Soft Skills: The Future of Career Readiness

Resumes, suits, interview questions­—these are the things that most people think about when they hear “career preparation.” But what happens once you’re in the door and ready to work? How do you become a successful employee?



That’s where soft skills come in. Remember that scene in Alice in Wonderland when Alice ate a biscuit to make herself larger, then another to make herself smaller, until eventually she found the combination that made her the perfect fit? That’s how soft skills work. By finding the right balance between collaboration, perseverance, and any other mix of soft skills, individuals can adapt to become the perfect fit for any workplace.


Recently, Roadtrip Nation Education participated in the Digital Badging Advisory Group Meeting co-facilitated by the New World of Work initiative, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges. Using New World of Work’s list of 21st Century Skills, we discussed how to assess soft skills in the workplace and how to use digital badges to recognize students that demonstrate specific soft skills.


Soft skills can technically be taught and discussed in a classroom setting, but it’s the application of the soft skills that truly demonstrates a student’s degree of workplace readiness. The New World of Work has been able to bring together education research and best practices with experiential learning in the workplace to create a system to teach and assess soft skills. By integrating digital, the New World of Work enables students to present employers with an easily identifiable and shareable system of skills, rather than a dull resume full of seemingly applicable experience.


We look forward to collaborating with NWOW, NACCE, and The Foundation on creating an innovative way to prepare young people for the workplace!



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Beating the Odds with Roadtrip Nation


Many educators spend their summer traveling, and Roadtrip Nation Education has also been enjoying the time away from the classroom. We went on the ultimate summer adventure to the White House—cue squeals and OMGs.


Roadtrip Nation student Jaylene, First-Gen road-tripper Jasmine, and our education team recently attended the First Lady’s Reach Higher “Beating the Odds” Summit at the White House. The summit celebrated young people who are the first in their families to pursue education beyond high school and provided wisdom and resources to inspire other first-gen students to go to college. 


Jasmine shared her thoughts on being in the White House, leading a cold-calling session, and being a first-generation college student. 


What was it like being a guest at the White House?


I have been to D.C. twice in my life. I have taken pictures outside of the White House and wished to see what it is like on the other side of those gates. A few weeks ago, I finally had the chance to see what was behind those gates.


Being inside the White House, I felt like royalty. I am still in awe that I was in the White House, in the same room as  the First Lady of the United States, the President of the United States, Wale (one of my favorite rap artists), and Secretary Arne Duncan. I can’t express how surreal it felt because I am still, almost one week later,  trying to figure out how amazing it truly was. This experience was definitely life changing and I really can’t put it into any clear, concise form. I felt like a kid who was able to receive extra dessert, or a kid who just experienced Christmas, or someone who just won the lottery—or maybe all of those emotions all at once?

What was your biggest takeaway from the First Lady’s panel? 


My biggest takeaway from the panel came from Wale, who reminded us that college is the time to take the training wheels off. It definitely takes four years to get them off, and I feel comfortable with being in the process of figuring things out. It reinforced the ideas that I picked up and developed from taking the First-Gen Roadtrip last summer. College is a learning experience, not just academically, and going through this experience changes you and improves you as a  person.


What was it like to present Roadtrip Nation from the Blue Room of the White House?


All I have ever dreamed of was being able to teach. I wanted to teach students of all races, genders, nationalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Being able to be in the White House doing what I love was a feeling that I will never forget. I was delighted every second of the day and I was overexcited that the students were as responsive as they were. I really don’t know how to express the emotions I felt and put them into words. However, I do know that stepping into a classroom every day will give me that same feeling, and I can’t wait to graduate and have my own classroom.



What was it like to be in the same room as the President of the United States? Did anything he say/do impact you?


All I have to say is that President Barack Obama is the coolest president this country has ever had. I was truly shocked when he walked into the room, and for a second I lost my breath. His words definitely left an impact on me, and the love between the FLOTUS and the POTUS is truly amazing. I am also excited because I was able to shake his hand and it was a moment that I will never forget.



Check out our documentary that follows the First-Gen team, Why Not Us?, and the discussion guide to talk to your students about being the first in their families to go to college.

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Preparing for the Passion Economy: Millennials Seek Meaning, Not Just Money

 By Richard Porras, AT&T and Jason Manion, Roadtrip Nation


The workplace as we know it is changing. The Millennial generation of Americans, currently ages 18 to 34, has now surpassed Generation X as the largest share of the nation’s workforce according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. Unlike Baby Boomers, whose professions were often defined by their parents and economic circumstances, Millennials are a generation seeking to follow their passions and extract meaning and purpose from their work. As a result, aligning personal interests with careers has become critical for employers seeking to stay competitive in the “passion economy.”


On June 8th, 500 students at Valley High School in Santa Ana had the opportunity to do just that: find out how exploring personal interests can lead to a fulfilling career down the road. Facilitated by the creators of the PBS documentary series, Roadtrip Nation, and with support from AT&T, Valley High School students participated in an innovative new curriculum helping students to connect what they are naturally interested in – whether it is playing video games, reading mystery novels, or catching bugs in their backyard—to real world jobs and career pathways.


Roadtrip Nation believes authentic career exploration isn’t possible without exposure to the diverse and unique career opportunities that are not ordinarily discussed in a classroom setting. That’s why Roadtrip Nation’s curriculum and live events at high schools and colleges around the country are so critical. It’s more than an excuse to leave class. Live presentations ignite authentic excitement as students ponder the potential of their futures, and walk away understanding the connection between what they are learning in courses like English or Chemistry, and why it matters to excel now in order to prosper later.


By participating in the program, Valley High School students joined the ranks of 15,000 students across the country who have now experienced the Roadtrip Nation Career Exploration experience thanks to support from AT&T Aspire, AT&T’s signature education initiative focused on high school success and career readiness. But most importantly, they heard fresh advice: on your journey through high school and college to career, don’t just search for a job or a paycheck. Search for your joy. Ask questions. Be curious. The dots will connect.


This post is also featured on AT&T California’s blog here.


Richard Porras is Vice President of External Affairs for AT&T in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties, and is a Santa Ana native. AT&T Aspire is AT&T’s signature education initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on the issue including funding, technology, employee volunteerism, and mentoring.


Jason Manion is Outreach Director of Roadtrip Nation. A Long Beach local, Manion leads the organization’s student driven initiatives around the country. Roadtrip Nation creates self-discovery resources designed to help young people build fulfilling lives and careers around their interests. Roadtrip Nation’s headquarters are based in Costa Mesa.

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5 Ways to Assess Social Emotional Learning


5 Ways to Assess Social Emotional Learning


Social emotional learning (SEL) has been a growing conversation in the education sphere. In response to a shift away from “content is king,” SEL brings a more holistic view of learning, counting student behavior and interaction with others as skills that should be developed and evaluated. SEL is difficult to teach because it appears to be subjective, or too “warm and fuzzy” for some educators. But with the right strategies, it’s easy to integrate SEL into your content area and develop combined-assessment measures. Check out the following SEL skills that can be seamlessly woven into a project, unit, or subject area.


1)   Self-Awareness

Students with strong self-awareness can use words other than “okay” and “I’m fine” when you ask them how they are doing. Self-aware students can articulate their emotions, not just grunt them out as they pass you by in the hallway. Students’ emotions are wrapped up in their aspirations for the future and can reveal their motivations and ideals; teaching students how to communicate their emotions will help you help them. To determine a student’s level of self-awareness, include opportunities for emotional reflection, including both high- and low-stakes situations. For example, students can simply circle 5 emotions they’re feeling from a list after completing a test, forgetting a homework assignment, or after a long-term project. Have these short sheets ready to staple onto anything and everything students turn in, and use them as a starting point for discussing assignments or conferencing with parents.


2)   Managing Emotions

When you teach little humans who are trying to come to grips with a lot of change, whether in the daily schedule or in their own development, it’s easy to understand how their emotions can run amok. Students who find it difficult to manage their emotions may turn to unhealthy methods of numbing or hiding their feelings, including substance abuse, or experience depression. As their guides in this ever-changing world, it’s up to you to help students navigate their emotions, especially during times of flux. As a class, create a list of possible ways to manage emotions, both positive and negative. Post the list in your classroom to use as a guide for classroom management and acknowledge students who utilize the strategies in everyday interactions.


3)   Empathy

Empathy is one of those feelings that’s hard to define, but you know it when you see—or feel—it. Empathy differs from sympathy in that it involves imagining what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes, and what feelings and sensory reactions that person may be feeling. Empathy  engages students’ creativity and emotions, but also requires them to synthesize their knowledge of the person they are empathizing with and their understanding of emotional reactions generally. One simple way to assess your students’ degree of empathy is to be “in the shoes” of different figures, both real and imagined, in your content area. Ask students to write a diary entry from the perspective of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, or create fake Facebook statuses of famous scientists to document the discovery process.


4)   Tapping the Support Network

A support network can be the deciding factor between a student becoming an independent learner or getting lost in the education system. A support network can consist of family, educators, and professional resources designed to encourage the growth and well-being of the student. While many people in a student’s circle—including you, the teacher—are probably willing to step up and help out a student in need, many young people don’t think to ask for help.  This may be due to the fact that society praises independence and problem-solving instead of community building and collaboration. To take away the stigma of asking for help, create a scavenger hunt that highlights the resources and people in your community available to assist students. You can even offer extra points for students who can describe the support they got from one of these resources. If you’re techy or crafty, consider creating a physical or virtual “Yelp page” for students to list the resources, describe their experiences, and explain how to go about getting assistance.


5)   Decision-Making Skills

Remember those choose-your-own-adventure books? If you bought into the premise, you dr0ve the book’s plot by choosing what happened next in the story (or  if you were the kind who liked to know everything up front, you read the endings before you made your choices). These books were popular because they allowed the reader to be involved—to be a decision-maker, not just a passive observer. These are skills students will need in order to become fully-fledged innovative thinkers, not just bystanders. When the events are depersonalized, like in the books, students can be more objective about the decision-making process. Include in your assessments opportunities for your students to evaluate decision points in your content. Instead of having students regurgitate factoids, ask students to evaluate a decision or break down the pros and cons. Evaluate students’ responses based on their ability to outline the reasons for the decision, not just the decision itself.

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5 Ways to Spend Your Winter Break

You walk in the door, drop the bag of grading you brought home, and set down your laptop on the table.  2 weeks to yourself. You’ve thought about this precious time for the past few months, and especially during the last week of antsy anticipation—both from you and your students. So now what?


What are you doing over break?

What are you doing over break?



1)   Sleep In

Getting up at 5:30 AM is no easy feat, especially when there’s a room full of other mini adults who are either eager to get the day started or trying to get a few more zzz’s (usually on the desk). Take the pile of clothes off your bed, throw on an extra snuggly blanket, and don’t wake up until Dr. Phil comes on. Not only will you feel like you’re back in college, but you’ll actually be doing your students a favor. They’ll come back from break to a well rested, uplifted, and calmer teacher, not to mention the other cognitive benefits. Do it for the children!


2)   Take a “Recess”

While the kids are out grabbing a snack or chatting about the latest boy band, most teachers spend their recess scrambling to prep for the next round of instruction, or quickly stuffing their face with any sustenance lying around.  They forget the joy of being a kid, so spend 20 or 30 minutes a day during your break doing something “recess-y”: play 4-square, doodle in a notebook, or simply catch up with an old friend. Part of being a teacher is your ability to let loose and “play,” so reset your play chakra with a little recess every day.


3)   Photo a Day

In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s easy to take for granted the little moments—the dog tearing apart his bed, your nephew pigging out on cookies, the cloud that looks oddly like Scarlet Johansson. Download a photo app and get snapping. You don’t have to be a paparazzo throughout the day, just take a quick second to remind yourself to take a breath, take a photo, and remember your break—it’ll be gone before you know it! If you want to keep the photo inspiration going, challenge your students to do the same and to bring in their favorite photo. You can use it as a way to connect with your students, write about their winter break, or just redecorate your classroom with student—and your—contributions.


4)   YouTube Binge

One second you’re watching a video of a cat trying to attack  a paper towel roll, and three hours later you’re knee deep in giggling babies eating cake. Plug in your laptop and go where the Internet wind takes you. Getting in some laughs can help reduce your stress, and give you a few gems to share with your students when you need to grab their attention. There’s no easier way to refocus a chaotic room than to say, “Guys, you have to see this video of this pug jumping up the stairs.”


5)   Plan Your Summer

Not a winter bunny and missing the sun? Itching to get out of the house but have nowhere to go? Start thinking about summer. Summer is a chance for you to have the experiences you’ll be sharing with your students when they try and get you off track of the day’s agenda. Your students need to know that there is more in the world than flopping on the couch with cell phone in hand, and you can be their entry point into truly experiencing the world. If you’re on a budget—and what teacher isn’t—look into camping at your local state park, attending a music festival of your favorite jams, or taking a class at a nearby community college.



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30 Reasons to Be Thankful You’re a Teacher

Be Thankful!

The blaring alarm at 6 AM, the papercuts from trying to quickly grade tests, struggling to find a balance between caring-too-much for your students and not-caring-enough about your own need for sleep. Teaching comes with a lot of baggage, and often times it’s not even your own. But there’s a lot to be thankful for when it comes to being a teacher. Check out 30 reasons you should give yourself a high five for being a teacher!



  1. Becoming an expert handwriter.
  2. The light bulb. Corny, but it’s like seeing a unicorn.
  3. Scented markers.
  4. Free parent training.
  5. Daily cardio because you’re never sitting (hopefully).
  6. Always knowing what’s in fashion.
  7. Seeing your students succeed long after you’ve been their teacher.
  8. Laughing everyday (preferably not at students).
  9. A stronger immune system.
  10. Perfecting “the look” a la Cesar Millan.
  11. The ability to decipher hieroglyphics bad handwriting.
  12. Knowing 50 ways to use construction paper.
  13. Time to explore your passion—whether on vacation or in the classroom).
  14. Having a (sometimes) captive audience.
  15. Working with other people who are as inspiring as you are.
  16. Knowing you’re building a legacy everyday.
  17. The opportunity to inspire a new generation—literally.
  18. Being part of a community that cares if you’re out sick or celebrating your birthday.
  19. How being someone’s “favorite teacher” can make you feel like you won an Oscar.
  20. Your brain never turns to mush because of the new skills, technology, and changes occurring in education.
  21. All the deals, discounts, and specials to make teachers feel appreciated.
  22. Being the gateway to “retro” pop culture like David Bowie and Saved by the Bell.
  23. The challenge to be a better, kinder, more patient person.
  24. Endless Starbucks cards.
  25. Knowing your smile, high five, or compliment could turn around a kid’s day.
  26. Having kids…without having kids.
  27. Using magical powers to turn something boring or uncool into a challenging and memorable experience.
  28. Always knowing the latest boy band, and all it’s members.
  29. Knowing how to repurpose anything and everything.
  30. Living on in the stories your past students will tell their own children one day.

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Your PBL Checklist

Your PBL ChecklistProject Based Learning (PBL) has been touted as one (of many) cure-alls for education. It’s an elixir of academically challenging work mixed in with some social-emotional skill development, and a dash of innovation. Projects range in complexity and creativity, from designing a board game about the fall of the Roman Empire to building a sustainable urban garden. PBL can cultivate new skills for students, such as learning to tactfully work with group members who aren’t doing their parts, or standing up in front of a panel of community members to justify their urban garden.


But like a cross-country road trip in an aging RV (sound familiar?), PBL isn’t for the faint of heart. Not only do you have to develop and stick to a plan—you also need the flexibility to adjust as you and your class move along the project. And don’t forget helping students navigate the emotional demands of a project. If you’re ready for the journey, use the following checklist next time you embark on the PBL trek.


❏      A problem to solve

❏      Marketing skills to sell your students on the idea

❏      An audience with whom you can share students’ projects

❏      A way to evaluate group collaboration

❏      100 ways to give positive feedback (other than “good job”)

❏      An outline of content students will be learning

❏      A quality high five

❏      Teacher friends to bounce ideas off of

❏      An outline of skills students will be perfecting

❏      A student-constructed rubric to guide your evaluation

❏      A penciled-in calendar

❏      A giant pink eraser

❏      Time set aside to monitor project progress

❏      A flexible project timeline

❏      3 different ways students can share or present their projects

❏      A chance for students to explain the process and their learning

❏      A chance to reflect and adjust your project for next year

❏      An upbeat playlist while students loudly collaborate

❏      A portfolio to document students’ projects throughout the year

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Design Thinking: Ideas for the Classroom

We have a special treat this week on the blog! Our friend Stephanie over at the USC Rossier School of Education shares her tips and ideas for how to incorporate the concept of design thinking into your classroom. There’s some great information ahead!
Students are untapped experts in the field of education. They spend hundreds of hours every year in classrooms where their insights are rarely requested. Spend 10 minutes in a classroom and you’ll immediately notice areas that need improvement: That weird corner where students can’t really hear; The Friday dead zone where a change in routine would be welcome. That’s where design thinking comes in. Recognize a problem, design a solution, try it out, get feedback, improve and share.

Design Thinking


Design thinking is a great way to revitalize students’ learning experience and it allows students to participate and learn at their own pace. Here are the five phases of design thinking that can easily be applied in the classroom.


Discover: What do you (and your students) want to change? What’s the challenge? This can come in the form of a class prompt to solve a problem or students themselves can identify an area of need on their own. Before you can find solutions, make sure you thoroughly understand the problem. This might mean researching online or conducting interviews and looking at the issue from multiple points of view. For example, kids have lots of stuff at school. If the problem is: How might we better store and manage our school materials? Then the first step would be to ask how students are already managing it and assess the current situation.

Design Thinking

Here is a worksheet to help students find and understand a problem.


Interpretation: Knowing a lot about the problem can seem daunting, like trying to solve poverty or reform the entire tax code. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with a big issue, step back. Once students have done research on the problem, they will have a lot of information and will need to narrow it down to one aspect for their current focus. This can be the hardest step for kids to move through and it will require your guidance.  Narrow in on one specific problem you want to address first.


For example, in regards to the school storage issue, you could limit your worry to just papers—not lunch boxes, not backpacks or water bottles.


Here’s a worksheet to turn information about a problem into a statement of action.


Ideation: What can we do to address the specific issue we have decided to focus on? This step is essentially brainstorming — emphasize the importance of generating ideas and nothing more. If students get stuck or aren’t comfortable throwing out crazy ideas, a worksheet with prompts about different ways of thinking might help. Post-its are extremely helpful in this stage as they are easy to move around and will force students to write succinct ideas.  You could assign students in groups and give each a different color.


In the school storage example, students can write down any and all ideas about how they can store and manage their papers better, such as: include bins attached to the bottom of desks, folders on walls, or full digitization of the classroom.


Design Thinking


Once you have generated many ideas, start narrowing them down to find one solution to try out. Sometimes this means combining a few ideas into one concept. If you are working in groups, you could have each group of students pick their own idea to try out, or simply have each student pick her/his own idea to work on. It’s nice to keep up the ideas that weren’t chosen as a reminder that one must be selective when problem solving, and if the first concept doesn’t work, you can go back to the drawing board and try a different idea.


Experimentation: Here’s where you get to be messy. Take the selected idea and put it into the three-dimensional universe. Make a model or prototype of your planned solution. Not every problem needs a physical solution, but it helps to make a design or model, so that the process is easier for students to see and understand. A wide variety of supplies can help guide creativity and encourage students to try something new.


In this phase of solving for the paper storage issue, students could draw out their idea and how it would work, create the idea in 3D form, or act out the idea by role-playing how it would work. The method is not as important as the ability to communicate the idea and how it could work so that others outside the group will be able to understand it.


Evolution: One try and you’re done, right? Isn’t that how real-life inventions work? Of course not. The evolution phase is when you show your product (what you created in your experimentation phase) and receive feedback from others to improve your original idea. In order to focus on constructive criticism in the classroom, you can use this handout to help students provide useful feedback. After getting feedback, students should go back to the ideation step and revise. Repeat until the best solution has been found for the problem!


Excited to try something new like design thinking in your classroom? Is your mind spinning with new ideas? The Big Ideas Fest coming up in December will be four days full of excitement. Hear from other educators about what has worked for them; mingle with innovators from all fields who want to get students thinking and dreaming big. You’ll come away energized with classroom-ready tools.


Related Resources + Activity ideas:


PBS Design Squad Nation provides training videos, lesson plans, and other materials at a basic level for anyone dipping their toes into the world of problem-based learning.


Tech Museum for Innovation. This plan is very structured and step-by-step, which is ideal for introducing these new concepts.


Classroom guide about design.


Middle school Design Thinking project in action.




Stephanie Echeveste used to teach English on the northern coast of Spain and now works in community relations for the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education’s online Master of Arts in Teaching. She loves #Edchat, cappuccinos and design thinking.


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Student Engagement: No Tricks, Only Treats!


“Because I said so.” Many parents have uttered these words in exasperation at their children, trying–usually in vain–to motivate obstinate offspring to perform some kind of mindless chore. This phrase rarely works for parents, yet for decades educators also tried to use this phrase to justify hours of homework, double-sided worksheets, and complicated projects. This approach may produce results, but it doesn’t foster a personal connection between a student’s experience in school and their own future aspirations. To connect the dots between school and life, educators have now begun take into consideration student engagement factors: the intellectual, emotional, behavioral , and physical factors that inspire students to pursue, persevere, and progress in their educational lives.


In the sea of professional development and educator blogs, many tools and strategies have been touted to increase student engagement. “If you’re looking for increased attendance, buy video games!” If increasing student engagement were that easy, then it would also be easy to pinpoint what student engagement looks like. Unfortunately, that’s up to the stakeholders of each education site. For some, it may be an increase in test scores, and for others it may mean persevering through an internship program.


We’ve put together a few pointers on how to develop student engagement, whether you’re looking to impact the smiles on your students’ faces or trim down the amount of students showing up for lunch detention.


  1. “Use It or Lose It”



For years, scientists have been scaring adults into crossword puzzles and brain teasers with the hopes of getting the most out of their brain capacity (and preventing it from going to mush). As an educator, you’re dishing out some high quality learning, but it only gets its value when you show students how to practically use that knowledge. Addition would fly out of the heads of every second grader if they didn’t see for themselves how it can be useful in real life—adding up all those quarters from selling lemonade. Go through your curriculum and “life lessons” you’re teaching this year and pick out the ones that you don’t want your students to lose. Use your creativity to create student-centered ways of demonstrating these lessons. I’ll never forget how my math teacher communicated the value of fractions by tapping into my love of baking. Instead of completing a bunch of word problems about Billy and how much flour he needed for a recipe, she actually had our class double a recipe, cook it according to our calculations, and serve it to the class. It was painfully obvious who knew the difference between ¼ and ½ of a cup.



  1. It Takes a Village



School is more than just bricks and books—it’s also the smile from the security guard as you walk in the door, the high five from a friend in math class, and the “congrats” from the chemistry teacher. For a student, school is a social experiment, a place to practice the behaviors necessary to continue building relationships outside of school. As an educator, you play a vital role in this experiment. You are each student’s window into interacting with adults, as well as an integral part of their support network. Students who are truly engaged in school don’t just raise their hands in class, pass in homework, and head home. Engaged students attend basketball games, buy brownies at the school bake sale, and know how to utilize the human resources at their school. You don’t have to sponsor a school club to foster this type of engagement—although it doesn’t hurt. Checking in with students to see how they’re handling the stress of finals or making yourself present at extra-curricular events can make your students feel you—and the school—care about their well-being, not just their G.P.A.



  1. Set Up the Brass Ring, and let them reach for it

I’ll be revealing my literature-loving tendencies here, but bear with me. At the end of The Catcher in the Rye, the main character and narrator, Holden Caulfield—an apathetic and antagonistic teenager—finds himself at a carousel. Holden is the prime example of a disengaged student: he fails at school, is unconcerned about his future, and has no support network to draw on. At the carousel, however, he finds himself in awe of Phoebe, his little sister, reaching for a brass ring. He remarks, “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it is bad to say anything to them.” As an educator, it’s your job to set up a brass ring for each student, and let them reach. It’s not your job to get the ring for them, just like it’s not your job to get them into their favorite college or acing the calculus test. But you do need to take time to figure out what they would be willing to reach for, and create the opportunity to reach. On the carousel of school, every student is on a different horse going at a different pace, but to keep them along for the ride, give them something that they can sit up, reach out their hand, and take a swipe at.

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TED Talks: Three Talks to Get You and Your Students Asking #WhyNotUs


Sort of like road trip-happy parents of classic family-vacation lore, we spend the summer taking young people across the country on long road trips. Fortunately for us, our Roadtrippers are eager to jump on board the Green RV and don’t have to be plied with promises of in-car movie screenings or overpriced souvenirs. Our First-Gen Roadtrip, made up of four students who are the first in their families to attend college, recently wrapped up its cross-country journey.


According to standard Roadtrip Nation practice, the Roadtrippers came up with a team name–but didn’t reveal it until the end of their journey, as a culminating statement about their experience on the road: #WhyNotUs. #WhyNotUs reflects the sentiment voiced over and over again by the Leaders the team interviewed–all first-generation college graduates themselves. But it also serves as a reminder to the Roadtrippers–whenever they begin to feel self-doubt, or fear about college, or stumble a bit under the immense pressure of being first–of what they learned on the road.


But #WhyNotUs isn’t exclusively for first-generation students; it can be a reminder for all students and educators embarking on a new year. Who says you can’t change your students’ future paths? Who says you can’t try out a flipped classroom this year? Who says your students can’t be challenged to create a solution to a community problem?


If you or your students are looking for a dose of inspiration to start the new year, check out these TED Talks we’ve pulled to get you thinking #WhyNotUs.


(Friendly reminder: be sure to preview all video content, including TED Talks, to make sure they are appropriate for young eyes!)


Thomas Suarez: 12-Year-Old App Developer | TEDxManhattanBeach



You’ve probably come across stories of child geniuses building robots in their basement, but chalked up their uncommon innovation to overindulgent parents or too much Baby Einstein. It’s easy to pass these kids off as an anomaly–mythical creatures similar to the likes of the tooth fairy. But, in reality, you as an educator can be the spark for such a student–or any student–by providing a recipe of encouragement, inspiration, and education. Although Thomas does throw some shade at educators for their knowledge (or lack thereof) of all things tech, he credits his ability to create apps to the educators who weren’t afraid of his knowledge, but instead helped him harness it. Like Uncle Ben to Spider-Man, it’s up to you to help all students harness their creative potential.

Diana Nyad: Never, ever give up |  TEDWomen 2013


We’re all fascinated by stories of those who embark on treacherous or transformative journeys, whether it’s climbing Mount Everest or trying to navigate life and academics as a first-generation college student. At the age of 64, Diana was the first person to successfully swim from the shores of Cuba to the lights of Florida. Diana didn’t embark on the quest alone–and no, the sharks and jellyfish don’t count as swimming mates–Diana was supported by a team of experts who kept her safe, guided her path, and helped her reach success on her own terms. As an educator, you have many “Dianas” to track and guide as they chart their course, but working together as a team with a common goal can alleviate some of your stress. Work with your students to establish a mutual “horizon,” but also understand that some will get there using different strokes, and some will need different mantras to keep them swimming.


Richard Turere: My invention that made peace with lions | TED2014



The need to solve a problem has led to many innovative, elegant solutions. Want to wear a blanket but keep your hands free? Grab a Snuggie. But Richard’s problems were a lot bigger: not only was he responsible for caring for his family’s livestock, he had to guard them from lions. Yes, lions–a far cry from the problem of how to wear a blanket. Instead of sticking to tried-and-true solutions, Richard sought to bring peace to his community, furry friends included. When inspiring innovation among your students, challenge them to take the same approach as Richard: create community through improved solutions, don’t just solve for x. By focusing on the “us,” and not just the “it,” students can see the ripple effect of their ideas and strengthen their bonds with the people (and animals) they live with.


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