The widening gap between our student preparedness and future workforce is alarming: between 2004-09, less than 50% of all students who entered post-secondary institutions earned a degree or credential within 6 years--yet by 2020 65% of all job openings will require post-secondary preparation.
The students who will fill this gap are those who are not experiencing academic success today; students for whom educational achievement is not a given: whose family and friends haven't attended college; who hail from disconnected communities and distressed environments; for whom English is not their native language. We label them “at risk” and they stand out for all that they don’t bring to the classroom. These children will require a greater level of thoughtfulness, time, and resources if they are to attain posts-secondary credentials. And no matter how much the adults in their lives want them to be successful, they must also want it for themselves.
When I talk to these young people who persevered and overcome the obstacles above, they speak unanimously on one point…and it is both basic yet profound. Their first step to success began the moment that they understood what they could achieve...and even more that someone else believed and expected that they would.
What would we do differently if we truly expected every child to succeed in life? Consider that most of us hold high expectations for the significant children in our lives and how this expectation serves as a beacon and guide for their path. In our professional and civic lives, we've likely sympathized, contributed, prayed, hoped, volunteered, and worked on behalf of “at risk” youth and believe in our hearts that it is possible for them to succeed. But do we fundamentally expect them to?
What would it look like if we let every child know that their community expects them to be successful? Even more, that we need them to achieve for our collective success? Expectation, distinct from hope, shifts the locus of responsibility in relationships.
Students won't ever care how much they can one day contribute until they first believe that their community cares about and expects that contribution. With expectation as a foundation, we can make a subtle yet powerful shift in our perspective, and ultimately in how we band together to support all children’s to be successful.