My Student Today is Your Employee Tomorrow!

The CEO of Encana once said that when they choose employees they are looking for people who are “efficient, effective, self-motivated, and collaborative.”

Notice that he said nothing about how they scored on diploma exams? 

I read a blog post by a current university student who said that she felt her highschool education had done “nothing to help prepare me for real life”.  She went on to talk about basic things like budgeting and job searching but these are all skills.  These are skills she could have picked up on her own had someone taught her the more encompassing skills of critical thinking and problem solving.

My students today don’t look for answers.  They ask me.  And too often I just answer them because it’s the easy thing to do. 

Am I building tomorrow’s future employees?  Am I thinking far enough ahead when I teach?  Am I training them in the real skills employers are going to be looking for?

Efficient and Effective

I asked my Grade 8’s what they thought this meant in the context of learning in the classroom.  They said it meant that when I aksed them do something (anything) they get down to it, they get it done, and they do it right.  I ammended “right” to….the best of their ability.  The core of the message resonated with them though….get it done and get it done as best you can.  I could see the wheels turning….

Self Motivated

My class agreed this meant that you had to do it without someone pushing you the whole way along. 

“Employers don’t want to ask you five times to do something.  You get fired that way!” James said (not his real name).

“What do you mean?” I asked James.

“You need a job where you go because you want to go.  Just like in school.  The teacher needs to give you ideas about things that will make you do it because you WANT to do it.  Not just because you HAVE to do it….”


“And you have to be able to figure things out on your own,” he finished.  “There won’t always be someone to help you.”



This was the one they struggled with the most.  They summed it up like this:

“You can pick your group of friends, but your friends aren’t always in your group.”

Clever, I thought…..

Here’s the kicker.  I asked them which one out of the four was the most important (aha!  Critical Thinking 101!  I’m sure Sharon Lampard from The Critical Thinking Consortium would be proud…..)

They battled over this for awhile.  Then one student said, “Do any of the others matter if you aren’t self motivated?  If you don’t want to do it then you probably won’t.  Or at least you won’t do a good job.”

I think it goes back to the old saying that anything worth doing, is worth doing well.  But you have to find it worthwhile in doing to begin with.

I don’t think we do that when we assign them three essays a week on the topic of Democracy in Canada…..

Or by assigning 40 math questions from page 163 due tomorrow….

Or by making them read about simple machines in a Science text book and answer questions, but never actually give them ones to play around with……

Or by making them write notes for 60 minutes every day so they can get ready for the meaningless test they are going to write on Friday.

None of these things teaches them to be efficient, effective, self-motivated, or collaborative.

And the biggest thing I got out of my conversation with my students: the kids know this!  And they’re going to demand better.  Or at least, they should be.

We’re about to run a student focus group with kids from Grades 4 – 12 on what it means to be an engaged learner in the 21st Century.  If this is the conversation I had with my one Grade 8 class of 27 kids, I can’t wait to see what the rest of them have to say!


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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