Adopting a Whole School Approach to Career Development in High School

By Holly Whittinghill

According to a recent article in Education Week (Klein, 2020), only 52 percent of students feel ready to enter the workforce after high school. The responsibility of career planning seems to fall on the school career specialists or guidance counselors. However, to reach all students, schools may need to invite all faculty to participate in this student development effort. When schools implement a whole school approach, students are better prepared for the workforce 

A Whole School Approach

Career readiness standards are established in many states. The Applied Educational System broadly describes career readiness as “everything that has to do with someone entering the job market” and includes career exploration and employability skills (Zook, 2018, para. 10). Involving all professionals within the schools, particularly those who regularly utilize these standards, can help make a school-wide integration of career planning and exploration programs seamless and uniform across all content areas. Administrators, regular education teachers, special education teachers, school psychologists, and auxiliary staff would be involved in implementing a whole school career-planning model. For example,

  • Regular teachers: present weekly content that focuses on the career connection of their content; this will allow students to make the critical link to the school curriculum that helps to forge a path to a future career.
  • The Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers are likely the best-positioned and natural ally to work closely with the career counselor to implement the whole school approach. According to Advance CTE (2018), students who take CTE courses have a better grasp of their future compared to students who do not participate in these courses. 
  • School psychologist: develop an interview skills curriculum; this would include legally acceptable job accommodations for different careers. While helpful for all students, those in special education (e.g., students with disabilities) would learn the correct path to self-advocacy by teaching them the proper way to talk with employers about work accommodations.
  • All students: make connections and get inspired. Inspiration, in turn, sparks an interest that always precedes meaningful and authentic learning (Watanabe-Crockett, 2019). This real-world concept connection paves the way for developing critical thinking, problem solving, and other employability skills. Most importantly, students have a stake in their learning.

Photo By Max Fischer From Pexels
School Career Specialist Leading the Way

The career specialist's role is to lead the school in implementing the whole-school model while teachers provide classroom insight that expands student options. The career counselor works closely with the school administration to guide the pace and range of tasks throughout the school. The career specialist assists leadership in buying into the model by helping them see all stakeholders benefit from the whole school approach when everyone has a part.

The career professional has ideas, resources, and a network of contacts they can draw from. They are ready to provide the necessary leadership and support that involves school professionals. For instance, career specialists can

  • select virtual options for career shadowing
  • assess tools for career exploration, recommending those that will benefit the students the most
  • provide materials for experiential exercises
  • utilize partnerships with the local Chamber of Commerce, Junior Achievement, and the Workforce Development Board to obtain information about available internships and externships in the community. Getting students prepared for the workforce is aided by hand-on-experience provided by these entities.

Sample Sketch of a Curriculum Plan

At the freshman level, weekly lessons could include exploring a variety of careers, taking a career interest survey, completing an aptitude test, and setting short and long-term goals. This plan might consist of social studies and elective teachers highlighting one career each week. They could integrate these as bell ringers (i.e., 2-3 minute activities done at the beginning of class), then continue with application activities and enrichment extensions. They could also use these career explorations as stand-alone weekly lessons. Students may set measurable goals in science classes.

Students then continue with career exploration, brainstorming and prepping for career shadowing during the sophomore year. At this point in the journey, students could be encouraged to join a club or organization specifically to develop team-related skills. Students may create a live document listing extra-curricular involvement, awards, and education highlights that will grow as the student progresses through high school. These activities will focus on asking students to brainstorm and list experiences from their past. Resume development will progress because of this continuation of goal-setting activities completed in the freshman year.

Junior year career exploration activities may include providing real-world experience through job shadowing and workplace learning. By this time, students are prepared to utilize the results from the assessment instruments, exploring career options that match various careers. Through their elective courses, students can now take the list of experiences developed earlier to create a resume. Also, community partners can be recruited to participate in mock interviews to provide feedback for students’ written and verbal communication. Students with disabilities can acquire skills necessary to self-advocate while talking with employers about work accommodations.

As students approach their senior year, they have likely engaged in career exploration to clarify their career options. They also would have had at least one career shadowing experience. More career shadowing and work experience can still occur at this level if time and resources allow. Seniors may aim to write a cover letter and practice interviewing during this year. They can use those experiences to start reflecting using the following two activities developed by Sollars (2012). Specifically, students will create a personal statement, a brief paragraph that describes their strengths and core values. The next task will be creating a job framework. This framework allows students to research various job postings and create a document choosing only the statements that fit the type of position they desire. Combining the personal statement and job framework can illuminate future path options to pursue. For students pursuing the post-secondary option, colleges and universities in the surrounding communities can participate by interviewing students.

The whole school model culminating activity is a job fair (virtual or in-person) arranged by the career counselor, school administrators, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community partners. A job fair will allow students to take their resumes and cover letters to interview local companies and compete for currently open jobs in the community. Local colleges and universities could also attend and take advantage of the time to interview students for specific programs or on-campus opportunities.

Unified and Ready for the Future

The whole school approach is not only cost-effective; it is also an efficient and unified method that allows all students to have meaningful post-high school readiness without compromising school attendance. Teacher-led instruction plays a large part in this process. When every professional is involved in high school career exploration, all students can leave well prepared with the necessary tools to succeed in the next phase of their lives.





Klein, A. (2020, November. 29). Teens feel ready for college, but not so much for work. Education Week. www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teens-feel-ready-for-college-but-not-so-much-for-work/2019/09

Advance CTE. (2018). Fact Sheets. Advance CTE, https://careertech.org/fact-sheets

Sollars, L. (2012). Personal statement and job framework. Creating Purpose. https://www.creatingpurpose.com/

Watanabe-Crockett, L. (2019, February). This is why making strong learning connections matters most. Global Digital Citizen Foundation. https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/making-strong-learning-connections-matters

Zook, C. (2018, October. 23). What is career readiness and how do you teach it? Digital curriculum for CTE and elective teachers. Applied Educational Systems. www.aeseducation.com/blog/what-is-career-readiness


Holly WhittinghillHolly Whittinghill is the College and Career Coach at Greenwood High School in Bowling Green, KY. She can be reached at hwhittinghill@icloud.com

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Linda Sollars   on Sunday 05/02/2021 at 05:31 PM

This article lays out career development integration into every department in a high school, which is so critical to directing student success and they compete with the global community! Excellent layout, Holly!

Polly Matteson   on Monday 05/03/2021 at 04:00 PM

I really appreciate this well-structured, systematic approach to involve all curricular areas in preparing students for success. Thank you, Holly.

Mark Ostrowski   on Wednesday 05/05/2021 at 08:02 PM

This is the best review of what needs to happen in school. Unfortunately, it is a dream for most. I"ve been doing career work /major selection work with HSers for years, and still hear the same problems. THanks for this.

Destiny O'Rourke   on Friday 05/21/2021 at 09:27 AM

YOU'VE GOT IT!!! This is exactly what students need and I'm excited to see how your plan develops! It's difficult to turn an entire school mindset around, but the only way it will happen is if we keep chipping away at the old mentality every single time we see an opportunity to do so! Let's stay in this fight! Well done!

Jim Peacock   on Monday 05/24/2021 at 11:52 AM

So glad you include CTE in this article. Career development is so important for all students.

Sherry Moyers   on Thursday 01/05/2023 at 12:02 PM

Very informative--Thank you.

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