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  • Control Your Own Narrative: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part I.

    INTRODUCTION

    One thing I do is teach Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, which is part of the Lake Forest College In The Loop Program. The stated goals for this class focus on providing context in three professional development areas: 1) the trajectory of a student’s career and intellectual aspirations, 2) the development of effective professional communication, both oral and written and 3) the curating and management of a public facing profile as it applies to the work world.  

    Since I first began teaching the class in 2015, I have continually focused on honing the content and flow of the class, seeking to create a real time, organic vibe, with lots of energy and interaction.

    It all starts and ends though with the push to increase self-awareness; the need to be able tell one's story, and control one's narrative; and making the effort to build the tools necessary to engage prospective employers. Not to mention, how one engages in a process of applying one's story and tools in an professional environment, whether attending a networking event, an informational interview, or when presented with the opportunity, to be interviewed for the job one is interested in pursuing.

    Did I mention story?

    Good.

    How about controlling one's narrative?

    Also good, because that's big, if you don't control it, someone else will be happy to do it for you, and that we just cannot allow.

    Ultimately, one needs to separate oneself from the pack and we do that with story, preparation, the proper tools, and when the moment comes, pulling all of that together with a cohesive, kick-ass narrative.

    What does all of that look like however? In the coming weeks I will unpack the syllabus for you, but for now, what follows are the key elements of the class.

    WRITING

    For one, students in the class work on response papers throughout the semester written in reaction to assigned texts, which are synched-up with the themes we are exploring and building-on throughout the semester. The model itself is articulated like this:

    "Response Papers of 1-2 pages, and a word count of approximately 500 words, on various course texts will be composed of (1) two questions you have about the readings and (2) your answers to those questions – unless there are specific questions assigned. The questions you may ask yourself, may be as straight forward as, “Why do I think Professor Tanzer even cares that I read this article?” Or, “Despite Professor’s Tanzer’s great interest in my reading this article, why should I care?” And, if you feel stuck and can’t think of any questions, 'Why do I think I’m stuck, and how might I become unstuck?'"

    And the goals are straight forward: one way to grow more self-aware is by asking one self the hard questions, putting what we think we know or are stuck on into words.

    PRESENTATION AND FACILITATION

    I will share the assigned texts noted above in future posts, but one thing I want to note here, is that I strongly believe that being comfortable leading discussions, facilitating, and tackling ideas are integral to leadership, and again separating oneself from one's peers. I also want the students to be engaged at each step of the class in opportunities to speak in front of their classmates, and so where I once led the response paper discussions, I now have the students volunteer to do so, asking them to prepare in advance for class, and then seeking to create a safe space for them to do so.

    I also work with Lake Forest to hold two Mixers during the semester where the students interact with alumni, practicing how to network, and tell their story, all the while connecting with professionals even when they might not immediately seem helpful to their own job searches.

    In addition, and more than becoming comfortable speaking in front of a group, I feel the students must be comfortable presenting ideas, and we build towards a presentation early in the semester titled "What's My Story," where I ask the students to think about the pivotal points, people - family, teachers, coaches, mentors, opportunities - be they work or travel, decisions, cultural, and if applicable, political, influences, that have made them who they are and what they want to be. I also ask them to articulate where they think they could be going and how they think they might get there.

    I will also share the grading rubric and expectations for this presentation later, but what's important to me is that this exercise combines two elements that are key to class: crafting one's narrative and creating both self-awareness about what's important to them and the process for getting there.  

    TOOLS

    The students also do presentations on the fields they picture entering, more on that later as well, but one key element to making this presentation a success, is prodding them to not only explore the kinds of fields they might work in, but what they want from a job to be happy and successful.

    I also want them to start thinking about what they don't want.

    The students must also enhance their LinkedIn pages and Resumes during the semester, and I bring in experts to assist with this, along with an expert who helps them think through creating a public profile. The semester ends with the students creating a public portfolio, that integrates all of the work that has preceded it.  

    PRACTICE

    I strongly believe in bringing in experts to talk the things they know best, so the students can learn from the best. I also believe this is important for not only maintaining the kind of energy that is required for both attending a three-hour class and staying engaged for an entire semester, but the job search itself, which requires an ongoing level of focus, connection, and positivity.

    Along with that however, is the need to be interacting with professionals, learning about they operate, their paths, successes and challenges, and what they expect when they meet professionals new to the job force.

    So we create these interactions in class itself, at the Mixers referenced above, by encouraging informational interviews and how to approach them, practicing interview skills, and by introducing Improv to the mix.

    I should state here that I have no Improv training myself, but in watching it and meeting performers, I have come to believe that the ability to think on one's feet, to react in a postitive manner to whatever is being thrown at you, and accepting the reality being created, the "Yes... And...," approach to situations, one is better prepared for whatever comes at them. 

    CONCLUSION (for now)

    Again, I am always tweaking the flow, and looking for more ideas, more energy, asking how a three-hour evening class should be run, when it's the right time for a field trip, and how many presentations can be held in a row in one class. All of this will be covered in more depth in the coming weeks. But for now, please let me know what you think, and please let me what questions you might have.

    Thanks.