Great Expectations

By Ed DeRoche

Many of you, and maybe a few of your students, have read Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations.

You will recall that the main character, “Pip,” as he was called in his early years, had four expectations:  education, wealth, social advancement, and the dream of becoming a gentleman.

Dickens’s story reminded me of a survey of executives from 12 of the nation’s “leading companies” asked:  

Tell us what you’ll want and expect from today’s K-12 students when you eventually hire them? 

Or to put it another way:  What are their EXPECTATIONS (great or not)?   

I have been selective in our excerpts of their comments. 

SYSCO – Michael Fischer, VP:  Schools should provide quality, universal pre-K education that is consistent for all children…. Ensure that every child can read before the third grade.

MCKINSEY – Dirk Schmautzer, Education Practice Partner:  To prepare students for the effective teamwork they will need in the workforce, schools can focus on teaching coaching, collaboration, motivating different personalities, fostering inclusiveness, and resolving conflict.

MICRSOFT – Mark Sparvell, Director:  It would appear that the skills that will have the greatest impact in the modern workplace are the same skill set and mindsets required by students right now to navigate remote learning (critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility and self-regulation).

DELTA – Ed Bastain, CEO:  [We are] proud to be partnering with Atlanta Public Schools and 3DE which are helping to re-engineer public education to empower students to unlock greater economic opportunity in today’s global society….


BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP – Nithya Vaduganathan and Renne Laverdiere, Directors: …Students need help developing a growth mindset, becoming more self-directed and disciplined, learning to prioritize, and overall more digital fluency.

BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD ASSOCIATION – Kelly Williams, VP:  How well we know ourselves, combined with how well we take care of ourselves—at work and in life—influences everything.  Which is why I ‘d love to see equanimity as a core competence in schools. 

CAREFIRST BLUECROSS BLUESHIELD – Angela Celestin, Executive VP:  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the skills of empathy, openness to continued growth, and self-motivation, as well as the ability to express oneself, have become increasingly more important and need to be continually developed.

CHRYSLER – Lottie Holland, Director:  Students today need to develop and refine skills to communicate clearly, concisely, (through a host of mobile and digital platforms), and with intention in their work, client, and personal relationships, through courses focusing on presentation skills, effective writing, and more.

GENERAL MOTORS – Telva McGruder, Chief DEI:  Our schools excel at teaching students how to learn with special attention paid to cycles of behavior….If we could expand this to accommodate more styles of learning and introduce to students the concept of learning agility as a core skill….We can and should uplift resilience and adaptability as skills for achievement in any work environment….

CIGNA – Dr. Stuart Lustig,  Director:  It’s critical that today’s students have the support they need….Teachers, coaches, and parents play a critical role by encouraging  resilience-building factors: practicing good physical and mental health, staying active and practicing stress-reduction activities, building connections….

APPLE – Susan Prescott, VP:  We’ve been inspired by their [teachers] dedication to help students engage and build community, to have conversations about race and social justice, to build new skills in coding, and embrace their innate creativity and curiosity.

HYATT – Malaika Myers, Chief HRO:  Alongside fostering development of soft skills (including a strong level of empathy), schools should seek opportunities to connect students with real-life work experiences.

I made a summary list of skills and dispositions from their EXPECTATIONS statements: 

  • develop new technological skills 
  • develop effective social and emotional skills 
  • be able to work in environments that will call for collaboration and teamwork
  • be cooperative and able to resolve workplace conflicts
  • learn how to learn and how to motivate others,
  • learn how to deal with different personalities and foster inclusiveness
  • be resilient enough to bounce back from adversity and hardship
  • practice (a strong level of) empathy
  • be critical, creative, flexible, and innovative thinkers
  • be self-aware and self-regulatory
  • know “coding” tools and technologies
  • attend to your personal well-being
  • be able to communicate effectively through a host of mobile devices and digital platforms
  • understand disparities that disproportionately impact underserved communities.

I also checked the results of the popular SCANS report of 1991 published by the U.S. Department of Labor.  The report illustrated the need for employee skills in three general areas:   

  1. basic skills (e.g., reading, writing, math, listening, speaking)
  2. thinking skills (e.g., thinking creatively, making decisions, solving problems, reasoning)
  3. personal qualities (e.g., responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, honesty. 

Several questions come to mind.

  • How do the CEO’s “expectations” and the SCANS findings match those of educators in P-12 schools?
  • How realistic are the “expectations” given the nature of schooling in this pandemic environment?
  • Are teachers trained/prepared to implement some or all of the “expectations”?
  • What are or should be the “expectations” for professional development?
  • How would educators prioritize these “expectations”?
  • What are the “expectations” educators have for CEOs of companies that employ their graduates?

You have read about 21st century skills from a study of more than 250 researchers across 60 institutions worldwide.  They categorized “expected” skills needed into four broad categories:  

  1. Ways of thinking:  creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making and learning; 
  2. Ways of working:  communication and collaboration; 
  3. Tools for working  information and communications technology and information literacy; and,
  4. Skills for living in the world:  citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility.

I want to underscore a very important reminder about the skills and dispositions noted above.  They cannot be learned in insolation.  That is, if we are going to teach students “critical thinking skills,” for example, we have to offer them something worth thinking about.  That means, that we need teachers to offer students academic content (reading, math science, the arts, etc.) that is rich, rewarding, and relevant.

Think about what are your (great) EXPECTATIONS for your students when they arrive in your classroom? 

My great expectation is that all P-12 students will learn and practice the 3 E’s:

Always be ethical, enthusiastic, and empathetic.

Reference: U.S Companies: Key Job Skills Students Need Post-Pandemic, by Mark Lieberman, Education Week, March 2021, (

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, Department of Learning & Teaching, School of Leadership & Education Sciences, University of San Diego, 

BLOG, April 2021.

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