So this week I participated in a summer institute through Education Plus as part of the Pathways to Prosperity Grant. This program started earlier this year when teachers had the opportunity to get externship experience at different companies. Afterward, the teachers chose a company where they would like to job shadow for one day during the summer institute. Then, after the job shadowing experience the teachers spent time creating new project based learning units based on the skills they observed on the job.

The three areas of focus for this grant were advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and IT. I participated in the IT strand (which I blogged about earlier) and for the summer institute I had the opportunity to job shadow at Maritz. For the job shadow experience, I followed an IT service help desk manager and then also worked with a automotive marketing project manager. The people at the company were gracious hosts who allowed us to interrupt their work and pick their brains throughout the day. It was interesting to see the day-to-day tasks of these jobs and I think I gained a lot of valuable experience that I can use in the classroom next year.

The most interesting part was sitting in on a WebX call between the automotive marketing team and a car dealership in Pennsylvania. The whole team sat around a table and presented a powerpoint they had created to show the car dealer how they planned to market them and improve their website with SEO (search engine optimization). In that hour, I learned a lot about marketing and how social media affects business relations. I also learned about how professional groups collaborate and interact with business clients. This particular car dealership was far behind in their marketing and it was fascinating to see that there is a whole company dedicated to offering these services, even across the country. The experience said a lot about how the 21st century job skills are vastly different than the previous generation.

After the job shadowing, the teachers spent time reflecting on the skills and tasks in the real world that we want to offer our students. Every employer focused on soft skills as being more necessary than technical knowledge on the job. Soft skills refers to those personality traits, emotional behaviors, and basic personal attributes that optimize a person’s occupational skills. All teachers know these are important skills to help students develop in the classroom and they are also skills that cross all content areas. For this reason, the reflection part helped teachers understand how to integrate these skills into their projects using real-world scenarios so that the classroom could start to more closely resemble the real world, where we want our students to be successful when they leave school.

I had a great experience on the job and felt that this week-long institute gave me the opportunity to reflect on projects I’ve done in the past and gave me more ideas for future projects. I think the component of a job shadow experience was really useful because as a teacher I have never gotten to see what other professionals do during their daily work. I think having the time now to work on revamping my curriculum through the lens of project based learning after my own real-world experience has re-energized me in a lot of ways. After three years in the classroom, there is still a lot of work to do so that my lessons and curriculum do reflect more on the real world and help students see the importance of what I’m teaching on an everyday basis. Moreover, it is a good reminder that it’s not just the content but rather it’s the soft skills students will learn throughout that will matter most.

This is the first year for Pathways to Prosperity and I know that it will become a more statewide initiative to help schools tie education to the job world. I think it has been a valuable experience overall and I’m glad I participated. I would hope that such externships would become a routine part of teacher professional development to keep us in the know of what jobs expect their future employees to be able to do.