap immediately to thinking all students can perform at grade-level benchmarks.  However, realization of variance of results and constructive dialogue to identify and remove barriers to more students learning at grade-level benchmarks can lead to small wins that can be parlayed into increased collective and individual efficacy beliefs.  Consistent research findings support collective efficacy beliefs as a strong predictor of student achievement trends as noted by Roger Goddard:

...where teachers tend to think highly of the collective capability of the faculty, they sense an expectation for successful teaching and hence are increasingly likely to put forth the effort required to help students learn. Conversely, where perceived collective efficacy is lower, it is less likely that teachers will be pressed by their colleagues to persist in the face of failure or that they will change their teaching when students do not learn. (Goddard, et.al.,2004)

Each iteration of success reinforces acceptance of challenging goals, positive norms, and perseverance in the face of obstacles.  So principals and teacher leaders must be intentional when initiating belief conversations so as to promote openness to change rather than defensiveness against attack.

- Paul Beatty

Bandara, Albert, “Social Cognitive Theory, An Agentic Perspective,” Annual Review of Psychology, 2001. https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura2001ARPr.pdf

Goddard, Roger D., Wayne K. Hoy, and Anita Woolfolk Hoy, “Collective Efficacy Beliefs:Theoretical Developments, Empirical Evidence and Future Direction,” Educational Researcher 33(3):3-13 · April 2004. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240801496_Collective_Efficacy_BeliefsTheoretical_Developments_Empirical_Evidence_and_Future_Directions

Hattie, John, Visible Learning, New York: Routledge Publisher, 2009.

Terkeurst, Lysa, Uninvited, Nashville, Nelson Books, 2016.

Millennials, The NFL, and What It Means For Schools

The “M word.” It’s something we hear more and more nowadays and we seem to be at the tipping point of transitioning from defining the characteristics of the word to witnessing the impact it has on areas of society and culture we once thought were impervious to change. Such stalwarts, such as the car industry, the housing market, and the mighty NFL, are all starting to feel the repercussions of the “M word.”

The word: Millennials.

While more and more research is being published about the traits, habits, and mentalities of this age group, it is surprisingly hard to find a clear-cut definition of what exact age group is considered a “Millennial.”

Time Magazine states that anyone born between 1980 and the year 2000 are considered to fit into this category. Most definitions fall somewhere close to this timeline, so for the sake of this post, we will use those benchmarks. I give full disclosure to the fact that, because of the year of my birth, I fall into this Millennial label/category.

The statements,  "narcissistic", "entitled", "in-need of coddling", "addicted to social media", are all traits I hear often in describing Millennials.

While it may be convenient to try and type-cast an entire section of our population with common descriptors, most would agree, that notion doesn’t fly now-a-days and we can probably think of just as many Millennials who wouldn’t be described by these labels.

One thing that can be analyzed and agreed upon much more definitively, however, is the changing habits and tendencies of Millennials, as well as, what motivates them. The NFL is one example of this. 

A major news story has been developing this fall about the decline in the NFL TV ratings (across the board) by approximately 15%. When you analyze the statistics further, you see a large chunk of that is due to a drop in the coveted 18-35 year-old section of viewers (Millennials). Since 2010, NFL viewership for the under 35 crowd has dropped almost 40%. While the 36+ ratings prove to be about normal, not really showing a drop in viewership.

Short term, this does not pose a problem for the NFL, since advertisers know the 36+ crowd accounts for most of their profits, however, this could be a disaster for the future.

When I look at my own viewing habits, most of this makes sense to me. I, like many other fellow Millennials, have never had a cable subscription in my adult life. I view all my shows online (including sports). In fact, when I talk to my friends, most don’t even watch a game in its entirety. We prefer the constant stimulation and action of the NFL “Redzone” channel. If you are not familiar, this is a channel that runs from noon on Sunday until about 6:30 p.m. with absolutely no commercials. This channel only tunes into games when teams are close to scoring, and will break into coverage to show every touchdown, seconds after they happen. It’s condensed, distilled NFL action without all the erectile dysfunction commercials to deal with. You don’t feel like you miss out on anything and sometimes you can view 4 or 5 games at once. You pick which “box of action” you want to focus on.

When we are consuming sports and media, we are also doing it in far different ways than past viewers.  We consume media on our phones, on our tablets, laptops etc. We do not accept that we have to be tied to our living rooms at a specific time,  dictated by the NFL or broadcasting companies. For instance, if we want to watch a game while shopping at the farmers market, we can and will do so. While this is great for us ,it is a disaster for TV ratings. In fact, if we want to watch an entire season of a television show, we can do that as well ("binge watching" is definitely becoming a popular trend!)

These changes in habits and behaviors are also wreaking havoc on one of the most symbolically “strong” institutions in our country's history--the auto industry.

People under the age of 35 used to account for almost 40% of all new car purchases. Now that number is closer to 25%. This is a huge drop, especially when you see the mentality of Millennials for the future.  Compounding the auto industries concerns for sustainability, is that proportionately, from 1998 to 2008, the number of teenagers with licenses has dropped almost 30%. Why spend thousands on a car and auto insurance when you can use your phone to obtain a ride whenever you need it?

The same scenario appears to be playing out in the housing industry. The percentage of Millennials getting first time mortgages in 2011 was more than half of what it was just ten years prior.

There are countless examples of how Millennial’s habits are breaking the stereotypes and patterns of previous generations. There is a clear demand to have things delivered in a more personalized and individualistic manner. As the music, car, sports, and telecommunications industries are learning, these changes in habits cannot be ignored, otherwise, their mere existence might be threatened. Companies and industries have to adjust, and are adjusting (at least most)… (cough) (cough)-- with the exception of our current educational system.

The children of Millennials are continuing to enter our educational system at an increased rate and we cannot afford to discount the influence and expectations of their parents (let alone what this next generation of kids will be labeled…tbd.)

We have grown up in a time where we have had great access to technology and the ability to surround ourselves with the things that interest us. We continue to see that increase with our own children.

Growing up, we were allowed to find common communities of friends with the same interests and talents we possessed, even if these communities were spread across the world. Again, this ability continues to increase for the next generation.

Most of us don’t remember what it was like not having access to our entire music library within our pockets. We have been witness to some of the greatest technological advances to mankind. We have been encouraged to challenge conventional thinking and to ask “why not” when told we couldn’t do something a certain way. Open-sourced coding has allowed 10 year-olds to speak a digital language and emboldened them to create solutions to problems that engineers five times their age weren’t able to solve. We have been empowered and we have to ask why this should stop at the classroom door?

I have two sons, a three year-old and a two year-old, and my expectations for what their education will look and feel like are far different from what mine was. Why should my children have to demonstrate proficiency on a topic the same way 30 other kids have to? Every child is unique and has a completely unique skill set. Assessments should allow for divergent thinking and problem solving, application of skills, not regurgitation of content (still waiting for that day when I can utilize my ability to properly identify the atomic number of an element.)

Education should be tailored to the individual child, not vice-versa.

Engagement is key and expected. My children are engaged for most of their day at home. We explore, experiment, build, run, drive, navigate, ask “why” throughout the entire day—not for a set amount of hours. My wife and I encourage innovation.

We push the value in what they are learning and how it connects to the real world. This is something I rarely received in my educational years. I want them to have more than I did, such as a voice and choice, in how they experience their learning. We try to make this a part of all facets oftheir lives. We need to ask why education has been so slow to keep up? This post isn’t a warning, but rather, a reality that continues to unfold. I am not unique in my thinking.  Believe me, if we (Millennials), don’t feel the kind of reality I described above can be created by our schools, we will find a way to create it for our children ourselves. If you still think I’m alone in my thinking I will point you to a statistic from the National Center for Educational Statistic, that shows a dramatic increase in parents choosing to homeschool their children (a very personalized form of education) by 62% from the years 2003-2010.

Our schools are running out of time, and cannot continue with their “assembly line” approach to our kiddo’s education.

While one statistic cannot be used to definitively validate my point, I do believe it drives home the message that Millennials have become accustomed to choices and if they aren’t happy with the choices given to them, they will search for an alternate route that will, even if that means breaking traditional paradigms or behaviors. Just ask the NFL.

-Daniel Nietzel