|A few key ways. First of all, I have a pre-planning career background that is very different from the usual. I've worked as a journalist and trained and worked as a high school teacher. I think the journalism part gives me a sensitivity to story and a little different skill set when it comes to reading people. And writing in general is much easier for me than for many planners, I think. It's just not as much a part of the standard skill set.
I have often said that I haven't been a teacher for nearly 20 years, but I use that skill set everyday. If you want to learn how to manage a group of people, keep them on track, move the group toward an important goal and build their understanding, a good teacher is about the best model I know of.
The program that I came through at Northwestern (at least at that time) placed a strong emphasis on two areas that I particularly draw on almost continually. Because it's a school of education and social policy, they placed a strong emphasis on organizational management, as well as sociology and psychology. My mental framework for working with communities draws heavily on that, and most planners and economic developers don't have the opportunity to encounter that while they are still at their most malleable.
Second, from a methodology standpoint, the program put a huge emphasis on small group cooperative learning techniques, which is a method for enabling students to build mastery of a topic or skill by giving them structured activities that they complete collaboratively, with guidance from the teacher. That resonated to me, and from my perspective the most important thing was that I saw this approach building a deeper level of understanding of -- and ability to successfully address -- the issues. As far as I know, I am the only planner in the U.S. with this background and the only one that consciously tries to fold small group cooperative learning methods into planning and public engagement.