Professional Development

Clara working on her laptop at her desk

Learning from COVID-19 at Reading Partners

One of the most exciting parts of my fellowship right now is the opportunity to participate in summer strategic planning for the upcoming academic year. As a rising second-year fellow, I’ve had one year to learn the ropes at Reading Partners and play an integral role in the adjustments we made to transition our previously in-person tutoring program to an entirely virtual model. Last year was tough: we had to figure out how to manage tutor expectations and effectively communicate uncertainty, support tutors in learning a new virtual platform, and change several of our processes to adjust for the fact that location is irrelevant when tutoring online. Our task now is to take all of our learnings from the past year and make improvements across all areas of our operations that will set us up for success in this upcoming school year which is proving to be just as unpredictable as the last. In this blog, I’ll share some of the issues we are working to tackle this summer!

Communications

Communicating nuanced plans to stakeholders in the midst of uncertainty is hard. There’s just so many unknowns, last year and this year. Last year, we spent the year gradually pushing back the date of a possible in-person start. We also told tutors that they would start sooner than they actually did (due to delays in student enrollment), and continued to ask them to wait patiently. This year, we’re going to stick with planning virtual tutoring until we know more. Once again, we’re asking tutors for their flexibility and patience and not making premature promises of in-person engagement and tutoring start dates. We’re so grateful for the support of our amazing tutors!

Tech Tutors

Switching to online programming inevitably presents tech challenges, especially for some of our older adult volunteers. Last year, I developed our tech tutor program, where I worked with some of our federal work study college students to organize a system where they could provide one-on-one tech support to tutors that needed it. This year, I’m trying to formalize the tech tutor training: tech tutors need absolute expertise in all technical elements of our system (trust me, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong), as well as training on how to coach others on tech. I’m also working to streamline the scheduling and booking process by which tech tutors provide their availability and tutors book slots. We use a very helpful website called Calendly to allow tutors to select the time that works for them. Calendly then sends out an automated confirmation email and a reminder email before the session that includes the zoom link. We are so grateful to our tech tutors for making online tutoring possible!

How do we accurately show remaining availability for tutors that tutor many hours a week? How do we manage data when some tutors are placed at multiple schools? How do we prioritize which tutors get scheduled?

Tutor Availability

One of the trickiest challenges we have is making sure we are collecting tutor availability in a way that is efficient, clear, and most of all beneficial to our students’ needs. If we have 1,200 students that need tutors and 1,200 tutors ready to tutor, that’s great, but it only works if the tutors can tutor when the students are available. On my team, we’re finding new ways to identify when students will need tutors by tracking enrolled students’ availability in our school center schedules, and using our data system and anecdotal info from our program managers to predict when students that are currently being enrolled will be available. We’re using a new Google Form to collect tutor availability, which allows us to receive their availability into one big spreadsheet, and adjust the Google Form week to week to indicate to tutors what our highest need times are.

Tutor Scheduling

One of the benefits of switching to virtual tutoring is that all tutors can tutor at any school (for example, a tutor that lives in the Bronx can tutor a student in Bed-Stuy). This means we don’t have to deal with shortages of tutors in specific neighborhoods, and tutors with very limited availability have lots of schools they can be placed with. To adjust to this new reality, we switched mid-year to a system that allows any tutor to be scheduled anywhere instead of having separate pipelines for each neighborhood. Right now, I’m working on optimizing this system to minimize things that were tricky last year: how do we accurately show remaining availability for tutors that tutor many hours a week? How do we manage data when some tutors are placed at multiple schools? How do we prioritize which tutors get scheduled?

To conclude, I’m excited for another dynamic year at Reading Partners and grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to be a leader on our regional team in these areas. COVID-19 has caused every organization to adapt, and with change comes first challenge, then learning, and now growth and improvement!

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Clara Monk

Clara (she/her) is a Fellow on the Community Engagement Team at Reading Partners in New York City.

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Tips on Applying For The FAO Schwarz Fellowship

When I was in college, I went to every single event my career center offered: resume writing workshops, interviewing seminars, you name it, I was there. Coming from a low-income background, much of the academic or non-profit sector felt foreign to me, including applying to jobs and fellowships after college. I learned a lot of useful things in those sessions, but what was particularly surprising was how many of those things I would have never thought of on my own. Below are some of the things that helped me the most in applying for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship, in hopes they might help you, too.

Is the Position a Good Fit?

After you read through the job descriptions on the FAO Schwarz Fellowship webpage, which are announced on November 1, you should check out the host organization’s websites. Click around the different pages and ask yourself some questions about what you find there.

Here are some useful questions that I asked myself before applying to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship at the Museum of the City of New York:

  • What is the mission of this organization?
  • How does this mission align with my values?
  • What type of work does this organization do with its community?
  • Is this the type of work I am excited to do?
  • What skills might I learn working at this organization?
  • What is the size of this organization? Is it local, or national
  • Do I have a preference?
  • Who staffs this organization?
  • What is the relationship between the staff and the community they serve?

In addition to these questions, you should take note of anything that catches your eye—something you like or dislike—that you find on the organization’s website.

 

Putting Together a Resume

The best piece of advice I ever received about resumes is to have one master resume, and create job-specific resumes for each application you submit. The master resume is one resume that has every job, project, internship, scholarship, prize, fellowship, and more, from your life. Under each of these experiences, list all the responsibilities you had, skills you used, and tasks you accomplished during that experience. 

When it comes time to apply to the FAO Schwarz Fellowship—or any job, really—pick out which of those experiences you want to highlight, ones that best demonstrate what you would bring to the position you are applying for. When selecting what responsibilities and skills from each experience to include, find the ones that most closely align with the responsibilities listed on the webpage for the specific host organization’s job description. For each item listed on your resume, ask yourself “does this show someone who has not met me what important skills and experience I would bring to this fellowship?” If not, rephrase so that it does, or replace it with something that shows your qualifications for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship specifically.

In many interviews, you will be asked to talk about a challenge you’ve encountered and how you worked through it. This is not a question for humility.

Writing a Cover Letter

The reason I find cover letters daunting is because they’re a prospective employer’s first impression of me. How do you condense your entire person into a page? 

The short answer is: you don’t. Like a resume, a cover letter isn’t a comprehensive story of who you are as a person, your accomplishments, talents, or strengths. It isn’t even a complete list of all the reasons you might be a great fit for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.

Instead, you should aim for your cover letter to highlight a few of the most valuable skills and experiences you would bring to the fellowship.

Here is how I worked on my cover letter for the fellowship:

First, I looked at the responsibilities listed under the special project and direct service work sections on the FAO Schwarz Fellowship at MCNY page on the Fellowship website. For each bullet point, I came up with one thing about myself that demonstrated why I would excel in that responsibility—this could be coursework, volunteer experience, previous work experience, a personal project, or something else.

After I had my list, I picked 3-4 of them, and focused on those in my cover letter. When talking about each experience, I made sure to explicitly describe how it would help me with the specific responsibility in the Fellowship role (e.g. “The skills I gained from working as a volunteer tutor will be invaluable as I teach museum field trips and create family programs”).

In addition to these tips, you should be sure to answer all three questions asked of you for the FAO Schwarz Fellowship. You can use your 3-4 experiences to weave in your answers to these questions, too.

Interviewing

Finally, here are some things that I learned from my college career center that were very useful in the interview process:

Pre-planned Talking Points. Working with your cover letter, come up with a few experiences or qualities about yourself that you are sure you would like to talk about. Look up some standard interview questions and think through how those experiences or qualities could be the starting point for answering these questions. This was a huge relief for me when interviewing—when asked a question in the interview, I already had a planned menu of experiences to choose from when deciding what to talk about. One less thing to worry about!

Come up with a Good Challenge. In many interviews, you will be asked to talk about a challenge you’ve encountered and how you worked through it. This is not a question for humility. Even though it seems like a question that is asking you to talk about your flaws, use this as an opportunity to talk yourself up! Pick a challenge where you problem-solved effectively, one that the resolution is one that you’re proud of.  

Open-Ended Questions. Come to the interview with 3 open-ended questions you have about the host organization. An open-ended question is one that requires more than a sentence to answer. In most job interviews, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions for them. Always say yes. This shows your excitement for the job and is a way to demonstrate the research you’ve done about the host organization.

The Follow Up Email. After your interview (on the same day or the following day), write a personalized thank you email to your interviewer. Thank them for their time, and express how much you enjoyed hearing about the host organization.

I hope that you found some of these tips helpful, and best of luck in your application process! If you have any questions, attend one of our info sessions, AMAs, or reach out to contact@faoschwarzfellowship.org!


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Charlotte Blackman

Charlotte (she/her or they/them) is an FAO Schwarz Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York.

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Becoming a Young Professional During a Pandemic: One Year In

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During the last few months of senior year, I made sure to internalize and grow comfortable with the fact that my first job out of college would neither be perfect nor easy. Regardless of what might come next, I knew this next chapter would require a transition out of the lifestyle I’d enjoyed for the past 16 years as a student, and I wanted to give myself grace with that thought in mind. READ MORE