06/01/2008

With All Your Power, What Will You Do? A Strengths-Based Career Unit for Elementary Students

By Kelsey Augst and Patrick Akos

When I think of Superman or other popular superheroes, I often think about their special talents they use to do good in the world. While most of us do not recognize them as such, everyone has special powers that allow them to accomplish tasks daily. Strengths, talents, and interests combine to create unique powers for each person. Our world is full of individuals who are utilizing their powers in different ways; artists have creative powers, construction workers have building powers, and counselors have people powers. In efforts to engage and inspire elementary aged students while also building their sense of self-awareness and self-efficacy, I used this idea about discovering and sharing our powers in a strengths-based career classroom guidance unit.

We know that crucial career related concepts and attitudes are first formed in childhood (Palladina-Schultheiss, Palma, & Manzi, 2005). Childhood interventions should facilitate exploration and self-concept development in order to enhance and strengthen early career development. Utilizing a Strengths-Based School Counseling (Galassi & Akos, 2007) approach provides students with opportunities to increase motivation and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy plays a central role in the career decision making process (O'Brien et al, 2000) and can be nurtured by helping students to identify personal assets and connect with role models. Further, students need to have opportunities that link academic areas with various occupations, helping them to make connections between school and the workforce. The classroom guidance lesson described next focused upon these particular needs for elementary school students.

The Curriculum

Four classroom lessons, lasting 35-45 minutes each, were delivered in several fourth grade classrooms. Objectives for the unit included indentifying personal powers, describing how what students are learning now (academics) will contribute to later careers, exploring and connecting to a variety of careers, and discussing how factors (e.g., gender or race) may influence how we use our powers in our career choice.

Session One: What is My Power?
The unit began by discussing superheroes and how they use their powers to do good in the world. Students were then introduced to the concept that they have personal powers too. Teams of students had the challenge of writing as many careers that they could think of in two minutes. After sharing this experience, the idea about personal powers was connected to careers deeper in classroom discussion. Last, students had an opportunity to write and draw their personal powers and interests.
Session Two: Developing My Power
First, students were asked if they had ever wondered why they needed to learn a certain subject. Almost every hand was raised in agreement! The purpose for the lesson was set by explaining that students would connect what they are doing right now in school to the outside world. In groups of three, students were given a picture of a career. They were asked to list how workers in the assigned career might be able to utilize what the students were currently learning in math, reading, writing, and science. They also listed personal powers that could help someone in this career and made connections to their own personal power where relevant. Students shared their work with the class and then discussed how their powers were being developed in school. Their powers were framed as "baby powers." In order to fully develop these powers, students shared how they needed to work hard in elementary, middle, high school, and even post-secondary education.
Session Three: Using My Power
Students were led in a discussion on how gender or race can affect occupational choice by exploring examples of traditional and nontraditional occupations. Again, the concept of powers was brought into this discussion. Students discussed and determined that powers were not gender or racially specific, but that they were unique to the person holding them. Students choose one profession to research where they may be able to use some of their powers. Students worked independently to complete a report on this career. Students were asked to bring a home-created costume or props in order to dress up as their chosen career for the next session.
Session Four: Sharing My Power
Students dressed up and presented their careers in this culminating session. They gave two clues about the profession for students to guess. The presenter also explained how he or she could use one of his or her powers in this career. In closing, students discussed future dreams and set plans for developing their powers.

Lessons Learned

While most students revel in identifying and sharing their power, some came to this awareness and embraced it at a slower pace. For example, one particular student needed to latch on to a career of interest first (actor) before he was able to describe his powers (talking to a crowd). By the last session, his enthusiasm and self-efficacy enabled many school-career connections (vocabulary) and a passion for sharing his power (by far the best costume!). We found the task of identifying, nurturing, using, and sharing a super power to be an appealing way to engage elementary school students in the career development process.

Full plans and activity sheets are available by contacting the first author at kelseyaugst@yahoo.com.


References

Galassi, J. & Akos, P. (2007). Strengths-based School Counseling: Promoting Student Development and Achievement. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

O'Brien, K.M., Bikos, L.H., Epstein, K.L., Flores, L.Y., Dukstein, B.D., & Ngondi, A.K. (2000). Enhancing the career decision making self-efficacy of upward bound students. Journal of Career Development, 26(4), 277-293.

Palladino-Schultheiss, D.E., Palma, T.V., & Manzi, A.J. (2005). Career development in middle childhood: A qualitative inquiry. The Career Development Quarterly, 53(3), 246-262.




Kelsey Augst

Kelsey Augst, M.Ed., is a former elementary school teacher and currently a graduate student in School Counseling at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Patrick Akos

Patrick Akos, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of School Counseling at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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