When we started rolling Ponder out in schools, we had little intention of involving teachers in the process. Teachers, regardless of what, where, or who they are teaching, have had a rough trot for the past few years, and the last thing we wanted to do was to add to their workload or give them another program to deliver. We imagined that most career educators would slot Ponder into their assemblies or whole-school programs, and in our most optimistic dreams we thought they might be able to grab a bit of time each week with whole year cohorts to deliver the program.
Which is why we were so thrilled/surprised/delighted when schools started telling us that they were delivering Ponder in homeroom, and that their learning area teachers were the ones actually hosting the conversations.
Teachers can hold the key
One of the reasons why we were so excited about this is because we know how important teachers are in this area – after immediate family, teachers are often the next most influential factor in a young person’s career decisions (Vernon & Drane, 2020). Which makes sense, when you think about it – they have regular contact with students in a context where they are learning and thinking about their future, and teachers hold a position of authority and (hopefully) trust for their students, so it’s no surprise that their opinions and ideas hold weight with young people.
That isn’t to say that teachers are holding in-depth career conversations with each student; in practice, the influence teachers exert manifests in a couple of ways:
- Teachers connect their content to career pathways,
- Teachers share their opinions on careers and pathways, and
- Teachers pass judgement on their student’s capacity to succeed in certain career pathways.
What does this look like?
Connecting content to careers
Teachers often connect their content to careers, for example a science teacher might connect their class on a certain chemical formula with its real-world use, or an English teacher may mention that journalists often need to write book reviews for magazines and online articles.
When careers and pathways are brought up in class, teachers may subconsciously pass judgement about the pathway. Which doesn’t mean they are explicitly negative, rather that they might make a face or use a tone of voice which is picked up by students.
It’s really important that teachers are able to share their opinions about a student’s abilities – they do this to assess their students – but they also occasionally make comment about a student’s capacity to achieve a certain career pathway. When they do, their comment might not even relate to the student at all, but rather to the perceived likelihood of them obtaining that pathway (“oooo, medicine is hard”, or “lots of people want to become musicians”.)
Let’s ensure teachers understand their influence and have accurate information to share
Teachers often aren’t aware either of their influential role, or of the impact of their words and actions (Austin et al., 2020). They also may not feel confident about their ability to provide accurate information or quality guidance, which makes sense, because, after all, career education is not really in their job description.
What we’ve found is that teachers who are delivering Ponder on behalf of their career educator have grown in confidence and become more engaged in the process of supporting their students, because Ponder gives them the framework so they can have positive conversations. It feels like we’re inserting career education by stealth at this point – many of these teachers have felt so engaged with the topics that they now have the confidence to start embedding career related learning within their wider curriculum.
It’s not the only solution, but it seems to be heading in the right direction, and we couldn’t be happier.
Austin, K., O’Shea, S., Groves, O., & Lamanna, J. (2020). Career development learning for students from low socioeconomic status (LSES) backgrounds: Desktop audit. University of Wollongong. https://documents.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@dvce/@in2uni/documents/doc/uow264920.pdf
Vernon, L., & Drane, C. F. (2020). Influencers: The importance of discussions with parents, teachers and friends to support vocational and university pathways. International Journal of Training Research, 18(2), 155–173. https://doi.org/10.1080/14480220.2020.1864442