Career Education Doesn’t Have to be Boring
Teaching about and exploring careers in the classroom can often feel a bit boring. It’s challenging to find the balance between getting students engaged in thinking about their future and providing impartial yet meaningful advice on making the decisions that will set them up for future success.
So you can probably imagine how taking this learning online has created a few other challenges.
For many of the young people I work with, beginning to explore their ideas for work, jobs, and long-term careers can feel terrifying. And rightly so—the pandemic has many of us questioning what the future for our young people might look like. Even without this added pressure, decisions about their future make many students feel anxious, and the current situation multiplies those feelings.
In my work, I’ve found that curiosity is the best tool I have to help my students on this journey. This involves both being curious about them and helping them to cultivate their curiosity about what the world of work could look like for them individually. Adding in a healthy dose of creativity certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Taking my work with students online has provided an opportunity to refresh some of my resources and create new ones that students can work on in their own time before seeking feedback and guidance from me. A couple of examples:
This is ‘Future Me’
This one works well with my more artistically inclined students. Essentially, it asks them to reflect on and imagine what their future self looks like in terms of work.
Through prompt questions, (what does your workplace look like, who or what are you working with, how do you dress for work, what do you need/have around you to do your job), students can write, draw or collage what their ‘future work self’ looks like. They can be as serious or silly as they like—whatever they create provides me with heaps of insights into how they’re currently thinking about the future, which helps me hone in on the types of further questions, activities, or experiences they might benefit from.
Download a pdf of the Future Me handout here.
My Career Road Map
This one works well with students who have a firm idea of the career path they’d like to travel..
It’s a straightforward ‘map’ worksheet, where the student works backward from their ultimate career goal down to where they are now in school. Along the way, there are checkpoints that need to be filled in, such as what qualifications they need, what grades they need, where they can study in our local area, potential work experience opportunities and people who might offer mentoring. Students have to research each checkpoint and fill in the details.
It’s a great way to find out what their path could look like, and it helps them engage with our local community, figuring out what resources are available to them and who they could speak to for advice. Having a map, even one I tell them will likely change, helps them feel more in control and confident about what their next steps should look like.
Download a pdf of the Career Road Map here.
Both of these activities have worked well in our online world because the students have full ownership over how they respond and create these visions for themselves. I’m there to guide them, but the responsibility is on them to do the work.
I currently live and work in Australia, and we spent one school term teaching online. Things are relatively back to normal now, but I know this isn’t the case for many people across our global education communities. Here are a few things I took away from going online that helped me in my role:
- Focus on what you can control – In a situation where there is so much outside of our control, I found that it was vital to maintain focus on the things within my control. Reaching out to students individually or a group weekly email touching base with the whole class, making time for colleagues, refreshing and updating resources; these things kept me feeling positive and of value.
- Set boundaries – I could comfortably sit answering emails and attending Zoom meetings all day, but that’s also the quickest way to burnout for me. Creating a basic structure of ‘email time’ and Zoom time, and making sure I stuck to my work hours, were crucial for staying sane.
- Accepting the unknowns – I’m very conscious that in my role I have it somewhat easier than most teachers. Many of my colleagues were voicing anger and concerns over not knowing when things would return to ‘normal’ and the constantly changing processes and plans. It can be hard to accept the simple truth that we are all just making it up as we go, but I found acknowledging this helped me to let go of the perfectionist tendencies that often plague the classroom. I was able to refocus on what I could do rather than what I felt I should be doing.
Another breakthrough I had was in communication. I quickly found that I got higher engagement through online chat. When I delivered sessions in the classroom, I rarely got many questions, but students would come and find me after to chat in private.
The online chat facility allowed students to feel more secure when asking me their questions, without feeling ‘stupid’ or singled out in front of their peers. It led to some great conversations with students who had repeatedly told me they didn’t know what they wanted to do after school.
I’ve kept a version of this going, allowing students to leave handwritten career questions in a jar in the classroom. Once a week I go through the questions and write up answers to display on our ‘Careers Corner’ board. It’s anonymous, and the questions are usually really insightful and beneficial for more than one student.
Online learning is not ideal, but I’m confident there’ll be more than a few great learning opportunities for us to bring back to the classroom when this is all over. It’s certainly taught me the power of being adaptable, and once again highlighted the remarkable resilience teachers the world over demonstrate daily, online, or off.
Elaine Mead is a Senior Careers Educator and Writer, with international experience, supporting students from a variety of academic backgrounds explore their chosen industry. Her work in this space has taken her from working with young unemployed people in London to university graduates in Australia, running internship programs, and supporting adults from migrant backgrounds. Elaine now works within Australian high schools, supporting year 9 and 10 students as they transition to their next step. Next year she will commence her MA in Educational Psychology and hopes to one day create a creativity-driven careers curriculum that encourages young people to explore their career ideas throughout their high school journey. You can find her sharing more words and great career content she finds on the internet over on Twitter: @_elainemead.