Externships can give you some of the biggest payoffs in terms of time spent. I KNOW teachers need their vacations to regroup and recharge. However, if you invest a few days or a week of your time during winter or spring break, it can really change the way you bring your game to the classroom and change the support that you get from outside businesses. In the long term, I'll work during a break any time to get that kind of support from outside business! I'm a better teacher and the opportunities it has opened for my students are amazing. Read on to find out why it's worth it....
A crew from Adobe walked through my classroom last year, wanting to see what we were up to in Digital Media. I had just read an article about externships, where teachers work at a business for a period of time to get outside of the classroom bubble, and happened to ask one of the visitors if Adobe ever did anything like externships. The response was, "Not that I know of, but if you do some research and get back to me on it, we can keep exploring that idea."
Fast forward a year and I've had the privilege of externing twice as Adobe, once during Spring Break for a week and then for another week and half this summer. Needless to say, it was a huge success and one which I can't speak highly enough. Bottom line, both teachers and students can benefit greatly from teacher externships.
So what was it all about and why should you explore your own externship possibilities?
Externships are defined as a set amount of time that teachers work at a company, usually a few days to a week or two. On-site tasks for teachers can include attending meetings, shadowing a variety of jobs, doing research, providing support that college-aged interns might provide, and just being a useful employee. Externships can be paid or unpaid, depending upon the business, the district or the pre-created externship program. I was lucky enough to get some grant money as a stipend for my first externship and was then invited back by Adobe on their dime for a second externship a few months later.
For both externships, I was embedded on a product development team, worked on providing valuable insights into the education community, what teachers and students need, gave feedback on product iteration, had conferences with heads of various product teams to talk about what is most important for students, met with people whose focus was on forward-thinking educators, met with designers, coders, marketing people and more.
I observed what types of physical environments in the workplace support creativity, problem solving and productivity, learned about how teams collaborate in the real world, learned what tools people use to communicate remotely and in person, and was steeped in project management approaches in the professional world.
And because I was embedded at a company that uses the very skills that I teach my digital design classroom, I got a chance to connect and geek out over digital design concepts, such as font choices, color choices, use of hierarchy, and design thinking as it is applied to product creation. I saw, in action, how to conduct user interviews, user testing sessions, conduct my own research and create user profiles and more. I helped my team better understand the very students, teachers, creative professionals and business folks they are developing product for. It was beneficial for both me and for Adobe. I got to see how the sausage is made and they got unique insights into what really happens in a digital media classroom.
How my experience changed what and how I teach
The amazing things is that I have now brought best practices back to my students in all areas of learning, including how to best collaborate on projects, how to use more elevated and practical knowledge of design principles and how to best manage workflow. I can speak with confidence to my students about why certain things that I teach are important and where they come into play in the day to day operations of a tech company. I have a much clearer idea of what sorts of jobs are available to them once they leave school and how to direct them toward those opportunities.
Once you are in the door, the possibilities are endless
There were all sorts of outcomes that were completely unexpected that came out of being in the Adobe office.
NONE OF THE ABOVE THINGS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED WITHOUT PHYSICALLY BEING AT THE COMPANY.
If you want to make things happen for your school and open up opportunities for your students, you have to show up and get some face time with the business people who can make that happen.
The truth is, businesses are wanting to help us in the classroom and with our students. But in order to forge those relationships, you have to go where the businesses are, and not the other way around.
That means getting out of your classroom, pushing yourself to make some calls to businesses that align with what you are doing in your classroom and asking for connection and help.
And even without all these amazing connections that I've made, if I did nothing else, I've learned about how business operates, how adults use the skills I teach every day, and how students can plug into that adult world, once they enter the workforce. That, in and of itself, makes the externship experience worth while.
(The secret truth about externships)
I was worried that I would be exhausted after giving up my vacation time to work outside of the classroom. It turns out it was surprisingly energizing. It's not like working at school with students. I worked with adults, had real hour long lunch breaks, had time to think and complete my thoughts without interruption, and generally marveled at how adults outside of the education field work every day. It's all very civilized.
If you have any questions about externships, just comment below and I'll be happy to answer them!
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!