When we spoke with Sarah Dalton about the “Working Wednesdays” initiative she recently started at TEC Connections Academy, we asked her if it was a hashtag too. “No,” she laughed, as the school doesn’t have Twitter, “but it sounds like one.” We agreed, probably because of the alliteration, but “Working Wednesdays” doesn’t only have alliteration in common with hashtags, it serves a similar purpose: getting readers (in this case, students) excited or engaged about a particular topic (in this case, career exploration).
TEC Connections Academy (TECCA) is a virtual public school that serves a diverse population of K-12 students throughout the state of Massachusetts. The school is run completely online and a combination of synchronous and asynchronous work; students complete a bulk of their work at their own pace, but do have weekly “live lessons,” where they interact with their teachers and classmates at specified times. Obviously, virtual education is a hot topic, so it was enlightening to speak with a district that has been doing all their education online for years now.
Sarah, the Director of School Counseling Services at TECCA, said one of the biggest benefits for students being educated online is how they must learn self-advocacy and accountability to thrive. Their flexible schedules mean that no one is telling them they need to get a task done at a specific time, and it’s up to the students to contact their instructors when they need help or are falling behind. She makes a really good point: self-advocacy and accountability are not traits traditionally taught to students at large, and it must be a real benefit to gain those skills.
The approach to career exploration at TECCA is that college and career preparation are not one in the same. Career exploration comes first, as it’s the path the student wishes to take which helps determine if college is something they should be planning for, and if so, what type of institution. They also believe that career exploration is what bridges the gap between academics and the real world. It helps students figure out not only what they’d like to do, but really underscores the value of what they’re learning in school.
Since the bulk of their learning already occurs virtually, VirtualJobShadow.com was a natural partner for TECCA. Sarah knew that like with the introduction of any new program or initiative, you need to get students excited to get them engaged, which is how “Working Wednesdays” was born. Students at TECCA do a bulk of their communicating via their own internal email system, so every Wednesday one member of the counseling services team sends an email to every 7-12 student highlighting a different career from the VirtualJobShadow.com Career Central library. The email includes the description of the job, along with a few fun facts and a link back to each job's Career Central video. The goal is to expose the student body to a variety of careers, with the counseling staff being cognizant of picking careers with a wide variety of educational requirements or careers they feel students may never have heard of. “Working Wednesdays” is still in its infancy but thus far Sarah said students have really connected with the veterinary technician, video game animator, and app developer.
Sarah also talked about how career exploration can help empower students in the direction their education is going. Research shows the power of choice when it comes to student’s educations and career exploration really allows them to be the ones in the driver’s seat, especially the way it’s positioned with “Working Wednesdays,” where the students are given a suggested career to get them logged into VirtualJobShadow.com, but which is used as a springboard to explore whatever drives their passion and interests. “Anytime you give students the ability to choose,” Sarah said, "they feel agency over their lives. Not many people like to hear, ‘here is that box—go sit in it.'”