Connecting to the World of Work

High School Students from Bostonia Global Charter High School at WOW Conference /Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

Over 600 people came to San Diego from March 23-25, 2023 to join the first World of Work (WOW) Summit convened by the Cajon Valley Union School District. The Summit brought together educators from all over the United States who wanted to see the WOW program in operation in Cajon Valley Union schools, hear from leaders in business and education community about setting a vision for the WOW movement, and discover more about how to accelerate literacy so learners could create gainful employment pathways based on their strengths, interests, and values. I traveled with the River Valley School District from Pennsylvania which shared their STEAM Academy and the successful CyberSecurity pathway at a session during the conference. Joining me were twelve other educators from the Pittsburgh area representing the World of Work, Pittsburgh contingent. 


For two years COVID limited my opportunity to visit schools. I was excited to be able to start the conference by visiting two schools and interacting with educators and learners. The Cajon Valley school district arranged for six busloads of people to visit four elementary buildings, a middle school, and a charter high school. I spent the morning at the Bostonia Global Charter High School and the Avocado Elementary School. California, unlike all other states, has separate school districts for grades K-8 and 9-12. The Cajon Valley School District created a charter high school so some of their students could continue along the career pathways begun in their K-8 program. 

As I joined the line for the buses to the schools, I spotted my Consortium for Schools Networked (CoSN) colleague, David Jarboe. David, the Director of Instructional Technology and STEAM for the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs, came to San Diego to visit family and discovered that there was a conference in his home area. David not only attended Cajon Valley as a student, but he also became a teacher and then an administrator at Cajon Valley. When we arrived at the Bostonia Global Charter High School, David pointed out the room where he taught when the building was a middle school. We had a chance to hear from a variety of Advisers (teachers) who allow each Scholar (student) to have their own personal pathway. In addition, we heard from a delegation of Scholars who shared why they enjoy learning at Bostonia Global Chart High School. It was refreshing to hear how much the Scholars value their Advisers. It was obvious that the WOW model at Bostonia was built on strong relationships with empowered educators and learners. 

Scenes from WOW Conference at Avocado Elementary School / Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

At the Avocado Elementary School I had a chance to interact with students in grades K-5. It was wonderful to see kids share their business cards and to talk with fourth grade entrepreneurs. I observed how well the kids interacted with the adults and I photographed wonderful moments with some of the key people attending the conference, such as Tom Vander Ark from Getting Smart. It was amazing to hear the students outline how they tapped into their RIASEC (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional) personality traits. According to David Jarboe, “I was thoroughly impressed with the students and their ability to articulate their life choices with clarity and purpose. Each student not only described what they wanted to do, but also explained why they had chosen that path. It was evident that they had developed a strong sense of agency and direction. This exemplifies the immense value of programs like World of World and the direct impact they have on students.

We returned to the Summit Hotel, the Hilton on the Bay, for lunch and a general session before Kevin Honeycutt  shared his amazing personal story. Kevin grew up in poverty, attending school in more than 20 states before becoming the first high school and college graduate in his family. He taught K-12 art, summer art camps and wrote and directed high school plays for 13 years. Kevin now travels around the United States working with educators and students to embrace their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. He helps learners find a pathway that allows them to sell their creative products online. 

Ashli Detweiler, the Coordinator of the Pittsburgh World of Work project that includes Avonworth, Duquesne, Elizabeth Forward, and the South Fayette School Districts, added, Keynote speaker, Kevin Honeycutt, asked, what would school look like if we saw school through the eyes of a child?  Furthermore, what would school look like if we really loved our kids?” 

Photo of Kevin Honeycutt / Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0


Horst Schultze provided a wonderful work world connection as the keynote for the General Session. Horst challenged the audience to think about ways to achieve Excellence in Education as he has done in the business world. Horst helped the Ritz Carlton Hotel Chain become the gold standard for hotel services. Today he works with corporations and international projects around the world to reach the highest levels of success. Horst’s words reaffirmed that I’ve always believed: if you reach for the moon you’ll have a team of student astronauts travel with you. 

Later that afternoon I joined the River Valley School District team to share their STEAM Academy Success Story creating a CyberSecurity Career Pathway.   Phillip Martell, the Superintendent of the River Valley School District, a rural district about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, set the stage for the CyberSecurity project and then Missy Milanak, outlined how she developed the course tapping into resources at the University of Pittsburgh as well as state and national standards. Jeff Geesey then added how the course taps into national certification from CompTIA and provides real world experiences including industry certification opportunities for high school students. 

Photos of River Valley team presenting at WOW Conference / Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

According to Philip Martell, the Superintendent of the River Valley School District, WoW gives our River Valley students exposure to career options at an early age. Students have the opportunity to learn about careers, receive hands-on experiences, meet professionals, and practice skills needed for that career.”

At the end of the afternoon the Conference moved to the Midway Aircraft Carrier docked in San Diego for a wonderful opportunity to socialize and enjoy the beauty of San Diego. I joined my colleague David Jarboe, his niece who now teaches in Cajon Valley, and Horst Schultze for a wonderful conversation. 


Tom Murray kicked off Day 3 with a wonderful set of interactive activities. Tom is most passionate about creating cultures of innovation where teachers are empowered to create the types of learning experiences today’s modern learners need to thrive. For his morning session Tom had the audience “working” in pairs to draw a variety of images. The challenge: the person doing the drawing had to follow the directions of their partner and to make the challenge even more exaggerated, the drawer could not see what they were drawing. This provided a great lesson in how we, educators, need to guide learners and the degree of trust that’s required. 

Scenes from Day 3 at WOW Conference / Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 2.0

Final Thoughts

Jeff Geesey summarized the impact of the conference quite well, In my opinion, this conference was worth every minute! Specifically, the keynote speakers were certainly beyond informative with their collective and intriguing insights into transformative K-12 education. The inspiration of their messages certainly resonated with me.”

Jeff added, “From my perspective as an educational consultant for River Valley, it is notable that it is on a parallel, as well as highly productive trajectory for not only today, but tomorrow and the future. The district is strategically focused on outcomes that are directly correlated to students interest, strengths and values. This is not the only attribute of the students education as it is fully integrated with workforce development on-ramps to career pathways.” 

According to Philip Martell, Visiting Cajon Valley Schools and seeing career development based on a deep understanding of each individual student was a highlight of the WoW Summit. The WoW framework makes a difference for learners because it cultivates career development and paths to gainful employment K-12.”

Phil then related the experience to how River Valley will take what it learned. “The goal is for our River Valley students to have a personalized career experience. We currently use the WoW/Beable framework along with the RIASEC model which allows students to explore different careers to see what their interests are so that we can build career opportunities within their learning path K-12.” 

For me the conference combined a great opportunity to see a real movement underway in an amazing school district with great national leaders providing context and deeper understanding into the impact of the World of Work. When we design a learning environment based on strengths, interests, and values, we have a much greater chance to see every learner succeed and find a pathway for their future.

Ashli Detweiler summarized how the WOW Summit impacted her, “From start to finish, the World of Work Summit 2023 was another example of why now, more than ever, we must ensure success for our next generation of learners.  After attending the Summit, one can only leave with a sense of excitement but also urgency.  The excitement stems from as school districts, we have to come together to work alongside one another because the students in our region, in our different schools, belong to all of us.  They represent our future.  With this statement, also comes urgency.  As districts, we cannot wait.  We have to start the lift now of providing students with equitable opportunities to ensure each child is set for gainful employment and happiness for the years to come. So, what would school look like if we saw school through the eyes of a child?  As districts, we need to play together.  As districts, we need to learn from one another.  As districts, we need to put an emphasis on happiness.  Most importantly, as districts, we have to love one another’s kids as if they were our own.“ 

Driving K-12 Innovation 2022: Accelerators

For the past five years I’ve participated in CoSN’s Driving K-12 Innovation project. The process includes a global advisory board of K-12 leaders, practitioners, and change makers. As one of the advisory members I engage in discourse about the major themes driving, hindering, and enabling teaching and learning innovation at schools. This fall we’ve looked at the first two dimensions for educational innovation – Hurdles and Accelerators.

Hurdles are obstacles that make participants slow down, evaluate, practice, and then make the leap to better support teaching and learning. 

Accelerators are mega-trends that drive change – sometimes suddenly and sometimes so gradually the implications aren’t readily apparent. 

I recently had a chance to join a virtual discussion about the Accelerators. It was fascinating to hear from educational leaders from around the world. We joined into Zoom Rooms where we had small group discussions. Here’s a graphic representation of the conversation:

Each group had a particular focus, but there were many common themes. Here are some of the keys to the group discussions.

  • Gaby Richard-Harrington and group members talked about leadership capacity and “that great leadership with capacity and vision is either the greatest accelerator or — the lack of it — the greatest hurdle. Period.”
  • Frankie Jackson and her colleagues (including me) discussed how putting students and agency at the center should be our focus. “All these Accelerators are intertwined with one another, and the focus being students at the center and then everything else being linked to that with a centralized vision.”
  • Stacy Hawthorne explained that “Acceleration takes many parts moving together in sequence to reach maximum speed,” likening Accelerators to the gears of an engine — everything needs to mesh to drive innovation in education.

The process will continue this fall with the final phase looking at Tech Enablers that address the Hurdles and tap into the Accelerators.

Teaching Online in a Time of the Coronavirus

With all of the world moving to an online style of teaching and instruction, I’m worried how well our educators are designing their learning lessons. Recently I read an excellent article in the March 2020 ASCD Education Update, Six Teacher Moves for Deeper Learning.

For this article I’ve invited some of my educational colleagues to share how they’re redesigning learning to take advantage of the online platform that is their only choice right now for instruction. I think the key for any good instructional design is to have a framework that provides guidelines. I’ll take ideas from my colleagues and wrap them around the core principles that Monica R. Martinez and Dennis McGrath outline in their article focusing on Deeper Learning.

Empower students as learners.

According to Martinez and McGrath, “Given the social and economic world they will be entering, today’s students need much less passive rule following and rote memorization, and much more guidance and support in becoming self-directed learners. A common practice that all the schools focus on is helping students take responsibility for their own learning and the learning of others. They do this through both their culture and pedagogy.”

What does that look like in an online world where students are home due to the Coronavirus? Melissa Unger, a K-2 STEAM teacher for the South Fayette School District, near Pittsburgh, and Elementary Tech Integrator, Anne Blake, have developed a series of Design Challenges using ordinary materials. The projects can be done with parents, care-givers, or even by the kids by themselves. How many kids turn to YouTube to learn something new? Melissa has tapped into a tool that most young learners already use on their phones, tablets, or computers.

Contextualize knowledge.

Martinez and McGrath follow the tradition of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. We need to start by asking what are the Driving or Essential Questions. We need to think about how the learning is part of an interconnected fabric. We need our students to not just focus on facts, but the key ideas, relationships, and skills.

For instance, David Dulberger, an educator in the Frederick, Maryland County School District, is reaching out to his colleagues to share ways to improve the way they conduct formative assessment to document the key ideas, relationships or skills that students are learning . David has seen the success of using time-lapse video with students. David started letting students make time-lapse videos during indoor recess with a dry erase board. This eventually led to a realization that problem solving on a dry erase board + time-lapse video could equate to a great formative assessment. Why would this work during the Coronavirus Pandemic? Today almost all students have access to a phone where they can shoot and edit their own videos. The teachers just need to give the students a good example, like David has done.

What exactly is a silent solve video?

According to David, “A silent solve video requires students to demonstrate their thinking without any recorded narration. Students are welcome to talk out loud while making a video but the sound will not be captured when using time lapse. Jen Knox has started to use silent solve videos with her students. See an example by clicking here: Skyy’s Video”

Connect to Real World Experiences

When our students are in social isolation, how do we make them see the real world connection? Jill Tabis, a high school business education teacher and former colleague of mine at the Fox Chapel Area School District, reached out to people around her to do just that. I heard the call and used the opportunity to develop a video around Building an Entrepreneurial Mindset using my experience as an educational technology broker for the past nine years. Jill’s class will have a chance to pose questions for me and then I’ll follow up with a Zoom session to talk about their questions.

Inspire students by customizing learning experiences.

With all students at home, what can a teacher do to make each learning experience personal to the individual student? This doesn’t mean using an adaptive piece of software. It means thinking about projects that tap into personal interests or passions.

For instance, Melissa Unger challenges her online students to come up with their own solutions to the paper airplane flying challenge. Each student can test out new ideas, go online and research other options. This is one of the advantages of working in an online world.

Use tech to purposefully enhance rather than automate learning.

I’ve been a strong supporter of using technology to make students into creative producers. In my work for the Consortium of Schools Networked (CoSN), I helped to develop a paper on this topic three years ago. In the article Sylvia Martinez shared her insights, “What’s different now is the affordable, accessible and fun technology that fosters rigorous learning, Martinez says. “Today’s computational technology adds something that’s never before been available, which is putting computational power into students’ hands—programming through making devices that collect data, process data and interact with the world,” she says. “Physical computing—the interaction between the digital and the physical world—raises the bar. You aren’t able to say, ‘Oh, just making anything is good enough.’”

Birdbrain Technologies is one of the physical computing tools that Sylvia Martinez recommends. (And as a disclaimer – it’s one of my clients.) With teachers no longer in schools to tap into the Hummingbird Kit or Finch, Birdbrain is offering fun projects, live classes, and online courses to inspire deep and joyful learning for students, parents, and educators.  (Most of the workshops require a Hummingbird Kit, but there are some sessions that just use scrap materials.)

Teacher as “Learning Strategist”

Martinez and McGrath finish their set of principles by stating, “For teaching to enable powerful learning experiences like the ones described above, the teacher has to fluidly shift among a range of roles, including learning designer, facilitator, networker, and advisor who coaches, counsels, mentors, and tutors depending on what is most needed to promote student learning.”

What does this look like for the educators I’ve included in this article? Each educator had to look their target audience and create appropriate learning materials for the age of the audience, whether the materials were for a student or teachers. Short hands-on YouTube Design Challenges are perfect for young children, but not necessarily for a high school class. A 12 minute mini-lecture is not the best tool for young children, but when it brings a real world connection to high school students, it works well. Silent Solve videos are great tools for educators to use to discover that their students are really learning at home.