Not many careers guidance professionals set out to work in the field, and that was certainly the case for Isobel Tyndale-Brown. Her path to a multi-disciplinary role at Woodbridge School in Suffolk was via a stint as a make-up entrepreneur and teaching in a gang school in the United States.
She is also a regular speaker at our Getting Started courses for newly-appointed careers professionals, which is where we grabbed 5 mins of her time to discuss her career, the profession, and her top tips for those just starting out.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got into career guidance?
"Well, before I got into education, I was running my own business, selling make-up in the United States. A friend of mine was working as a supply teacher in a gang school in the city where we lived, and she suggested that I get into teaching. I hadn’t done any training, but my degree was in speech therapy and both my parents were teachers, so I thought ‘okay, fine’! I went in and it was a scary 3 months. But it was good, definitely a baptism by fire.”
And clearly it didn’t put you off!?
“Not at all. From there, I went to a risk primary school and simultaneously studied to get my Masters in Education. I thought, if I’m going to do this, I should really know what I’m doing!”
“When I came back from America, I got a job at the school I used to go to in Suffolk, obviously a very different environment to the one I’d left in America. I joined as biology teacher and I’m still in that role today, in addition to my roles as head of careers and director of sixth form.”
That’s a lot of responsibility! You must have had a passion for careers to take on the extra work?
“I liked the idea of getting the one-to-one time with the kids that you get with this role. So, when I saw the woman who was head of careers before me was going to retire, I started edging myself in that direction.”
Has the role surprised you?
“When I took over careers, I did about a year following my predecessor’s plan. The only things the kids had access to then were Centigrade and Preview, which are wonderful tools, but there was no structured advice or support to go with them. When I took over, I didn’t know anything about the website or the other services COA provides to support us in our role. So, I asked Joyce from COA to come in and talk us through everything, and I found out about the website and all the additional products and services that COA offer.”
What is it that you love about the role? What makes that additional responsibility worthwhile?
“You get so much time for one-to-one interaction with the kids, which you don’t always get in a regular teaching role. And ultimately, people send their child to school to succeed in a career that they are happy in. I really think the biggest thing for children is to leave school with the confidence that they’ve done their research on future careers. And also that it’s okay not to know exactly what they’re going to do when they leave school.”
How would you sell the role to someone who was considering the position?
“I think there’s a huge opportunity for people to really expand that department in schools, and if they’re ambitious, to make themselves known to senior management. It’s a really good opportunity to make your own mark and build really good relationships with the kids at the same time.”
Do you have specific advice for anyone just starting? What would you tell yourself if you could go back to the point at which you first took on the role?
“If you take over a careers department that isn’t huge or lacks investment, then you can either let it stagnate or try and instigate various changes. Some of them may not always work. You need to be able to make some fearless decisions and try new things. Speak to people and get advice. I unashamedly ask everyone I come across for help. You’ve got to be slightly adventurous.”
What are the biggest challenges facing both students and the careers professionals who support them?
“Students are facing loads of challenges. A lot of them think that they’re supposed to know what they are going to be. And there’s lots of pressure on students to follow a route that isn’t appealing.
Another challenge is change. Because the working world their parents went into is very different from the one the students will go into. So, it’s as much about providing advice to parents and giving the child confidence that they could go down many different routes and that’s okay. It’s similar for us as careers professionals. We need to adapt too. I think most are, but it is a challenge. It’s a constantly evolving field.”
And finally, why would you recommend the course for someone who is just starting in this field?
“When I started, I really didn’t know anything. I came on the Getting Started course with David and COA – I think it might have been on their first one-day course – and followed that up with the longer course over three weekends. It gave me a great foundation, and after that I just started tweaking my knowledge.
The courses are really great for making connections. I think that’s one of the most important pieces of advice I could give for anyone getting into a careers-focused role. Build your networks and don’t be afraid to pull on other people’s knowledge or share you own.”