Chelsea is a high school Special Education teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. One of the courses that she teaches, Office Technology and Procedures (OTP), is part of the Career and Transition Services department. OTP is a course designed for high school students with special needs to help them learn general office skills and professional behaviors. Through relationships with business organizations in the area, she then places her students in internships to provide opportunities for students to apply these lessons firsthand. Prior to teaching, Chelsea worked for Brain Injury Services (BIS) as a Transition Specialist, assisting adults who sustained traumatic brain injuries to transition back into the community. As part of this day program, she managed programs expressly focused on teaching the survivors coping and career skills. She credits a rewarding internship with brainline.org, a resource for survivors, families, and professionals dealing with traumatic brain injury, with reinforcing her decision to go into this field. A Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS), Chelsea earned her Master’s degree in Special Education, with an emphasis in traumatic brain injury, from George Washington University. She lives in Reston, Virginia with her husband and enjoys spending time on their sailboat.
Do Your Students Have the Skills to Pay the Bills???
Professional attire… $100.00
Resume Copies… $2.00
Interview Skills… Priceless
As another school year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting back on my time spent in my Office Technology and Procedures classroom this year. The OTP course that I teach is a Special Education elective as part of Career and Transition Service for high school students with multiple abilities. The goal of our program is to provide students with an opportunity to develop skills and achieve competencies in the areas of computer applications, communication skills, office procedures, and career preparation. Our classroom resembles an office with computer work stations, a conference table, and office machines surrounding the students.
Every year it starts with the jitters from the first day of school, leads to a strong bond that is created through a safe learning environment, and ends with the tears that fall as we say goodbye at our end of year employer reception. It truly is a roller coaster juggling between new students, IEP meetings, lesson planning, weather delays, and all of the community experiences along the way. The transition from high school to the real world is a huge step to take. I have found that incorporating life skills and technology into my curriculum every day has helped ease the transition and expose my students to what they may expect in the years to come.
Appearance and preparedness are just a few of the components needed for success on the job. You can look the part, but without the social skills it can be hard to reach the end goal. Every year I encounter new situations with my students and find that despite my experience I am still faced with new challenges, as many of us are. Several times throughout the year I am faced with “simple” lessons typically turning out to be the exact opposite. I have found that repetition and refreshers are always a good idea, but more importantly I have learned to assume nothing!
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you may have role played different social scenarios with a student several times in the classroom, but when it comes down to the actual interview and meeting someone new there is no telling what may result? You may think your students are prepared with their professional clothing, the detailed resume, mock interview practice and all. But, when reality sets in and they are in a different environment, you may find that they freeze when they are asked to "tell me about yourself" even though that is a question that you have been practicing all year. Let me tell you that you are not alone!
Students may have all the technology skills needed to be successful on the job, but the key is getting past the initial interview. In order to prepare our students for employment, whether paid or volunteer, there are several components that go into the curriculum. As a teacher it is important that you role play along with the students to help break the initial social barrier. Continue to show them that your classroom is a safe and comfortable environment for them to try something new and step out of their comfort zone. Mix things up, videotape their mock interviews for students to watch for feedback, show Internet clips of practice interviews, and make sure to repeat, repeat, repeat key information.
Through my experiences working with students and adults I have found several resources that have helped with social skills training, but the options are truly unlimited! It is never too late to be creative, think outside the box and start playing along. The resources listed below are to help facilitate the first steps in this process. Remember, passing the interview is just the beginning of their journey, keeping their job may be a whole different story. A continued focus on the strategies similar to the ones listed below will help to ensure students are able maintain employment over the years.
Social Skills Resources
The Skills to Pay the Bills curriculum is a resource created by the Office of Disability Employment Policy for all youth getting ready to take that next step into the world of work. The skills that are targeted in this curriculum include critical thinking/problem solving, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration, and adaptability/flexibility. This scripted curriculum can be incorporated weekly into your daily routine. Each unit has a video clip on their website that reviews the lessons ahead that can range from individual written responses to teamwork activities and critical thinking extension activities. You are able to adapt and individualize these lessons to fit the needs of your students. The entire curriculum document can be downloaded from their website as well as all video clips and additional materials.
In addition to incorporating Skills to Pay the Bills curriculum, I have found the following supplemental activities to be helpful to promote independence during their transition years. These activities can also be helpful with preparing students for leading their IEP meetings, advocating in the community, and socializing with their peers at school.
Role Playing – Students and teachers take turns creating scenarios from real life examples and provide immediate feedback.
Reading Body Language – Interactive games such as Charades can be a fun way to get students moving around without using words and taking turns guessing their emotions.
Student Led Conference Meetings – Weekly meetings are run by students going over the agenda for the week, sharing about weekends, current events, weather, and any business for week.
Online Shopping – Each student can pick a store of choice to shop online with a given pretend budget to show that they are able to find appropriate professional clothing and match their budget in their checkout cart.
‘Employee of the Month’ – Students are nominated for showing improvement and taking a leadership role within the classroom. Student leads conference meetings and can take on additional classroom tasks. Sign can be posted in classroom for the month.
Telephone Etiquette – Lesson plan on telephone etiquette, followed by script posted near the classroom phone and notepad for students to practice answering the room phone professionally, taking messages, and putting callers on hold.
iPad – Student use can vary from using apps and websites to explore CNN student news, life skills, local weather, camera, recording videos, visual classroom timers, and the iPad can be hooked up to a projector or interactive whiteboard to post the daily agenda and incorporate additional interactive activities.
iPhone – Student use can vary depending on apps such as helping with daily scheduling, calendar, alarms, task analysis breakdown, camera and reminder notes.
Videotaping Mock Interviews – Use a device to record your students during their practice interviews and play back the video for students to review their responses and adapt as needed. Use different interviewers from the school or community to help students prepare for meeting new people.
Student ID Badges – Students create an ID badge template in Microsoft Word or Publisher that has photo ID, school and employer contact, and transportation information. Badges promote independence when students use it to help them remember schedules and contact information for employers. They can provide exposure to students that shows the importance of having an ID and that they are a part of the professional world.
I’m Determined: Virginia Department of Education Self-Determination Project http://www.imdetermined.org/ Resource for educators, parents, and students that focuses on self-determination starting at elementary school level and working up to secondary level student involvement.
Fairfax County Public Schools – Career and Transition Services – Office Technology and Procedures http://www.fcps.edu/dss/sei/careertransition/crtnoftk.shtml
United States Department of Labor – Office of Disability Employment Policy – Skills to Pay the Bills http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills