A Day in the Life of a High School Counselor: Painting the Picture of Adolescent Career Development

By Sarah A. Lopienski

[Eds. Note: This article originally appeared in Career Convergence in 2007.  It is being repeated here due to its value and significance today.]


One day, I began a career activity with a classroom of high school students, and looked out to notice the following:


Jim sits in the back of the class; head slumped in boredom. "This is pointless!" Samantha leans forward, "I'll probably just end up in the family business." Anthony's stomach drops, "Medicine?" How can school counselors help?

Over the past year, I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Mark Savickas as a graduate research assistant. I learned more than I thought I wanted to know about careers and adolescent development, everything from Crites' Career Maturity to Savickas' Career Adaptability theory. This knowledge, although at the time seemed overwhelming, really came into play when I began my career development activities with my students.

As I entered into my high school classrooms, I traditionally began discussing Holland's Self-Directed Search, the six personality types, and the World of Work map. I went on to discuss how it helps students assess their personality and interests, how it was important to know themselves, and how it related to their over all life satisfaction. But, unfortunately, the students were overwhelmingly bored. Not that they had heard this before, but perhaps it was just another assessment of many telling them what to do. This seemed almost parallel to the parent-adolescent conflict. "Don't tell me what to do mom and dad - I can figure it out on my own." So, I tried a different approach: I tried Savickas' My Career Narrative.

First, I began asking the students to think about what they dreamed of doing when they were younger. I had three students approach the board. One wrote: "Power Ranger". Another: "Police Man". The last: "Doctor". The other students laughed. This was a good sign. The class was asked to write down their answers on their My Career Narrative outline based on Dr. Savickas' original.

Having the students remain at the board, I asked them to think about their earliest recollections -not something that their parents told them, but something they could remember. You'd be quite surprised at the answers I received. The "Power Ranger" reported fighting with his brother in the backyard. The "Police Man" reported running after his sister after she stole his new toy. The "Doctor" reported playing house with her friends.

Then, I went on to ask the students write:

1) Who did you admire growing up? (How were you similar/different them?)

2) What are your favorite TV shows? (Favorite character? Why?)

3) Favorite magazines; favorite high school classes (and least favorite); hobbies?

4) What kind of jobs have you held in the past?

5) What do your parents/family members do (siblings, aunts/uncles, grandparents)?

As the students began to answer these questions, themes began to appear. The "Power Ranger" admired the Lone Ranger, enjoyed history and gym class. The "Police Officer" admired his father (also a police officer), worked in the police department as a volunteer. The "Doctor" admired her own doctor growing up and hated English class.

In my mind, the stories seemed to almost parallel with their Self-Directed Search results: RIA, RIC, IAS. It was really amazing. But, don't misinterpret, I wasn't playing fortune teller, but using the students own stories to help them realize their own personalities and life themes. The further we got, the more interested the students became. We discussed patterns and themes. Other students began to make suggestions about what careers the three students should consider. The entire class was involved. It was a great feeling. They were investigating themselves, who they were, what jobs might fit them. This was just the beginning.

Later, as the class activities ended, I began to receive students in my office, wanting to know more about certain careers, how to explore them, etc. This is where I began to use traditional methods of career assessment: Internet exploration, mentoring opportunities, student portfolios, etc.

Not all students had clear themes. Some had matches that were all over the place. I found at this point it is up to the counselor and student to explore these issues. Perhaps the student is pursuing a career his/her parents are encouraging, but it doesn't fit "who they are" - or the student needs to become more aware of themselves, their identity.

My Career Narrative provides counselors an opportunity to help students become excited about careers. As with everyone, we all want to understand our self core -a process that progresses throughout life. It is here where counselors can help adolescents begin to paint their own beautiful pictures.



Sarah A. Lopienski, M.Ed., is a Doctoral Candidate at Kent State Universityand Professional School Counselor at St.Vincent-St.MaryHigh School (Akron, OH). Sarah will be presenting the following on Sunday July 8, 2007 at the NCDA Seattle conference: "Career Style Interview: Assessing Adolescent Vocational Personality Type, Career Adaptability, and Life Theme". Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to slopiens@kent.edu or sl724711@ohio.edu

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Cynthia McDuffie   on Friday 09/02/2016 at 09:06 AM

Great article. Demonstrates how we have to find a way to connect with the people we are providing services to in a way that is meaningful to them. We have to meet them where they are not where we want them to be.

Teresa Caruso   on Tuesday 11/15/2016 at 02:46 PM

I enjoyed this article as it is a reminder that we have to open up and get to know the clients/students we are working with and let them express themselves so that we can get them engaged enough to be able to help them with questions they may have about careers, etc. Then from there the sky is the limit!

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