Sunday, February 17, 2013

Above and Beyond! Job Search Tips for Educators

Securing that perfect teaching or school counseling job is difficult. Stressful. Defeating in nature. Sometimes it takes years to land that perfect gig (personally, it was two and a half years of searching for me!). I am hoping that this post will provide you with some tips on how to successfully navigate the job search process. 

I was inspired to write this post by Danielle Schultz and Andrea Burston's School Counselor On Air (#SCOA) episode What I Wish I Knew Wednesday, which was a fantastic discussion on navigating graduate school, internships, and job searching for new school counselors. 

I found the tips from the chat invaluable, and I wanted to chime in my two cents from a slightly different perspective on the job search process. Yes, networking is hugely important, but there are some scenarios and many jobs that you will apply to where you know absolutely nobody in the district (except maybe your neighbor's brother's aunt... who does not know you enough to put in a good word with the principal). Honestly, even if you DO have a solid network connection... the following tips will still be helpful. 

Personal Experience: Last summer, I secured a position as an elementary school counselor in an extremely competitive area (there were approximately 200 applicants) having not stepped foot in any school in that district before. I did not know any teachers well enough, so nobody put in a good word for me. I had to rely on my experience, and somehow translate that in my resume and cover letter in order to get an interview, and then sell myself in the interview to get the job. 

Past Experience: These job search tips are coming from my experience working both as a school counselor and career planning counselor at a local college, where I helped students edit resumes, cover letters, and engaged them in mock interviews. 

So... here we go! 

How To Increase Your Chances of Getting a Job in Education (Without Networking):

1. Graduate School & Internship 
        Find some way to leave your mark. I know this sounds trite, but show up to class and do your work. There were students in my cohort who half-assed everything, did not participate in discussion, and texted their way through graduate school classes. Do they have jobs? Not the majority of them. Be engaged. Impress your professors, seek them out before or after class. Show them how excited you are about the material. This will go a long way if you use them for a reference! 
        Do the same in your internship. Even if you do not see an opportunity for a job at your internship site, go above and beyond. Your internship supervisor will take notice and it will help you if they are one of your references. Consider every minute you are in that building a job interview. Be sweet and genuine to everyone, especially the secretaries.  Be proactive! Ask your supervisor to help you find some way to leave your mark (start a new after school program or group, research new curricula to present to the district, take curricula and expand it). Play to your strengths! Are you artistic? Musical? 
        Personally, I used the Superflex Social Thinking Curriculum in my Internship, and my way of going above and beyond was creating and drawing new characters for the book to adapt it and make it more relatable for my current group. I also brought in my guitar and wrote a "Superflex Song" to bring some music into the curriculum. I spotlighted this in my applications, and I think it paid off in a big way.

2. Maximize Your Search 
        On my personal computer, I bookmarked the Employment Opportunity pages in every local district (there were about 15 on my list) and I checked them every day. Every single day for over 2 years. Persistence is key. Also check for local websites where educators post jobs; for example, in Pennsylvania where I live, there is PAREAP. There is also a national site called USREAP. Keep your resume updated so if there is a job posted, you can be one of the first to apply. 

3. Resume
        Your resume needs to be perfect. Grammatical errors will get yours thrown in the trash. If it's too wordy, it will not likely be looked at. Make sure your resume is well-organized, clear, and concise. As Danielle and Andrea suggested, your university's Career Center should be able to help you with this. For educators in particular, you need to make sure you tailor your resume to each job you post. For example, if you are applying for a 4th grade teaching position, use descriptors focusing on what you did for 4th grade! Highlight materials and programs you used. Be specific. 

Don't write: "Chaperoned school field trip." 
Instead write: "Chaperoned fourth grade field trip to National Constitution Center and engaged students in related discussion throughout the day."

Don't write: "Facilitated Social Skills groups for First Graders."
Instead write: "Facilitated Social Skills groups for First Graders utilizing the Superflex: Social Thinking Curriculum. Planned sessions, led discussions, created new characters and wrote "The Superflex Song" to sing with students." 

See where going Above and Beyond is helpful here?

4. Cover Letter
        Cover letters are difficult, but incredibly important. Often, schools will read your cover letter before they look at your resume. It is acceptable to type out a template for you to use, but do not send the same cover letter out to every job. Personalize it! Your cover letter should tell the school WHY you are interested in THEM specifically. Do they have a phrase that struck a chord with you in their mission statement? Do they use specific curricula that you are comfortable with and excited about? Do your research before you write your cover letter and you will know! Did the website tell you that they recently celebrated a School Acceptance Day and you are passionate about social justice issues? What a perfect way to personalize this cover letter! 
        Don't forget to sell yourself-- include whatever made you go Above and Beyond in your resume. Add a sentence or two about what makes you a unique teacher/school counselor-- talk about that lesson you went the extra mile on and how it impacted students. Cover letters should be more conversational than resumes, let your personality shine through in your narrative

5. Interview
        Congratulations! The fact that you got the interview means that you did a fantastic job with all of the above categories. Be proud of yourself! Your interview should tell you that you have the qualifications and skills of what they are looking for. Now it's time to see if your personality is a good fit for their school. Here are some interview tips:
        Your interview starts as soon as you step out of your vehicle. Smile at people in the parking lot. Say hello and introduce yourself to the secretary. Be pleasant. If there is something student-related in the office while you wait (a school's magazine, newspaper, or artwork, for example), you should be showing interest in that instead of playing around on your phone. When the interviewer comes out to greet you, that will make a very positive first impression.
        Smile, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake. A weak handshake has been the demise of many job applicants. Do not take this lightly. You should be wearing a suit and always dress more conservatively than fun. Carry a portfolio.
        Speaking of your portfolio, they will likely never ask to look at it. Use it as a tool when you are giving examples. When they ask about what lessons were your favorite, open your portfolio and show them photos or examples of worksheets you created. The visuals will make you more memorable. 
        Be prepared!!! You should be practicing in front of a mirror and typing out responses to potential questions. Personally, I just used google to find sites like this. I typed out all of my answers and practiced what I would say ahead of time. It made me feel much more confident going into the interview. As you did with your cover letter, research the school! Know the programs that they use and be ready to speak to your experience in those areas. 
        At the end of the interview, shake the interviewer(s)'s hand again and thank them for inviting you. Send a personalized card or email (depending on the time frame of when they say they will narrow down candidates) thanking them when you get home. There are great examples of what these follow-up thank you cards/emails should say. 

Be confident in your experience, education, and DESIRE to make a difference in children's lives. I will always remember that I was not ready for the last question of my interview, when the Principal asked me: "Is there anything else we should know about who you are?" A million things seemed to fly through my brain in that instant, and I just went with what felt most natural. I said, "I feel so lucky to be a school counselor. I love what I do and I think it shows."

Questions? Comments? Please leave them and I will get back to you ASAP. I hope to help you in any way that I can!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness Week!

February 11th-17th is National Random Acts of Kindness Week

This week fits perfectly into our monthly theme of Citizenship. Our awesome librarian has been teaching our students about Random Acts of Kindness. They have been posting their RAKs on our school's Wallwisher. We are over 100 RAKs and counting! Our students are so proud and we are so proud of them!

Each day this week, our principal is going to announce a new RAK to focus on for that day. Here is a rough draft of our schedule:

Monday: Smile and introduce yourself to 5 unfamiliar students or staff today!
Tuesday: Invite someone you don't usually play with to play with you at recess!
Wednesday: Pick up a piece of trash that may not be yours!
Thursday: Be Thankful! Thank a teacher, classmate, aide, or anyone else who helps you.
Friday: Practice Random Acts of Kindness over the weekend at home! Help with washing dishes, cleaning your room, or helping with another job around the house.

What are you doing to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week?? 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Changing Families

I recently finished a six-week small counseling group with 8 third and fourth grade students. Our group was called Changing Families and focused on tackling "tough stuff" surrounding emotionally charged familial changes (i.e. divorce, separation, guardianship change, etc.). This group was powerful for not only the students but for me; even as a school counselor, I was emotionally moved by the always engaging, sometimes funny, and sometimes brutally honest and raw conversation that took place. 

I created this binder for the students to "leave their legacies behind" in short narrative. They wrote their stories anonymously, knowing that I will add to the binder each year with other Changing Families group members. The binder will be used to share with future students to show them that they are not alone, and that kids have successfully navigated through these tough times. The students shared with me that they felt empowered by this opportunity to help other students. They also said that they enjoyed reflecting on how far they have come.