“What do you want to do when you grow up?” It’s a question we ask students as young as kindergarten. I personally had the pleasure of watching my own kids answer this question at their kindergarten graduation (“dog breeder” and “ninja” – so proud!).

Of course, this shouldn’t just be a question we ask in kindergarten and again in senior year. All students—regardless of their backgrounds and future aspirations—benefit when they have the opportunity to explore and reflect on their future plans throughout their entire K-12 journey.

So how do we make this happen?

You might think the answer is software. While that’s part of what’s needed, I don’t believe it’s the most impactful. What I believe in, is the power of conversations.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about how engaging students in meaningful conversations about future pathways—whether college, career, trade school, or military—can profoundly impact their lives.

These are ongoing conversations students ideally have with a school counselor, but with the national average of counselor-to-student ratio at 415:1, it may be more aspirational than reality.

And realities can be different based on the state. Texas, for example, has rules intended to focus students’ attention on their futures, such as requiring seventh graders to take a college and career readiness class. But there are still a handful of states without any college and career readiness standards–and most states that do have measurement criteria in place consider metrics like the number of Advanced Placement courses or dual-enrollment classes. They often do not track student’s outcomes beyond high school or look at how historically disadvantaged groups fare before or after graduation.

Because of these and other disparities, it is important to expand the scope of who engages students in future readiness conversations beyond school counselors.

Who should engage?

Parents, guardians, and other caregivers are going to have the most vested interest in their children, and so they are central to promoting meaningful conversations.

Matt McQuillen is the CEO and Founder of Xello, the award-winning college, career, and future readiness program. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a Forest Ranger because he read a lot of books and magazines about animals.

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