We are on the cusp of a school year unlike any other, and most states have indicated that student learning will involve a blend of in-person and remote instruction. Understandably, districts and schools are shoring up plans to deliver their core curriculum while figuring out the logistical challenges presented by different learning cohorts that may be constantly shifting.
With limited operational bandwidth, it might be natural for some institutions to devote most of their attention to their core curriculum while other programs - like college and career readiness - get put on the back burner. College and career readiness is essential for aligning student learning, targeted planning, and mental well-being in the best of times, and it is even more crucial in an era of Covid-19. It’s critically important that districts and schools deliberately consider how they will support and implement college and career readiness in the 2020 / 2021 school year, what that curriculum will look like, and how they will ensure consistent quality across different learning cohorts.
Below we will examine the reasons why college and career readiness is more important than ever in these tumultuous times, as well as lay out some key considerations to take into account when planning your counseling framework for the 2020 / 2021 school year.
Why College and Career Readiness in a Covid Era?
1. Value to Students
Ultimately, our job is to prepare students for their futures: to earn a living wage and become productive members of society. We need to keep students focused on the “why” (why have I chosen the path that I’m on, and what is my ultimate goal?) because core curriculum becomes more valuable when it’s connected to big picture goals and a specific roadmap to a destination.
College and career readiness is also a hopeful content area - it allows students to dream big and explore possibilities for how they want their lives to come together. Career exploration, connecting with industry professionals, and exploring postsecondary education options can motivate students and help them be even more engaged and dedicated across the rest of their high school curriculum. We do students a disservice if we focus too heavily on the micro (success in the core curriculum subject areas) and lose perspective of the macro (pathway exploration and aligning high school learning with big picture, future goals).
2. Stay Ahead of a Changing Postsecondary Landscape
The labor market always shifts and evolves, but this process has turned into a rapid transformation in the last decade for several reasons including the onset of the sharing economy and the growth of AI driven technologies that have created new jobs while making others obsolete. Even before the global pandemic, it has been a challenge for districts and schools to prepare students for careers that very well might not even exist yet.
Covid 19 has accelerated this labor market sea change even more, and proactively assisting students in making informed pathway decisions based on trends and data is absolutely essential. Now, more than ever, we need to provide data and resources to students, facilitate learning opportunities with a variety of experts and professionals, and foster consistent collaboration between students and their counselors to effectively plan for postsecondary success.
Additionally, the value of certain four year university degrees can certainly be up for debate depending on a student’s ambitions and interests as well as university instructional plans in the face of the pandemic. For example, while an expensive, private university can be a worthwhile investment for particular career paths, how might the return on that investment change if courses are online for the foreseeable future? There are no concrete answers to this question and other similar ones, but there are critical conversations to be held so that students can make informed decisions regarding their future plans.
3. Community Messaging
In uncertain times like these, parents, guardians, and the community at large want to know that school leaders are proactively planning (and taking actionable steps) to ensure student success no matter what contingencies may arise. Folks want to know that districts and schools have thought through everything and are doing all they can to ensure that students will receive a top-notch educational experience across the board - no exceptions. Guardians want to know that college and career readiness is being taken as seriously as ever, and that their students are receiving one on one guidance as they consider their future plans.
Make no mistake about it, many districts and schools at this very moment are making comprehensive plans to deliver all elements of their curriculum (including college and career readiness) no matter what the school year looks like ... whether remote, in-person, or hybrid, they’re going to make sure that individualized counseling takes place. Don’t be left behind, and don’t be playing catch up. Whether it’s instituting technology platforms to streamline and connect all forms of learning or other forms of creative, innovative problem solving and experimentation, your community will appreciate and respect that you are thinking everything through, planning for all possibilities, and taking a proactive approach.
4. Bridge the Remote / Hybrid Instruction Achievement Gap
Based on this spring, the evidence is in - and remote instruction has exacerbated the achievement gap between students from high income and low income households. While there are many explanations for this unfortunate reality, districts and schools must focus on what is in their control to mitigate the situation. It is incumbent on districts and schools to provide robust, guided resources to all students, ensuring that all students can stay on track with learning so that remediation is the exception and not the rule.
If college and career readiness is neglected in the core curriculum, it’s likely that many high income students may still receive the guidance and planning support they need while many low income students may struggle. Of course there will be individual exceptions within these broad, generalized groups, but on the aggregate it’s likely that the achievement gap will only widen in terms of college and career planning if it is not deliberately included in core instruction this fall.
Important Programmatic Considerations
Accepting the premise that it is critically important to emphasize college and career readiness in an era of Covid 19, let’s consider how to design a counseling framework that can produce successful outcomes for as many students as possible.
1. Consistency in Instructional and Learning Quality
With hybrid learning models necessitating the creation of different cohorts of students (in-person, part-time, fully remote), and with the makeup of those cohorts likely to constantly change, districts and schools will have a unique challenge of delivering a consistent curriculum across these different instructional groups. When it comes to college and career readiness, it’s critical to have one single curriculum that is:
Accessible online, 24/7
Fully featured with virtual tools for career, college, and personal exploration
Integrated, online tools to facilitate college application completion and transmission
Streamlines messaging and communication between relevant stakeholders (students, guardians, counselors) to support collaboration and transparency
Features media-rich, engaging learning modules to provide instruction related to the college / career readiness journey
Facilitates virtual learning events (rep visits, career fairs, etc)
An accountability system with real-time visibility into student activity and progress
With these components in place, students can flow from one cohort to another and instruction can continue uninterrupted as conditions and circumstances may change. You’ll make your counselors’ lives easier and provide clarity to students and guardians at all times.
2. Equip Guardians with Tools and Resources to Engage
When learning goes remote, guardians take on a more active role in terms of oversight and facilitating instruction and learning. It’s important to make this process as minimally disruptive for guardians as possible while providing them with tools and resources to engage in the process to the extent they are willing. Here are some important components of a hybrid college and career readiness curriculum to keep guardians engaged and informed:
Provide complete visibility into student to-dos, milestones, deadlines, and progress
Streamline communication to facilitate a collaborative approach to ensuring student outcomes
Provide resources to guardians - such as optional lesson plans - to help guardians easily engage in the process with and support their students
As you prepare for the coming school year and set your curricular priorities, college and career readiness should not be neglected. Additionally, if you are deliberate about your planning, employ the right curricular tools, and implement your program thoughtfully, there’s no reason why your future planning curriculum shouldn’t be as effective as always - fostering student exploration, guiding students to align career goals with their interests, and providing students hope for brighter days ahead.