Using the Family Tree of Careers: Branching Out with Others!

By Carol Johnson


Working collaboratively with other teachers, school counselors can contribute to the development of an optimum learning environment while collecting information to assist with career counseling. Having been a former school counselor competing for classroom time, I found that working together with teachers on previously established assignments can create a new opportunity in the classroom for career counselors who are looking for strategy to help students without impinging on teachers’ classroom time. Getting into the classrooms for counseling sessions need not be so challenging when using activities already in place that can serve dual purposes.

Difficulties Encountered

District assessments, state testing, and meeting curriculum expectations all need to be balanced with teaching subject area content to students. Teachers have limited time for field trips, outside speakers and enrichment activities that can enhance student learning due to all the demands for time in the classroom. Some schools have designated classroom guidance sessions built into the schedules, but many do not. When faced with the challenge of the school counselor meeting with many students, it is often difficult to meet with large groups in a school setting. After school, students may have jobs, family responsibilities, clubs, and athletic practice or competitions that limit opportunities for face-to-face meetings with the school counselor. It is essential that the school counselor seek creative ways to work with students in the classroom setting.

Genogram: A Career Counseling Strategy

Career counseling in schools may present a challenge when there are substantial numbers of students to meet with each year. One strategy that one may wish to consider is collaborating with the 8th or 9th grade history teacher. During the 8th or 9th grade year, history teachers often schedule an Ellis Island simulation or a Genealogy Family Tree assignment where students try to determine ancestors and how they came to America. This assignment often is showcased in a type of family tree. By working with the teachers, school counselors can add to the family tree assignment by asking students to not only note the names on the family tree, but indicate the job or career of the individual too. Teaming up with the history teachers offers a unique opportunity to seek information from students for the purpose of career planning. This addition to the family tree is sometimes referred to as a career genogram and could be helpful to the student and the counselor in a variety of ways.

Interpretative Strategy: Looking for Patterns in the Information

  1. If the student plans to attend college and, based on the family tree, others have not previously had college experience, the student is a first generation student. The counselor can share ways to assist the family in choosing post-secondary schools and identifying options to pay for additional education if that is the desire of the family. Some may qualify for financial assistance simply based on being a “first generation” college applicant.

  2. Identifying traditional gender patterns might indicate there were generations of mothers who worked at home raising children while supporting the family without resorting to outside employment. The family tree might indicate a blue-collar work history, or an established tradition in running a family-owned business or family generations who gave military service to country. Breaking the cycle of traditional patterns may present its own challenges if the student wants to establish some new frontiers in a chosen career. The family roots embedded in a single career may necessitate passing on the family business or community service expectations to the next generation. Understanding family roles and expectations might help the counselor better meet the career planning needs of the students and their families.

  3. With the current economic situation, unemployment might also be indicated on the family tree with the added career history component. Knowing that there are families with unemployed members who are seeking work might lead to networking opportunities and allow the counselor to reach out and see if the family has financial needs that could be met through free/reduced lunch applications, sports or fee waivers, and free SAT or ACT tests during this time of financial challenge.

  4. Finally, the career genogram (family tree of career history) could provide valuable resources for career shadow sessions for current students. Collecting the list of currently employed parents, counselors could use that information for planning for career speakers in classes, job shadow arrangements or even mentors for students with similar career interests.

Other Partnership Possibilities

Counselors may wish to seek collaborating opportunities with other teachers. For example, meeting with math teachers to determine if they have a math-skills project (such as developing a budget). The career or school counselor could add to the math lesson by exploring career options based on salary and balancing the cost of different schools or training programs. Business teachers often have similar assignments where students look at job marketing, resume writing, and interviewing. Counselors can assist with developing skills to enhance the opportunities for future business leaders. English teachers may have career exploration papers assigned. Counselors could do presentations along with the teachers to show what jobs are most in demand, what classes might be most worthwhile to take, and what colleges and technical schools offer the programs to gain the degree required in the work force.

Collaboration is the Key

Working with teachers who have ongoing projects can provide opportunity for school counselors or career counselors to become more visible in the classrooms, develop cooperative relationships with staff members, learn more about the students in the school community, and most importantly provide career interventions to students in need by this creative use of teachers’ time.



Carol JohnsonCarol Johnson, Ph.D. is currently a full-time Assistant Professor teaching courses in the School Counseling program at University of Wisconsin-Stout. She has over 33 years in public education as a former teacher and school counselor. Contact Carol at: johnsoncaro@uwstout.edu

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1 Comment

Sheryl Eldridge   on Friday 03/09/2012 at 08:48 AM

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this artlcle and discovering how the Family Tree can be incorporated into career interests.

Thank you for sharing your knowledege.


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