Monthly Archives: March 2019

Self-exploration is critical to student career planning

Now that Pennsylvania public schools are tasked with helping all students create career plans, they need to go a step further—have them create three.

While they’re at it, schools also should make sure that kids don’t begin career planning without having first explored their interests and assessed their skills, said Boston University Professor V. Scott Solberg. PhD. Solberg spoke in March to a group of educators gathered at the Consortium for a workshop presented in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory. 

“Interest inventories often go straight to careers, but we want kids to find first out how they relate to the world,” Solberg said. When they connect careers to personal interests and goals, they’re much more likely to “take ownership of their learning.”

Identifying more than one career plan not only gives students a fallback, it also makes them think more deeply about their interests and skills. The magic number seems to be three because research suggests students with three different plans both do better in school and are happier later in life, Solberg said.

With schools relying too heavily on test scores as benchmarks of progress, too many students go off to college with no plan, or plans that didn’t adequately take account of who they are. It’s why too many drop out or change majors, Solberg said. “We need educators to realize they’re not just teaching subjects. We need to think about those next steps, not just subjects.”

To ensure that kids have the chance for self-exploration, Solberg suggested they do written reflections on what they’ve learned about themselves and what tentative career and life goals they can envision.

Additionally, he said the interest of a caring adult can be critical in starting the process. One common way of ensuring this access is pairing students with adult mentors in their schools. But some schools even are bringing in retirees to help kids, he said. Additionally, schools can bring business people in for career explorations, panel discussions and other activities.

Among the highest priorities for many educators at the workshop was helping students connect with real-world experiences and role models outside the classroom.

Baldwin Whitehall School District’s Assistant Superintendent Denise Sedlacek, M.Ed., for example, said her team would like to see more job-shadows for students in middle school and, at higher grade levels, more internships and cooperative education arrangements, in which kids combine classroom time with jobs.

“Our bullseye is face-to-face,” agreed South Allegheny School District Superintendent Dr. Lisa Duval. “For our kids, career exploration has to be more than logging onto a computer and researching a career. We have to get them onsite.”

Duval said families in her district can’t necessarily provide exposure to the kinds of careers that their kids might want. “We have to be the catalyst to say, ‘If you want more, you can have more’.”





Alliance presentation sheds light on teen behavior

Remember the billion-dollar, 1970s advertising campaign warning young people about the dangers of drugs—how they’d fry your brain like an egg, among other things? It had no effect. Drug use didn’t decline at all.

Despite reaching millions of people, the campaign likely failed its intended purpose because of the way our brains work, Carnegie Mellon University Professor Julie Downs, PhD. told educators gathered for a Future Ready Alliance session in March.

Instilling fear ultimately isn’t a strategy for changing teen behavior, she said. “You can’t live in a state of fear.” Instead, the brain responds more to actionable information.

With support from The Heinz Endowments, Dr. Downs gave special presentation on social and emotional learning as part of a series of Alliance “target” sessions, when participating teams and others focus on a topic related to their ongoing work improving college and career readiness in their schools. Dr. Downs talk covered a range of troublesome teen issues, ranging from risky behaviors like drug use to not studying enough.

Although it may not seem so at times, teens are just as capable of making rational choices as adults, Dr. Downs said. And they make bad choices for many of the same reasons as well. But they’re also more susceptible to what she terms “hot states,” when actions are driven more by the primitive, limbic regions of the brain that are responsible for feelings.

In cooler states, she explained, teen decisions are driven more by reason. Feelings still play a role, but a proper one—augmenting judgement.

Because kids have feelings of wanting to be liked and accepted, peer pressure often influences them to engage in risks that reasoning would tell them to avoid. A dire warning might not help them resist, because it’s not actionable, Downs said. “It doesn’t give them any tools. It’s not behaviorally useful information.”

Downs illustrated the emotional pull peer relationships can have on youngsters with the story of a young woman who’d been the victim of cyberbullying so severe, she received death threats. To escape her tormentors, the girl withdrew from social media.  But ultimately, “safety and wellbeing felt less important than being left out,” so she went back, Downs said.

To help kids avoid being pulled into behavior they know they shouldn’t, it’s best to talk about coping strategies in “cool” states, before the need arises. Contingency plans are among the “tools” that help kids avoid risks, Downs said. Other aids in in resisting temptation include environmental cues. For example, putting salad at the beginning of a buffet table can encourage more healthy eating.

For adults to understand teen behavior and guide decisions, it’s also helpful to understand the drivers of intuitive choices. Among these, people tend toward overconfidence and toward an “illusion of control,” both of which can play into taking chances like driving too fast or not studying enough for a test.