Okay, so you get the concept of differentiation and its role in helping students think about where they belong in society. (Haven’t read Part 1 of this series? Click here.) Your dreams are different from mine, so our kids’ dreams differ from each other child’s as well. Where, then, do we start differentiating for real life?

Answer: High school-level life and career readiness lessons and hands on learning experiences.  

Why here?  Because, 1) it is an absolutely necessary area of focus and one very open to unique solutions, and 2) because we have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to start making connections between our students and their futures.  
 
Students learn best when they explore what they are most interested in. They also learn best when others are interested in and invested in them as individuals. In short, when other people care about their success purely because they want them to do well by their own standards – not by the standards of a test, a grade, a class culture, a teacher or even, and often, parents (just call it teenage rebellion).

By engaging adults outside the school building in our students’ lives, we can actively help them make connections to the future. The future is full of unknowns and most of our kids have anxieties and fears about those unknowns that they may not know how to express. Some students don’t want to express their anxieties to parents or teachers — and many others lack any adult to guide them through those thoughts and questions. When we engage members of the community in conversations and lessons around work, life skills, future choices, worries and concerns, students have the opportunity to develop personalized (student centered), tailored, differentiated conversations unique to their own needs. I like to call these unique, student centered, tailored, differentiated conversations RELATIONSHIPS. 

More relationships with adults support what parents and teachers want for our kids!  
 
When students have the opportunity to develop relationships with adults, they have the opportunity to:
  • Explore their hopes, fears, desires and questions without being judged
  • Ask and receive answers to deeper questions 
  • Develop mature communication skills
  • Build lasting relationships
  • Align with mentors they feel comfortable with
  • Reflect on their own process
  • Feel like drivers in their own learning process 
  • Observe and reflect on their own use of knowledge and skills they are learning
  • Become self-starters as they see the value of the conversations they are co-driving with an adult
The potential for personal growth that stems from one-on-one relationship building is powerful and long-lasting.  It’s why famous people and sports stars are always asked “who was your greatest mentor?”  The adult or adults who cared and stayed invested in that successful person’s life had a lasting impact.  

It’s our job to make this happen.

Our students need us to help foster more of these relationships because they need this guidance earlier, and as a matter of core educational principal.  There are too many risk factors, too many gaps, too many external pressures on our children… and too few adults in their circle to help them navigate the challenges and  find tailored solutions to the unique questions, challenges and needs.
 
This is what I do, this is what I have done and this is where I believe the education system needs to progress. We need to engage the community members in more effective, impactful and meaningful ways in our children’s educational careers. What needs to be done requires the help and commitment of a lot more people. We can’t do it alone.  We need all hands on deck.