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My First Decade Becoming an Independent Educational Consultant

Joan Koven

by Joan Koven, CEP, IECA (Pennsylvania)

Dusting my office and filling the candy jar this morning to get ready for a new junior intake meeting, I saw a large stack of spiral notebooks from a decade of IECA meetings. These notebooks chart my journey since 2003 to become an expert independent educational consultant (IEC). I pulled down my notebook from 2004 and found my detailed notes from “Principles and Practices,” which we now call the IECA Summer Training Institute (STI). I sat down on my just-fluffed couch to see what I was thinking about in 2004 when I was a newbie, hungry for knowledge about our profession wherever I could find it.

I felt inspired once again as I re-read notes from Steve Antonoff‘s opening session, “The World of Educational Consulting.” He spoke about the need for students to have mentors and our obligation to make ourselves into the next set of experts for educational planning. As students of colleges, our main enemy would be lack of knowledge about right fit campuses for our students as we embark on this profession. Steve underscored that our future clients were hiring an individual, not a service; he called upon us to become not just experts but to see ourselves as members of a caring profession. Wow!! How true that remains nine years later.  It sounds basic but it means taking time to listen to students and families, providing them with a way to cope with the stress and anxiety of the college application process.

My notes from Mark Sklarow’s presentation emphasized that our clients pay us to give them advice, not to make their decisions for them. We use our knowledge of schools and our clients to create a list of schools to visit; after countless visits to all sorts of different campuses, we translate our knowledge of campus cultures to meet the individual needs and aspirations of each client. Mark advised us to make good use of the line, “let me double check for you.” We don’t need to know all the answers right away, but we do need to know how to research, find, and deliver them.

After teaching modules and certificate courses on business practices for IECs at STI and UC Irvine, I see more than ever the need to approach our job straightforwardly with honesty and authenticity. We can easily cloud our mission as we cope with a too-anxious family or parents’ confusion over reasonable expectations about what IECs do – and don’t do.  For seasoned IECA members, sit down and review your old notebooks; let’s renew ourselves by revisiting the lessons we first learned.  For new, budding IECs, absorb the basics. Moving into the future with iPad in hand, I will always treasure my handwritten notes on Steve’s presentation or reproduce the wisdom of Mark’s “fold the ends of the toilet paper lesson,” as I continue to fill my IEC backpack of knowledge.



10 Responses to My First Decade Becoming an Independent Educational Consultant

  1. As an old timer, it’s such a treat to see younger (by my standards) professionals like Joan grow up in IECA to become senior stars, giving more than they take and becoming new templates for old patterns that will continue to nourish newer members who will become stars in their turn. We talk a lot about the numerous ways IECA strengthens our profession. For my money, this is one of the most important.

  2. Ann Rossbach says:

    Your reflections made me take some time to go back into my notes as well! Although I haven’t been a member of IECA for a decade, the scribblings I have from a few years ago ring true today — like yours.

  3. Dear Joan,

    I loved reading this and it brought back so many memories of my Summer Training Institute at Johns Hopkins in the summer of 2005! I loved being there and I was part of Mark’s “Yellow Team.” Yo Mark! I still have the puffy yellow star that Mark tossed me for answering one of his questions – it sits proudly on my window sill. And Steve has signed every one of his books for me with lovely encouraging statements, and when I am low or feel that I am not doing the job I need to, I re-read those lovely words of encouragement! The years have flown by, and I too remember Mark’s words about folding the end of the toilet paper – interesting what we do remember, but it is about the details and the caring, and the passion we have for helping our students and families, for putting ourselves in their shoes. We were talking about this in the President’s Dining Room at Fordham University yesterday during our Tri-State meeting. How we love to research and care for our students and that is what sets us apart, and the empathy we have for the families that we work with. The best statement I ever heard is that there is an abundance (and ever more every day) of information out there, but what we are giving our families is “knowledge” and “guidance.” So thank you, Joanie, for giving us a moment to look back and reflect. It helps us to renew ourselves and rejuvenate. That is why I love when I have the chance to be invited to sometimes be a guest at the STI! Let’s all keep on doing the job that we love to do for our students – to give them the best guidance we can and continue to be “students of schools” and life-long learners in the process! Yo Mark!

    with a warm smile,
    Carolyn Mulligan

  4. Sandy Furth says:

    Every year, I go through my office binders and go through my training binders from UCLA to summer institute. I think I can rid myself of some of the paper (I know, I can scan them into the computer), and as Joan, I re read it all, and think, yes, this all still rings true today- so how does one throw it away? The profound wisdom from Steve and Mark, the wise teachings of our colleagues from IECA conferences (consultants teaching consultants) and so much more. Also included are our many debriefings on college and school tours where we often meet and reunite with our wonderful colleagues. Joan… what a wonderful post.

    Sandy Furth

  5. What a wonderful way to view your progress in this profession. Great blog, Joan!

  6. Melinda Kopp says:

    I can relate to everything you said, Joan! What we heard at STI inspires so many of us each day to keep learning and growing. It’s very helpful to reflect on “how far” we have come in such a short time – thanks for renewing the memories!

  7. Joan, I am a real newbie, having launched my practice in 2011. I learned so much from Mark and Steve as well at STI in 2010 at Swarthmore. And I have to say, your presentations on starting a business were so helpful then and continue to be helpful today! So, thank YOU!
    Susan Eschenroeder

  8. Becky Grappo says:

    I loved this, Joan! I could really relate – I’ve taken many of the same classes, attended the same conferences and training, and soaked up the wisdom from some the leaders in our profession like Steve and Mark. Thank you for so eloquently stating this for all of us!

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