Empowering children to celebrate their individuality

STANDARDISED: Most teachers will agree that classrooms just aren't structured to teach everybody.
STANDARDISED: Most teachers will agree that classrooms just aren't structured to teach everybody.

One of my favourite times of the year is the Career Development Association of Australia's annual conference. I get to travel to another city in Australia, meet with colleagues, peers and mentors and immerse myself in industry learning over three days.

I got back from the 2019 conference on the weekend and am abuzz with excitement about innovation and the work being done by private practitioners, school/VET/tertiary careers advisors, researchers, government departments and even the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate, explore, understand and practice new ways of supporting our clients to achieve their many and varied goals.

It's always exciting to hear about new resources, tools, data and services that are available, but the most exciting thing for me about this conference was the invitation to rethink the way we approach the shaping of young minds with regards to career exploration.

I had the privilege of listening to Ed Hidalgo, the Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer at Cajon Valley Union School District in the Greater San Diego Area in the US and while I don't specifically work in the primary school space like Ed does, I have never before been carried along on such a journey of professional passion and excitement.

Ed asked us to ponder a very important question: how does a child aspire to a career they don't know exists?

Ed passionately advocates for the integration of career exploration into pedagogical curricula, and introduces the children in his school district to the concepts of strengths, interests and values to help them identify their emerging preferences and likes/dislikes as they grow throughout school.

Career development is a human process, but as the bridge to employment, so too must education be.

Underpinned by Holland's theory of Occupational Themes (RIASEC - Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional), Ed has innovated an interactive and engaging way to immerse children in the process of understanding the way they think, how they prefer to work (inside and outside the classroom), what interests them and where their strengths lie, that celebrates the individual child beyond just assessing their 'success' in school via a standardised skills and abilities model. Children are then introduced to possible occupational themes and pathways, encouraging them to think big about their career options, while continuing to build these identified strengths in classroom activities.

Here, in Australia, we are not strangers to the problematic NAPLAN approach to assessing children founded in an analysis of their academic skills and abilities against predetermined standards. Ask a teacher and most of them will agree that classrooms just aren't structured to teach everybody and they are forced to focus on teaching the children who are well suited to standardised learning; who are round pegs for the round hole that is the school system. Teachers are frustrated and children are left behind.

This always reminds me of the adage, if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life forever believing it is stupid, for the kid who questions, who wants to know why, or perhaps even more significantly, why is this important, simply cannot be catered for in the current curriculum.

As the mother of a child who is fundamentally a square peg, it was genuinely music to my ears to hear Ed say that children with different strengths, values, interests, skills and abilities than what are measured in schools does not mean that they are broken. Let me say that again: it does not mean that they are broken.

Ed recognised the need to explore the careers that children could aspire to based on more than a number awarded in Year 12 and stated that when students connect the person they are with the person that they will be in the future, it creates purpose for their learning and drives their engagement. Not knowing what these strengths, values, goals and interests are, is a barrier to building that connection for our children and to overcome this, we need to rethink the way we connect with them as both parents and teachers.

The real value in Ed's innovative program, World of Work™, is in empowering our children to celebrate their individuality, to own it and to use it to shape their future positively - and with excitement! Career development is a human process, but as the bridge to employment, so too must education be. This sense of humanity, of individuality, is vital - I implore you to recognise it, celebrate it, empower it.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au