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December 21, 2018

The Keys To Program Success Are Closer Than You Think – Your Local Advisory Committee Part I of II

Advisory committees, we all have them. Twice a year we have meetings. Is that because we are supposed to? Isn’t there a law or policy or something about that? Where is the value of taking the time to be there and prep for it?

Everyone who manages, teaches in, helps coordinate, or leads a career and technical education (CTE) program in Minnesota knows that advisory committees are required; at the secondary level they are written into state statute, and at the postsecondary level they are mandated by policy.

As in other states across the nation, there are some program leaders who fulfill those mandates but do nothing beyond: They see it as an obligation, as a box to be checked off, and nothing more. However, if you ask the folks (from industry and education) that are involved in strongest and most successful transportation programs about advisory committees, you’ll almost certainly hear a different perspective. Successful program leaders know that if you invest some time and effort into building a strong advisory committee, you’ll reap outsized returns; build strong business partnerships, increase community support, find new resources, build the strength and relevance of instruction, and provide a greater number of opportunities for both students and staff to succeed.

There is a multitude of examples of transportation program advisory committees, where because of a stellar advisory committee, things that you would not think are possible occur. I have personally seen the results, some amazing examples are: large donations, partnerships, scholarships, student recruiting, open houses, increased articulation agreements, better students in class, opening doors of opportunity, and even saving the program from an administrator who wants to close it.

In fact, of all the different types of partnership models available, advisory committees provide the greatest return on investment: If you’re willing to invest in doing more than the minimum, while taking a truly collaborative approach to working with your partners, your advisory committee can be the single most powerful support tool you have for improving student experiences and outcomes.

Ok, so that’s all warm and fuzzy. But what do we do next? Here’s some resources and steps.

  • Step back, take some time off, and reflect. How did you get started in your career? Who helped you and who setup the system and program that you went through? What was your first job like (in the industry)? What system was in place for that to happen? What roles and work did educators and industry do behind the scenes to create the experiences you have?For me personally, I had a high school automotive teacher that helped get me an interview at a local Buick Olds Pontiac GMC Truck dealership. He said that the service manager was familiar with the program and he would help prepare me for the interview, but that I needed to go there by myself and get the job by myself. I got that job, started my career on the right foot, and the rest is history. Many years later, I learned that there were many pieces in place that I never knew of.

The service manager at the dealership was a strong proponent of the advisory committee and program. The community of employers in the town were all supportive and had together built the program and curriculum, thus they felt ownership and pride. They knew the teachers well because they visited employers once a month. They knew where the work-based-learning fit in the program and how it worked without an explanation from the school, because they built it.

I also learned that all of the hoists, vehicles we learned on, special tools, service manuals (the old book style), and other big pieces of equipment all came from the advisory committee employers and community supporters.

Without that system and those people that cared enough to spend extra time and effort to build it, I would not be here today. Heck, I may not have even entered the industry and be doing what I do today. I may still be working on the farm milking cows.

  • While still relaxing and taking your mind off the daily stuff, think about your students and their futures. Do you have great industry partners that will work with them and understand/support your program? Who developed your program and curriculum? What will ensure your student’s success in their future?

Everyone who has a vested interest in advisory committees is there for a reason. It has to be beyond the influence of an employer so that the teacher will give them a good recommendation and send students in that direction.

A rising tide will float all boats. When a community of educators and employers gets together and is intentional about partnering to create the best program, there is no limit to what can be done. Advisory committees that function well have certain things in common. Of those, the strongest part starts with checking the ego and the position at the door.

  • Ok, time to get back into the classroom. Now look around your classroom and shop. What are your dreams? What do you want it to look like? What do you want it to feel like? What do you want others to say about it (employers, parents, administration, other teachers, etc. )?

The best advisory committees gain input and direction because they have a person from industry as the advisory committee chair. Let them make recommendations about the facility, the curriculum, the tools/equipment, vehicles, etc.

  • Curriculum and program design. Wow, it’s a lot of work to keep a program accredited, to keep the tools organized, the curriculum up to date, the shop clean, the vehicles from getting so dirty, the materials up to date, etc.

Well, the good news is that if you let the advisory committee partners with you and they feel validated and welcomed as actual partners (with a Return on Investment for both partners), then the sky is limitless. They will help you write the curriculum, find tools, get donations, teach as a substitute, and so much more.

  • Does everyone know how high quality your program is? Do they even know you exist in that corner of the building or in the farthest back of the parking lot? Do they know how great the industry opportunities are, how cool the technology is, how much it pays, and how hard you work on your program?Just remember that your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s ability to see your worth. Advocacy from others and having them sing the praises of your program and draw attention to your class, you as a teacher, your industry, and overall be your cheerleader is how an advisory committee works for you in a true partnership.

Go ahead, let them meet with your administrator and let them tell the truth, the story, the data, the importance of your program. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. But be careful and don’t let this backfire on you. Don’t cause confusion, don’t be a thorn in the side, don’t point fingers or blame, and mostly don’t use your advisory committee to do the things that you should be doing as your role as the teacher and a leader of a program.

The most difficult thing to know in life is yourself. Spend some time this holiday season to really get to know yourself inside, find purpose in life and your career decision to teach a transportation subject, and mostly find time to be at peace with yourself and your capabilities.

Look for more to come on this subject in part 2 on the next newsletter, where we will give you some great resources and more stories of success.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
– Henry Ford