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Creating Game-Changing FlexLessons with Brian McClay of Northwest Educational Service District

By Pat Brothwell - May 20, 2020

Part of Brian McClay’s job as a program specialist at Northwest Educational Service District is to pitch career exploration to the partner school districts he services throughout Washington state. Brian works with about 30 school districts, visiting 20-25 schools a month. He meets with students with IEP’s, typically in a resource teacher’s classroom. He has used VirtualJobshadow.com to have students take interest assessments, explore career clusters, and help students start thinking about career goals. 

Something he always emphasizes when he pitches workplace readiness training to these partner schools is the importance of soft skills. His research showed him that 73% of employers find it’s somewhat difficult to find employees with an up-to-par soft skill set and 65% find these to be more important than hard skills or credentials when it comes to hiring. You could teach an adult to weld, for example Brian said, but at some point it gets hard to teach employees how to get along, collaborate, or handle stress well—these aren’t subjects taught in school, but skills crucial for students to master in their formative years. Using results from the students’ career exploration data is also a way to keep students engaged, which is something many districts struggle with. As a former educator, Brian knows how overworked and stretched many districts are. Part of his job is offering support in areas districts don’t have the capacity to support. He always thinks how he can add value to what they’re already doing and knows career exploration and workplace readiness training is that added value. The uptick in soft skills and engagement make this an easy sell.  

Brian had a hunch that when Washington public schools went remote at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that it wouldn’t be temporary. He thought of what he always thinks of: how can he add support in areas that teachers might be struggling with right now? How could he solve a problem they already had or will have? Brian works with a population that needs to create post-secondary transition plans as a graduation requirement. He started brainstorming on what he could do or create so they could still satisfy those requirements. He also aimed to jointly create something of value for the other students and teachers in the districts who also may be struggling with lesson content during this transition to online learning. 

All students in Washington state need to create a resume as a graduation requirement, whether they are mandated to create a transition plan or not. That’s where Brian thought he could be helpful. He knew the districts he partners with that use VirtualJobShadow.com had access to our resume builder. He also realized that without context, explanation, and taking into account that many students feel like they don't have enough to put in a resume, having them create a resume with no scaffolding could potentially be setting them up to fail. What he would be able to utilize were our FlexLessons, building them around the tasks he wanted students to complete. Since resumes are time-consuming, and there are so many resources out there to assist job seekers (both good…and bad), Brian broke building a resume into two separate lessons. This allows students the chance to create something that's actually meaningful and usable. He embedded helpful videos, links, and reading into both these lessons. 

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Brian had the foresight to realize that in order to create a viable resume, students would need to have a professional email address too (bballsuperstar425@hotmail.com isn’t going to cut it here). Even today’s technically savvy students might need someone to walk them through this, so Brian created a FlexLesson on creating a professional email address. He created a FlexLesson for students on creating an elevator pitch or themselves, which is invaluable today when up to 70 percent of job seekers are finding their roles via networking. Knowing that you need to get students excited about what they’re learning, as well as create relevance, Brian created a FlexLesson addressing the question “What are Essential Workers?” to make this prescient. He also created a soft skills lesson to show relevance and value to the students—it’s important they understand why what they’re working on is important. 

Since he was unable to walk students through these FlexLessons the way he would in the classroom, Brian created short tutorial videos for each lesson that he posted to his website (Melissa Crabtree of Blount County Schools does the same thing!). This added visual support is a great way to ensure students fully understand an instructor’s planned lesson outcomes. 

We’d love to know what sort of FlexLessons you’ve created. Email us to share your ideas—we’re all in this together. 

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