Working with high school seniors can be both a blessing and a challenge. They are more mature and focused, but they also question the relevance of how they spend their time in the classroom. Plus, there’s the dreaded senioritis to contend with. Over the years, I’ve found a few ways to make senior year more relevant for my students and keep them engaged (at least until spring break).
Finding Their Path
My first goal for seniors is to provide opportunities and time for them to find their path. Many seniors come into their final year of high school anxious about what the future holds. Some might have a clear vision of their future, but many are still trying to figure out life after graduation.
As part of the process of helping students find some direction, I require them to get out into the world of work and do at least one half-day job shadow and then write a reflection on their experience. Most students know this is something they should do, but I have found that unless they get a nudge or push, they simply don’t.
Students tell me that getting out into the field they are interested in and seeing what it might look like for them is very beneficial. We work with a local group to help match students to job shadows, and for those students who aren’t sure what their future holds, we encourage them to do more than one. In addition to the job shadows, seniors are required to interview people in the field they are considering as well as adults they view as happy and successful.
The third part of helping students start to find their path is doing some career research; however, I don’t frame it as the traditional research paper. Rather, we approach it from the angle of researching the myths about that career or the little-known things about that career that most people aren’t aware of. This is often an eye-opening experience.
For many students, the combination of job shadows, interviews, and career research helps them to narrow down their path or confirm that their path is for them. Occasionally, I do have students who after all this realize that the career they thought was right for them might not be. While these students are disappointed, they’re also glad to have figured it out sooner rather than later.
Finding Their Why and Current Purpose
In conjunction with finding their path, I ask seniors to explore the “why” behind their future plans and become clear on their current purpose. We do this through a variety of short writing prompts spread over several weeks. The prompts vary: create a list of things that give you energy and things that drain your energy, what are your top 10 values, what activities make you lose track of time, and describe your dream job, to name just a few.
In addition to the various writing prompts, students create three collages: one that represents them as a child and their interests then, one to represent them now, and one to represent their future self. Students also generate other artifacts, such as an alphabetical autobiography. We explore various articles and writings around the idea of the value of work and the idea that work can bring more than just a paycheck.
After generating a lot of material over the course of several weeks, I challenge students to go back through it all and find connections.
For example, the student who loved building with Legos as a kid might connect that to being in robotics today and their future plans to be an engineer. Sometimes students notice that there is a gap between their connections and future plans. This offers students an opportunity to reflect and ask questions. Sometimes students are fine with the gap, while others reevaluate their plans.
I also push students to look at their values to determine if they align with their post–high school plans. Students have discovered some surprising things about themselves through this. In the past, students who have listed family as a value and were planning to enter a career that would demand 50 or 60 hours a week have had to think through the trade-offs that are inherent in a situation like that.
Near the end of this process, students craft their purpose statement. We then discuss how that statement can help guide them right now and how it will change as they continue to gain experiences and knowledge. We use all this work of self-exploration as a catapult to throw us into personal essays that can be used for admissions, scholarships, or interview prep. Students also pull from their self-discovery work when we prepare professional résumés.
Seniors see the relevance of this work, and many enjoy taking the time, space, and support to think about themselves, grapple with big questions, and figure out what comes next. By keeping things relevant, I have found that I can keep senioritis at bay for much longer than usual.