Over the last few years I have become increasingly involved in programming directed towards technology and skilled trades. As someone who used to have a very "academics/testing is everything" attitude, I can say the experiences and conversations I've had connecting with community businesses and organizations have been paramount in the growth.
Connecting with people outside of education really opened my eyes. Too often I would base my teaching on what I felt would make my students successful in the future. The problem was that, what I (or my colleagues) thought was narrowly focused in a test and grade based education. While there are tests involved in many careers, many of the employers I talked to didn't care about them. In most cases they are concerned with skills that can't be quantified by a test or grade.
If we want to grow as educators, we need to get away from what we think education should be and listen to what is often termed the "real world."
"Where are my students going to be working?"
Start by determining the direction your students are going. What kind of fields do students in your community head into? This will help point you in the right direction.
During my school's gradation last year, I kept track of where students where going, over 60% where headed into the workplace or 2-3 year college programs in trades, nursing and social work. These would be the initial areas I would look into.
"What are you looking for in an employee?"
The next step is to start making connections with employers in these fields. Once connections are established, I think a job shadow/co-op format would be an awesome way get a first hand experience at what skills an employee would need. Spending some time observing or participating with employers would provide a great learning opportunity for us to develop an understanding of what it is really like in the "real world."
"How can we incorporate your values into our teaching?"
Afterward comes time for discussion. You could simple skip the second step and just bring employers in to discuss what they are looking for, but spending time as an outside observer/participant, will often provide a different view. Thus, after your time spent with the employer, bring them in and talk. Share ideas, maybe even develop some curriculum that is relevant to their needs. We often talk about being authentic in our practice; developing something with those "real world" employers would certainly bring some authenticity to our lessons.
I would love some suggestions for improvement.