I’m finishing up preparing for a university guidance “bootcamp intensive" I’ll be running with the Canadian International School in Singapore starting this week. I love this work—and this school—and as I finish drafting my last presentation for their community, I am moved to suggest that every school should implement such programming for their communities throughout the year.
School communities seek information, knowledge and expertise. That’s their foundation: education. Teaching, imparting knowledge, learning from one another and promoting critical thinking. One of the areas where I have seen schools trying yet not managing to keep up with their families’ expectations—and struggling to do so for obvious reasons…how many students can one counselor really take on when they have multiple responsibilities and huge caseloads?—is in the area of career counseling and university guidance. From a parent perspective it is expected that this come with their child’s education. From the school’s, it’s virtually impossible to give the attention and care that the parent or student expects or would like to see. I have yet to meet a family where they feel this need has been met. Of course there are potential issues preventing this—cost being one of them…I’ll get to that in a moment—but oftentimes it’s because of an island mentality—“We don’t need the extra help.” I think schools--any institution--needs to be very careful of this type of mentality, above all in education.
When a school opens their mind—and doors—for an external expert to come in and guide them, they give themselves the opportunity and control to promote their commitment to their community, to brew excitement and focus on the area getting their students actively involved (and thus preparing them for success) and, most importantly, to provide catered knowledge and expertise to their entire community: students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike. And, it makes for fun learning because it shakes up the usual routine and gets the community talking, asking questions, and engaging in ways they would not have without an explicit “bootcamp” or intensive. There’s just no denying this. We all like a little shake-up from the normal routine now and then.
Of course adjustments need to be made in scheduling for the students and it also means some late night seminars for parents and students—but they never complain about this. In fact, the community welcomes it. (Again, shake-up in moderation is welcome.)
The “intensive” theme and programming creates a warm feeling around school. The community feels taken care of, listened to, focused on. Sometimes that reinforcement can only come through newness and something “different”.
How it works:
There are so many ways to make this work—for the community and for the expert engaged. The key is having an open-minded school--a school that has no fear bringing in experts outside of their own and to work collaboratively with them. And, here’s the other key—the expert can’t be a know-it-all and has to work collaboratively with the administration, counselors, teachers who are the foundation of that school. The school dictates here.
An intensive like this—like university admissions or career counseling itself—cannot be cut-and-paste. There has to be time for brainstorming between the school and expert in order that the programme itself satisfies the school’s needs. The school should pay close attention to their entire community. In this case we’re talking about secondary school so all grades would have to have the opportunity to “participate”—and that means the students, parents, teachers and administration who all touch those grades. I’ll be giving an evening seminar each night next week per grade level for parents and students. During the days I’ll be meeting one-on-one with each 11th grader—she has homework as per my last intensive with the group in October—as this penultimate year is the most critical right now as we go through the university admissions process. I’m also preparing a seminar for the entire secondary school during the day and one for faculty—there’s a theme for each seminar that follows the university admissions process but there’s also a lot of time for Q&A. (Questions here never end. This is why my book on the process ended up being over 300 pages long. There's *a lot* of information to impart. When there’s a complicated and anxiety-laden process like university admissions, there are endless questions.)
In the case with CIS, we’ll also have a weekend Writing Workshop followed by a mock interview roundtable. And, most importantly, this will be fun. There are too many parents and students dreading this process when really it’s an opportunity to discover strengths and learn how to put your best foot forward for the student. So, having fun is critical.
Not all schools have the funds to bring in external experts to deliver a catered intensive like the one I am doing with CIS this week. At the same time, there are ways to make this work even with limited funds. At the end of the day, we’re all educators and have a commitment to imparting knowledge. Schools and experts alike should be creative in finding ways to make this sort of programming work, whether with reduced fees, that the consultant/expert can advertise his services to the community and/or through a modified programme to suit both parties. When I do these intensives with schools, I don’t charge for my preparation time. That can amount to at least a couple of weeks of time, depending on the project length and different constituencies I am working with throughout the intensive. Instead I charge a per diem. This usually means my days are full, from morning to evening, but that’s part of the intensive, and the excitement that surrounds it, not just for the community but also for me.
Schools bring in experts to give TED talks, discuss current events, and opine about their areas of expertise. They should also bring in experts in the area of university guidance and career counseling. We’d help our students and parents start to understand the process more clearly and take control of the steps more effectively for a more positive experience on all sides.