Why Schools Need to Change
Why Schools Need to Change

Today’s learners face an uncertain present and a rapidly changing future that will demand far different skills and knowledge than were needed in the 20th century. We also know far more today about enabling deep, powerful learning than we did when public schools were designed in the early 20th century. Our collective future depends on how well young people prepare for the challenges and opportunities of 21st-century life.

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Envisioning a career superhighway in Vista, CA through empathy interviews with students.

Setting an effective vision for the future is a tricky business. It has to start with a kernel of an idea but must allow sufficient space for the community to develop it into an organic representation of the desired future state. The purpose of this blog post is to provide the second status update on the progress of the International Center for Educational Research and Practice (iCERP), housed at Vista Unified school district (Calif.), to build the structure for a Career Superhighway.

As with any complex project, the design process is intended to be inclusive of a variety of stakeholders so that the vision and design of the project represents the aspirations and interests of the people who will be involved in operationalizing the vision: students, teachers, community leaders, business leaders, etc. While the process itself is complex, I have boiled it down into three steps that will lead to a viable vision and plan of action: 1. Level-Setting, 2. Design and Improve, 3. Season the Ideas. This post focuses on Step 2.

In "Setting the Vision for Creating a Career Superhighway," I outlined the first step in developing a vision for change. This step outlined the importance of level-setting with the community about what is working, what is not working, and what is missing with regard to access to career pathways for all students. We developed a common understanding of the compelling statistics and arguments for reimagining career pathways. We also reached consensus on the definition of the career superhighway. This process established a sense of collective ownership and underscored the power of co-creation of our vision for career pathways that are tied to where the future of work is going in the next 20 years.

A Career Superhighway is a metaphor for creating an uninterrupted career development pathway for students to discover their strengths and interests and transform these into talent capital that aligns to the demands of the global marketplace.

Step 2: Design and Improve

Status: In Progress

With the level-setting behind us and all of the members of the team centered on what is working and what is missing, our next meeting brought everyone to the design table to engage in the initial stage of a design thinking process that was created by IDEO and the Stanford d.school. This process—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test—will serve as the engine to drive our vision-setting for a career superhighway that leads seamlessly from career exploration to gainful employment in a growing priority sector of the economy. We selected the five-step process because of the focus on human-centered design. If we are to truly transform the career-pathway experience for students, then we need to start by engaging the students in the conversation in order to develop empathy for how they feel and what they have experienced that needs to change.

steps of design thinking process

With a team of over 30 participants representing business leaders, entrepreneurs, parents, teachers, administrators, and students, we engaged in two key activities. The first activity was led by Nicole Allard, the principal of Mission Vista High School. Nicole is known for her leadership creating an award-winning dual magnet high school that is one of the top two academic schools in San Diego County. Mission Vista's dual focus is on the arts and communication as well as science and technology. Nicole arranged for an empathy interview panel of student representatives from each of the five high schools in the district. Nicole developed empathy interview questions for the student panelists that brought out the compelling reasons why students feel there is a need to change the career-pathway experience. Nicole was careful to ensure that the student panelists represented major subgroups within our district. The members of the committee were completely riveted to the students as they went back and forth trading off answers and anecdotes about how to enhance their learning experience.

Empathy Interview Questions

  • During high school, what opportunities have you had to explore future careers or the world of work?
  • What do you aspire to do in your life after high school or college?
  • Has anything during your time at VUSD helped you to reach your goal?
  • What's missing? What else would you have liked to have to prepare you for a career?
  • What grade/age do you think students should be exposed to the world of work?

Once the empathy interview panel was complete, Eric Chagala, the principal of Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA), led the second activity, an empathy discussion session. Eric is nationally recognized for his work leading design thinking challenges. He has worked with the community to successfully reimagine a middle school to become VIDA—a design thinking academy where students lead the design and discover their strengths, interests, and values as learners. Eric created a set of five groups with a student panelist included in each. The groups engaged in a dialogue to understand what students feel they need in order to better connect to careers and discover their passions related to the world of work. Armed with their takeaways from the panel, the members jumped right into a back and forth with the students for more than 45 minutes. These breakout groups were much more active having just come off the empathy interview panel. The outcome of this session focusing on empathy was over 50 points of information that can be boiled down into six key themes:

  • The need to focus on students' strengths, interests, and values
  • The importance of opportunities for career exploration—at all grade levels
  • The significance of student-teacher relationships
  • The consideration of essential skills in addition to content
  • The value of hands-on, authentic, and meaningful tasks
  • The equity of experiences across the district, regardless of school site

This visioning session was so successful that the members of the group requested that we extend our focus on empathy by bringing in a panel of business leaders. The group wants to better learn about business leaders' wants and desires with regard to developing students with the requisite aspirations, skills, and dispositions to thrive in an increasingly complex, fast-moving career ecosystem. Follow this blog next month to find out about our collective work around empathy and how we will use these ideas to define how we create a career superhighway with our community.

iCERP and the Career Superhighway of the Future

At iCERP, we consider ourselves explorers in shaping this new world. In partnership with UC San Diego, the San Diego Workforce Partnership, and Next Generation Learning Challenges, iCERP is embarking on a journey to build the career superhighway of the future. It is a daunting task and represents one of the largest change management initiatives undertaken by education. The iCERP advisory board includes Sandra Brown of UC San Diego, Jason Spencer and Kristen Brown of the California Department of Education, Carrie D'Ascoli of Google, Robert Westfall of Solatube, Phil Blair of Manpower Global, Erin Gavin of Qualcomm, Karen Cator of Digital Promise, and Jack Kahn of Palomar Community College. Together we are working with our community to define this new ecosystem of talent.

Matt Doyle headshot

Matt Doyle

Executive Director, iCERP

Dr. Matt Doyle is the Executive Director of iCERP, the International Center for Educational Research and Practice. iCERP is a thought leadership collaborative representing a partnership between the University of California at San Diego, the San Diego Workforce Partnership and public education. iCERP is a global space promoting intersectionality of thought with a particular focus on the lifelong learner