Think Tank #1: Getting Started, Information for Think Tank Coordinators
Welcome to the Think Tank Sessions! NC3T developed this series of learning opportunities for individuals or teams who are responsible for leading a Career Connected Learning approach within their school. Think Tanks are meant to provide a platform for learning together in a collaborative manner. Each session highlights either a component of implementing a pathway model or provides “food for thought” as you and your team progress along the journey. There are also sessions that suggest ideas for learning visits that include sample agendas. Because so much of Career Connected Learning depends on making learning ‘real’ we have included focus groups of employers and young professionals. Sample debrief and reflection questions are included but, of course, you may add your own as well.
The session descriptions are meant to be used as a starting point. As you work with them, we encourage you to adapt and adjust them so that they make the most sense for your school, schedule, timing, and objectives. While they are numbered, they do not have to be scheduled in a particular order. Working through the Think Tanks is more of a process than a product. The Think Tanks provide a structure that results in continuous learning for teachers, counselors, and other staff members.
Facilitating the Think Tank Sessions
The Think Tank Sessions are designed to be delivered in a mostly facilitative rather than presentation style. Whereas in providing a presentation you are focused on delivering information (80% Telling and 20% Listening), facilitation focuses on content and process (30% Telling and 70% Listening). Facilitation allows collaboration and a sense of “we are learning together.”
Facilitation is fundamentally improvisational. It’s more about giving groups options than about everyone arriving at the “right answer.” The CareerSmart Schools system is supplying you with basic sessions but once you hone your skill, you and your team will take it in a direction that is uniquely suited to your team, school, and community.
At the same time, people will look to you to lead them through the process of learning about Career Connected Learning and how that applies in your learning environment. To some degree, you may also become the “resident expert.” But ideally, you can elicit the involvement of other influential and respected staff members and ask them to also become resident experts in one or more facets of Career Connected Learning.
Playing both roles – facilitator and expert – can feel like walking a tightrope but, with patience you will know when to lead and when to listen.
As their Team Leader:
- You are the convener of the meeting.
- You are the moderator.
- You are their knowledge expert.
- Express appreciation for their time and their unique roles.
- Unite the team. Explain why everyone is important to the process.
- Don’t let sub-groups form.
- Provide clear direction. Explain why these meetings are taking place.
- Ask if anyone would like to lead a session.
- Ask others to conduct research and develop expertise of specific topics.
As their Facilitator:
- Begin and end on time.
- Provide a clear agenda and stick to it.
- Create a set of Meeting Norms and ask the group to react, add, or delete (see sample list below). The group should agree on the norms and refer back to the norms on a consistent basis.
- Stay focused. When the group or an individual begins to wander away from the agenda, gently get the meeting back on the topic at hand. If needed, create a “parking lot” to store ideas and information that are not directly pertinent to today’s topic. Come back to parking lot ideas at an upcoming meeting.
- Make sure all equipment, AV, speakers, etc. are in place and ready to go on the specified time. Test out video and audio settings “before” the meeting starts.
- Keep an informal leader from dominating the discussion. Remind the group about the norm of allowing for adequate “air time” for all voices and perspectives.
- Ask open-ended questions rather than yes/no questions.
Finally, Trust the Process!
Group process is not linear. Diversions occur. Sometimes you will feel like you don’t know where things are going. It will feel messy and unorganized. Assume good intent. Praise the effort. Groups can shut down if they believe they are failing or not making progress quickly enough. By acknowledging the good work that has been done you give the group breathing space and they will return to the process.