Making sense of career education

Career consultant Gray Poehnell shares some insights into the workshops he has been leading with Victorian teachers across the state.

A self-described 'marginalised student with multiple barriers', Gray Poehnell is now a successful academic, author and career consultant with 30 years' experience in career development, who focuses strongly on holistic approaches that cultivate hope, creativity, imagination, and career integrity.

Having worked with diverse client populations such as Aboriginal people, young people, social assistance recipients, older adults, immigrants, professionals, and clients with multiple barriers, Gray is widely recognised for providing meaningful and thought-provoking training to  career practitioners both nationally and internationally.

Over the past few months, Gray has taken many Victorian teachers through his approach to career education and he shared some of his insights below.

Making sense of strengths, capacities and the role of teachers

Gray's approach to career educations starts with exploring what a student is engaged with, to better understand student's capacities and what they can do with them.

Gray explains that 'as educators, we are helping students to find their strengths so that they can learn to work with them. And finding their strengths, for me, is really turning everything they have in their life to a strength so they can find a wide range of pathways to move towards.'

Teachers as career educators balance hope with realism

'The role of the teacher is help students learn, that's fundamental.' Gray explained.

'But beyond that, teachers can identify where students are at in their learning, meet them at that place and move them on from there.'

'Success is not always linked to students' level of knowledge. Many students with very high grades never succeed, because they never apply their whole ability. And then you have students that are told in school that they're never going to succeed because of low grades who actually see great success, because they strive to work with what they've got.'

'So I see the role of the teacher as a person who generates hope and possibility for these students, and who has the incredibly challenging task of making not only their learning, but also the possibility of success, accessible to each student.'

An accessible, strength-based approach to career education

Career education is currently being transformed to ensure that students have the skills and capabilities they need to navigate multiple careers and meet the challenges of the changing world of work.

Part of this is understanding how a strength-based model to career education can help students challenge themselves, understand their potential and explore the countless opportunities available to them.   

Shifting our culture to inspire students to keep learning

'Many students can give up very early in their schooling because they are told that they will never succeed because they are not meeting the expected norms,' Gray explained.

'I think if we can shift this culture to realise that each individual has different capacities, and we can give them the idea that they can succeed using what they have and what they can work on, rather than what they think they don't have, this can give students the encouragement to keep trying rather than to give up.'

Balance realism and hope

'You balance realism and hope by first understanding that we all have strengths and weaknesses and that is normal, not abnormal.'

'You also need to help them to interpret the results that they get in a way that allows for a path to possible success. If they get a specific grade and have tried the best that they can, then they need to be acknowledged for their success.'

'It's a matter of finding the right fit; this also addresses the opposite problem of higher-performing students who are told: "you can be anything you want to be."'

'The underlying principle should be to give students a starting point by asking: "What is your capacity? Can you improve this capacity? What jobs need this capacity? Will you enjoy this job?"'

Career education is not about a single job

'It's important for young people to understand that getting the right job is not going to fulfil all of who they are. And this is partly why we have a lot of stress and workaholic behaviours in the modern workplace as people try to get all their fulfilment through work.'

'When we focus too much on a single job, it's like looking through a telescope, seeing the destination so far away in the distance and being blinded to all the other opportunities on that journey.'

'But as students' progress through their education, they have to keep their eyes open to everything going on around them, or they may miss the opportunity that's right for them.'

'So how do we as educators create, not a static view of careers, but a dynamic view that lets us look for different possibilities?'

'We can start by not fixing students to a single job, but still encouraging them by saying "this may be a great place to start on their life-long career journey.'

Transforming career education

2019 is the 75th year of Education Week and to support the new career education reforms the theme is 'Celebrating Careers' and  it aims to positively profile and celebrate the strengths and achievements of Victoria's government education sector.

To learn more about how career education in government schools is being transformed. To see how you can be involved in Education Week 2019 and what activities are happening.

Inspire your students this Education Week

Dozens of organisations are hosting free events across the state for your school to explore the wide world of work from 19 – 25 May.

You can join in or make your own school based Education Week activity themed on careers.

One activity you can join is with the celebrated children's author, Paul Jennings, at the Warrnambool Art Gallery to explore how he was able to follow his passion to become a writer.

Or maybe explore your local Tech School and see the future of education in action.

Or maybe you need your inner artist released by experiencing a day in the life of a circus performer and take your students to the Westside Circus in Preston.

These events are just a taste of opportunities to be explored in your communities. To see what's happening near your school and to give your students a rich Education Week experience, see: Education Week – Calendar of events