Using LEAD Skills to Build Intellectual Alliances with Parents

Let’s start with a simple truth that everyone seems to like to wave in the faces of public school teachers: Our schools are struggling to prepare graduates for the increasingly complex workplaces that they are going to inherit.

As Tony Wagner writes in The Global Achievement Gap, the results of this failure have the potential to be catastrophic:

“In short, our young people are now in direct competition with youth from developing countries for many of what traditionally have been considered our ‘good middle-class white-collar” jobs.

While some of our students are learning skills that enable them to interpret and manipulate information and data, the sheer numbers of students who are learning these skills in other countries and the fact that they will work for much less put our students at an extreme competitive disadvantage.”

(Kindle Location 223-226)

That’s not a new message, right? People – including Thomas Friedman – have have been writing about the consequences of an increasingly connected and knowledge-driven globe for years.

Here’s the hitch, though: Despite repeated warnings about the urgent need to rethink the kinds of skills that we spend our time on in schools, education looks no different today than it did a decade ago.

Worse yet, in an effort to “hold schools accountable,” our #edpolicy leaders – including Bam and Arne – continue to push policies on schools that reward a strict adherence to the kinds of simple skills that can be measured by standardized tests.

But Bam and Arne aren’t the only ones to blame.

Our communities are responsible, too. After all, we simultaneously bemoan the sad state of education in America while electing leaders who make easy choices that perpetuate the status quo.

When we finally realize that standardized test scores are a failed indicator – of our children’s workforce readiness AND of the success or failure of schools and teachers – we might just be ready to move towards more meaningful work in our classrooms.

What would that “more meaningful work” look like?

Here’s what global education expert Matt Friedrick* has to say about the kind of skills that students should be learning in our classrooms:

Leading in today’s conceptual, global age requires entirely new skills for our students, and an education system that delivers these skills.

Today’s students will inherit a world that is fundamentally different from the past – one where leadership means communicating effectively in more than one language, confronting challenges in new and innovative ways, adjusting as the world around them changes, and collaborating with a wide range of people.

Friedrick breaks these essential behaviors into a set of five LEAD skills that he believes should be defining the work that we are doing with the students in our schools:

Language : Communicating in English and in at least one strategic foreign language.

Entrepreneurship : Devising new ways to respond to local, national, and global needs.

Adaptability : Adjusting to new information and media; continually learning new knowledge and skills.

Diplomacy : Collaborating effectively with increasingly diverse groups of people.

(Read more about each LEAD skill in this one page handout on Friedrick's website)

Good stuff, isn’t it? If you are a parent, wouldn’t you feel better if your child mastered these skills before graduation?

Sure you would – and you wouldn’t be alone. Business leaders surveyed regularly report wanting workers who are experts at seemingly soft skills like adapting, imagining and collaborating.

Now there’s nothing inherently new about Friedrick’s LEAD skills. They are similar to the seven survival skills laid out by Wagner in The Global Achievement Gap and to the ten skills and behaviors that The Partnership for 21st Century Skills believes in.

But I honestly believe that the LEAD skills framework has the ability to have a far greater impact on American education than Wagner’s work or the work of the P21 team.

Here’s why: The LEAD framework takes a complex concept and makes it approachable to the general public.

Think about it – Wagner’s book has been out since 2008 and the P21 folks have been working in this space since 2002 yet nothing has really changed about the way that we do business in schools.

Why would such good thinking – thinking that forms the foundation of the most progressive conversations we have about teaching and learning in today’s world – go largely unnoticed?

My guess is that parents – the stakeholder that we most need to start pushing for positive change in schools – can’t get their heads wrapped around the language used by individuals like Wagner and the P21 team.

It’s not that the concepts don’t resonate. It’s that the concepts haven’t been delivered in approachable language that parents can embrace.

And that’s what Friedrick has delivered with his LEAD framework.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the only way we’re going to get schools to shift towards the kinds of learning spaces that are necessary for truly leaving today’s kids prepared for tomorrow’s world is to start to develop partnerships with parents.

We need discerning voters. We need intellectual advocates that are willing to push back against the simplistic attempts of #edpolicy wonks to define “mastery.” We need critics who are vocal AND able to articulate a vision for something better than we currently have.

I believe parents WANT to be those partners.

Developing advocacy partnerships, however, depends on dejargonizing the language that we’re using to describe the changes that we believe in.

I believe that Friedrick’s LEAD framework might just be the first step in the right direction that we’ve taken in a long, long time towards getting parents back on our side in the fight for an educational program that matters.

Any of this making sense?


Related Radical Reads:

Is Racing to the Top Even POSSIBLE, Arne?

Arne’s Half-Baked Plan for Fixing Schools

Are we REALLY Preparing Kids for the Global Economy?



*Full Disclosure: I know Matt Friedrick well – and few people have had more of an impact on my thinking as he has. He challenges me regularly and I almost always am thankful for the opportunity to learn from him.

He’s got this right, y’all. And I would say it even if I didn’t know him.

And he’s just started Tweeting. I’d recommend you follow him if you’re interested in learning more about how LEAD skills can change our schools for the better.

He hasn’t posted a ton yet – but I’m sure that over time, his stream will be a valuable resource.

2 thoughts on “Using LEAD Skills to Build Intellectual Alliances with Parents

  1. Tim Vanderpool

    Whether it is LEAD, P21, or any other education reform project, until the teacher training system is addressed any reform is a moot point. The realities of diversity in the public school classroom drive the teacher education programs at universities and the professional development offered to aging teaching staffs’ do not bridge technology gap of that generation.
    I actually think it is funny that Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s speech last year addressed this issue, but his concern was not centered on the skills needed for the 21st century or technology, “Most aspiring teachers were not getting the hands-on practical training about managing the classroom they needed, especially for high-needs students. And teachers were not generally being taught to use data to differentiate and improve instruction, and boost student learning.”
    For example, the teacher education programs in the California State University system only offer three of the thirty required classroom units for a single subject certification in technology. The single course addresses a Level 1 Educational Technology Competency Requirement that is quite basic and not even close to the complexity levels required to teach the skill set needed in either of the educational reform programs mentioned. This is in comparison to the nine units specifically addressing the diversity of the students in the class room.
    According to the average age of the public education teacher in 2008 was in the mid-40’s. Technology in the classroom didn’t even exist as part of the training for those teachers and even the most diligent educators attempting to develop their technology skills today are not being offered proper professional development.
    There is no question that there is a need for educational reform and if LEAD grabs the attention of parents and educational leaders because it reduces the perceived complexity of the change then lets give it a go. But if we do not overhaul the current teacher training system then there really isn’t reason to begin the reform. If parallels what Bill Warlick and Nancy Flanagan said about Arne Duncan’s assertion that we need more days in the school year; more of the same will not make any difference.
    Works Cited:

  2. Michael Paul Goldenberg

    At the risk of heresy, where is it written and by whom that the job of public schools is to prepare students for the workplace? There was a time, not really ALL that long ago, when preparing students to do jobs was the responsibility of . . . (wait for it) . . . the EMPLOYER. Crazy thought, eh? But then various business leaders said to themselves, “Hey, why pay for this when we can put it on the public schools?” And many well-meaning educators and theorists seem to have bought unquestioningly into that notion as if it was written into the Articles of Confederation, Constitution, and possibly the Magna Carta.
    I, for one, am not a buyer of arguments for various education ‘reforms,’ programs, policies, etc., that are solely or primarily grounded in one or both of the ideas that: A) schools are supposed to train students for work; and B) we’re in a global competition our success or failure in can and should be placed on the shoulders of public education.
    The second one is doubly insidious because there is ample evidence that public education isn’t what determines our economy or global position or trade policies or anything of the kind, AND that when we kick butt, schools are NEVER credited with having accomplished anything towards that end. Only when we’re told that things are going poorly do we hear about the alleged connection between the “global competition” and schools.
    These are scary times, and it behooves people who really care about kids, schools, education, and particularly democracy to think long and hard about assumptions, what particular set of premises they are swallowing, and who benefits when they do. I will bet you dollars to donuts that it isn’t kids, schools, education, or democracy.

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