TFIM plans opportunities around career learning requirements

With the pandemic still putting job-shadows, workplace visits and other career learning experiences on hold, our career exploration program, The Future Is Mine (TFIM), is gearing up to help high school students achieve state standards with virtual programming.

“We’re working with employers now to develop these opportunities,” said Program Director Gina Barrett, who oversees TFIM along with Jennifer Sethman. “Our plan is to facilitate virtual, regional career learning and networking opportunities for students and advisors.”

“We successfully piloted some virtual career presentations and other activities in the spring,” added Sethman, also a Consortium Program Director. “We’re hoping that we can build on that experience with programming that helps students gather some of the artifacts and documentation needed to comply with Pennsylvania Future Ready Index requirements.”

COVID-19 has ruled out most, if not all of the in-person experiences students would usually undertake to explore or prepare for careers and that they typically would draw upon to document their learning for the state.

Aside from virtual career learning opportunities, students from nearly 20 high schools participating in TFIM also will be working in teams on the kinds of projects that help them with career exploration and/or preparation. Through many, the students may be able to help peers in their schools with career learning at a time when their usual opportunities are limited as well.

Joining TFIM this year are Canon-McMillan and Montour high schools. Other high schools returning to the program so far for this year are: Belle Vernon Area, Brownsville Area, Chartiers-Houston High School, Clairton, McKeesport Area, Monessen, Mt. Pleasant, Pittsburgh Brashear, Pittsburgh Perry, Ringgold, South Allegheny, Southmoreland High School, Springdale, Steel Valley, Woodland Hills and Yough.





Research emphasizes need for SEL

An October webinar hosted by our Future Ready Alliance underscored the key roles that awareness of personal biases and an understanding of equitable treatment play in social and emotional learning (SEL). (Educators who were unable to attend the webinar can view a recording.)

The presentation, given by Eva Allen, EdD., served as a curtain-raiser on the Alliance’s agenda for 2020-2021, which focuses on SEL and equity. Both have come to the forefront as K-12 schools weather a pandemic that’s created a need for remote learning options and as they and other institutions confront challenges around racial equity.

Speaking broadly, Dr. Allen told webinar attendees that the current emphasis on SEL is more than just a trend.

Eva Allen, EdD.

“The research shows that the focus on social and emotional learning has extreme benefits, not just for adults, but for students and the community,” she said, adding that benefits for students manifest in attendance, engagement and academic performance.

Advocates also are increasingly emphasizing equity as part of SEL, Dr. Allen noted. “Equitable treatment and equity are themes that arise in almost all aspects of social and emotional learning.”

A Learning Environment Specialist with Pittsburgh Public Schools, an SEL researcher and founder of Culturally Connected Education,  Dr. Allen developed an award-winning theory of “Cultural Care” that emphasizes equity.

Gaining “self-awareness,” one of five core competencies for SEL, is dependent on “examining our own prejudices and biases,” she said. “It’s really important that we recognize that we bring these naturally to any space because of our experiences and our knowledge and upbringing.”

“Having an awareness of those is essential in relationship building,” she added.

Similarly, helping students develop “social awareness,” another of the five core SEL competencies, hinges on helping them become active listeners so that they can empathize with the experiences, perspectives, and upbringings of people from diverse backgrounds, as well as systemic barriers others may face.

In addition to highlighting equity as an important element in students’ SEL, Dr. Allen also discussed the difficulties remote learning presents in cultivating SEL and introduced some strategies for student engagement.

In remarks following the presentation, she also said the pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities in education.

Dr. Eva Allen is featured speaker for Future Ready Alliance kickoff

Our Future Ready Alliance kicks off its program year hosting an October 20 webinar on social-emotional learning with Eva J. Allen, EdD.  The webinar begins at 10 a.m. and is open to all educators, irrespective of participation in the Alliance. You can register online.

Dr. Allen’s award-winning research on “cultural care” provides a social-emotional approach for establishing and building relationships, enhancing cultural competence and compassion, and developing an awareness of the barriers to equity in education.

This webinar will give an overview of social-emotional learning as well as strategies teacher can use self-care during a turbulent time in education.



Consortium and Heinz Endowments launching Future Readiness Lab

As Senior Program Director for Education at The Heinz Endowments, Stan Thompson, EdD, sees grant applications peppered with the words “college and career ready.”

“Here’s the problem,” he said in a video overview, “Not nearly all students ever experience the promise of this phrase.”

To find ways so that more students do, the Consortium is honored to pilot the Future Readiness Lab in partnership with The Endowments and eight Allegheny County school districts. The Lab, for which Thompson also serves as Executive Director, is a pilot project designed to prepare students both for their post-secondary career choices and paths, as well as for community engagement. To do so, it will support them in a deep exploration of five questions.

  • Who am I?
  • Who do I want to become?
  • How do I get there?
  • How do I continue to learn?
  • How do I give back to my community?

“Students who think deeply about these questions and find the answers within, instead of responding to external influences, are more likely to take ownership of their educations,” said Consortium Program Director Christy Kuehn, PhD. “They’re also better positioned to find fulfillment and success in their post-secondary paths and take on leadership roles in their communities.”

Announced last February, the Lab had originally been planned as a summer preparatory opportunity at the Energy Innovation Center. Because of uncertainties associated with COVID-19, however, startup has been delayed until the beginning of October and the Lab has been redesigned for a virtual curriculum.

The pilot will bring together a small, diverse group of high school juniors from eight districts. Throughout the fall, they’ll be working individually and as teams within each school. Lab Coaches, who will support teams in each school, convened last week for their first virtual planning session.

Participating in the Lab’s first cohort are Pittsburgh Brashear, Carlynton, Clairton City, Deer Lakes, Hampton, Montour, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills high schools.

Among other things, students participating in the Lab will be able to answer the five guiding questions, create actionable post-secondary plans, produce a professional portfolio, and learn how to cultivate a diverse professional network. They also will participate in a variety of virtual activities designed for interacting with professionals and exploring careers.

By spring, the students will take on team projects aimed at solving a problem in their communities, while building the soft skills that employers seek and that are critical to success.

Follow the Consortium’s website and social media for updates on this exciting project!

Consortium to provide PBL training as partner in Remake Tomorrow

As one of 17 grantees partnering with The Grable Foundation on a $1.4 million initiative aimed at learning innovation, the Consortium for Public Education will launch a training program to support early-career teachers in using Project-Based Learning (PBL).

“Our goal as part of this initiative, and with our overall program, is to catalyze a PBL culture in our region that will emphasize a growth mindset and life-long learning among educators,” said Sarah Brooks, one of three Consortium Program Directors who design and teach our PBL training sessions.

Working in collaboration with Intermediate Unit I, the Consortium will implement the training region-wide.

“We’re very proud to partner with the Consortium in this critical area,” said Don Martin, Ed.D., Executive Director of Intermediate Unit 1, one of the state’s 29 regional district support organizations. “We know from empirical data that exposing students and educators to PBL changes the culture and climate of learning.”

PBL isn’t emphasized in education degree programs, if it is included at all. But it’s seen as critical to training a new generation of teachers because it can help students better grasp the relevance of regular classroom lessons and engage them more deeply in learning. PBL also can provide students with better preparation for the workplace because the soft skills it cultivates often are as important to employers as academic and technical strengths.

“PBL propels instruction to be more student-centered, elevating each learner’s unique strengths, perspectives, and experiences,” said Aaron Altemus, another of the three Consortium Program Directors who collaborate on our PBL training.

“By honoring every student’s experience and bringing in students as co-learners with the educator, PBL also implicitly creates an inclusive environment in the classroom,” added Christy Kuehn, PhD, the third of our instructors.

The Consortium has become known for a unique approach to PBL and has done trainings both for educators in Pennsylvania and out-of-state.  Among other reasons, its program incorporates design-thinking and encourages practitioners to build their practice, using the central elements of PBL individually as engagement tools during regular classroom lessons and in various combinations for projects as they move toward full-scale PBL assignments.

Paving the way to partner amid pandemic

The Consortium is rolling out a menu of virtual options this week for employers and post-secondary partners looking for ways to work with K-12 students and maintain visibility in public schools.

Businesses or academic institutions can certainly execute most, if not all of these ideas, on their own, but they also are welcome to contact the Consortium for school connections and support. To do so, either email Program Director Debbie Pixton or use our electronic form.

The options we’ve developed are aimed at supporting students in achieving state standards for career learning. For employers and post-secondary partners, they provide opportunities to showcase jobs and academic or training programs to young people who are gathering the information they need to make post-secondary choices.

The support we’re offering comes in response to feedback we received at a mid-summer meeting of businesses and post-secondary partners involved in our Future Ready Partnerships initiative. At the time, most schools had not yet determined whether they would offer classroom instruction, remote learning or operate on a hybrid model.

Because most schools are now offering hybrid programs, the virtual options we’ve developed can be made available both to students in classrooms and those working online.



Learn about our Career Journeys Student Video Contest!

We’re asking educators to encourage students in grades 6-12 to enter our Career Journeys Student Video Contest. Just entering provides some useful experience and winners can look forward to even more! So please share our contest guidelines in your classes and give students links to our online entry form. All entries are due no later than October 10 and must be accompanied by a signed release from a parent or guardian for students under 18.

Human-Centered Design training can help districts be more agile and responsive

At a time of unprecedented change, school systems need tools to ensure they’re agile and responsive. That’s why the Consortium will be offering customized Human-Centered Design (HCD) workshops to help districts and their educators address challenges while taking full stock of stakeholder needs.

Education is all about people—students, parents, teachers, community members—and HCD is an approach to problem-solving that puts people at the center of decisions. It provides methods to bring all viewpoints to bear on a problem, identify options to address it, and find ways to sort and prioritize strategies that can lead to a solution.

Our training introduces the principles of HCD and walks educators through its practices, including methods for building empathy, brainstorming, collaboration, and setting priorities.  Our trainers can also facilitate workshops tailored to help your team tackle specific topics or challenges.

Our past workshops have ranged from helping one district through a needs assessment to helping others focus on stakeholder engagement, customer service, and even a full-district redesign.

Talk with us about your current challenges and we’ll tailor an HCD workshop for you! For more information, contact Aaron Altemus at, Sarah Brooks at or Debbie Pixton at



Consortium trainings offer PBL strategies for both classroom and online learning

Whether students are in classrooms or learning online, the training we offer in Project-Based Learning (PBL) can help teachers use PBL strategies to create engaging learning opportunities.

The Consortium’s trainings this year will adopt a hybrid model, combining videos our PBL team has created for participants to watch online, when they have time, with virtual coaching sessions where they can come together for support, discussion and questions.

Our virtual coaching sessions give participants personalized support from project design through implementation, while our video series guides them through the key elements of PBL, starting with learning outcomes and assessments. The videos also include both in-person and online strategies for reflection, feedback, brainstorming, project planning, and student voice and choice.

Educators, schools, districts and Out-of-School programs interested in our training resources or in training sessions customized to their specific needs can contact Aaron Altemus at, Sarah Brooks at or Christy Kuehn, PhD, at


Career Journeys video series now spans 16 different career clusters

Our library of Career Journeys videos now includes interviews with more than 50 professionals whose jobs span all 16 career clusters that the U.S. Department of Labor uses to track employment. That’s up from just a handful of interviews last spring when we launched the series to expand options for virtual career learning after COVID-19 closed schools and canceled opportunities for career exploration at employer work-sites.

The videos proved an instant hit. Counselors and teachers quickly began signing up for email notifications of new videos, and the series has since logged more than 2000 views!

To make the collection more user-friendly, we’ve now organized the videos by category on the Consortium’s website. When using them, students and teachers should be aware that many careers can overlap different clusters. We also recommend that students look at least at a couple of careers in fields that aren’t high on their lists of interests.

“We set the web page up so that it would be easy for students to immediately identify interviews in the fields that most interest them,” said Program Director Debbie Pixton, who oversees Career Journeys and conducts most of the interviews.

“But students also should look at clusters outside their main areas of interest because there are so many jobs they might not even know about,” she added. “If they browse the categories, they may stumble across careers that pique their curiosity, or require skills they’ve cultivated and enjoy using. Or, they might just identify with one of our interviewees.”

Pixton also said there are many ways students and teachers can use the videos beyond merely exploring careers.

For example, students might use the video interviews as models for talking with adults about careers. Among other ways, teachers might use videos to illustrate how their own academic specialties come into play in different jobs and industries.  The video introduction to our Career Journeys web page offers more suggestions for students. And, for teachers, there’s a downloadable PDF of ideas and tips in our introductory text for using the videos in classrooms.