Are you preparing your kids for the unexpected?

You might be familiar with the line “We are preparing our kids for jobs that don’t yet exist…” Ok, but the reality is that when the kid is eventually applying for a job they will probably know what the job and the responsibilities are—unless you are applying at google…but that is another story. However, once they get that job will they be prepared for the unexpected in their day-to-day responsibilities? Be able to handle situations that pop-up without any prior preparation?

Today my kids sat down to do an interview for a podcast at 3pm. They had rehearsed their questions which were personalized based on research, they were able to take a guess as to what the follow-up questions would be, and their opening and closing remarks were already written out specifically for the person. At 3:10pm it was clear the interview was not going to happen. We made the decision to contact the first person on my skype list. Within 15 seconds we had a response from Dean Mantz that we could interview him and by 3:15pm we were skyping with Dean. No research, no personalized scripted questions, introduction or wrap-up. After a rough opening, a little dead air here and there they did awesome. I know this does not sound like a big deal, but for a 12/13 year old to interview someone with out prior preparation and practice is very difficult. After reflecting on the experience I thought that they learned more from this experience than just the answers to their questions. They learned that they can handle the unexpected. They learned that as long as they don’t panic they can control the situation. They learned that they are in charge of the outcome (yes, there was some deer in headlights looks when the skype call was ringing that took a few minutes to go away).

Later in the year I actually plan in unexpected events. One presentation they walk in thinking they have five minutes and then learn that they only have one. Another they walk in thinking they are going to present to a friend, and they have to present to a sixth grade class. There are a few others that will remain secret because I know there are some students who sneak looks at my blog. I think that I will try to work in more today after the podcast experience.

I still hear teachers and parents doing a lot of talking about the positive attributes of teachers who give kids lots of traditional work. Lots of homework, lots of class work, lots chapters to read, lots of tests and quizzes, if they get a 79 they get the “C” instead of the “B” and stay off of the honor roll. I hear how this is going to prepare their kids for the future. But will it really prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist? Will it prepare them for the unexpected?


  1. It’s interesting that, in my experience, “gifted” students –who are by definition supposed to be curious and spontaneous — often freeze in place, whine, or rebel when teachers throw them curves like yours. Can they truly be called gifted if they only know how to play the game by the rules and only without variations — and are they truly gifted when they become so uncomfortable, threatened, or frozen by the unexpected that they lose their poise, mental agility or resilience?

    Predictability breeds complacency at best and laziness and boredom at worst. I think you’re straight on the mark to shake things up with your classes! You’re giving them a lesson in confidence to teach them that “Plan B (or C or D)” is always an option.

  2. @SharonElin: Often kids have “institutional damage” where they are trained from babies to be right. So when they’re given curve balls, they need to be sure they always have the right answer or they’re “stupid.” This is a shame. We need to continue throwing those curves and let them know in advance it’s ok.

    That being said, Paul, a few of my perfectionist kids are REBELLING. You know we do this a lot at TPLC and the kids are getting bad attitudes. They feel this isn’t fair and it’s not real life (as if the kids know what real life is from their 13 yrs of experience in one small town). I catch endless grief. Kids complain to parents. Parents get snarky. I have to wear tough armor some days to continue this. And it’s not as if I throw them curveballs even every week.

    A couple of my kids crave traditional book work and because they get snarky, the attitude transfers to the other kids who *are* more flexible in their actions/thinking. 🙁

  3. My little girl likes to watch “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” on PBS and I’ve learned a lot about this kind of unexpected twist from the show. He has kid contestants get challenges, like go shadow the local TV weatherman all day and do a pretend forecast, then often says at the last minute, “Oh, by the way you have to do the REAL forecast LIVE,” and they’ve usually learned enough to do fine. It’s cool. Great ideas, Paul, thanks.

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