Career Exploration

New Digital Playbook Helps Middle Schoolers Prepare for Their Futures

If you’ve read any of our content or attended any events with us the last few years, you’ve probably heard us talk at length about middle school. We focus so much on the middle grades because our research and experience at ASA have shown us it’s the prime time for students to begin the career exploration process.

You might be thinking, “Middle school? Isn’t that a bit early?” 

The proof is in the data. In fact, our research revealed that 80% of middle school students are already thinking about what education and career paths they may want to pursue after high school. Moreover, 65% of high school students or recent graduates said they would have benefited from more career exploration in middle or high school. 

It’s on us, as caring adults, to create ways for them to learn about their options. The challenge, then, comes down to how we can engage students in career-connected learning at this precarious age. 

Over the years, we’ve partnered with the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), who have been invaluable in helping us understand and navigate career-readiness education in the middle grades. 

Recently, both of our organizations have teamed up with the online graphic design platform Canva for Education to develop “Exploring Career Paths: A Guide for Middle Schoolers (and The People Who Care About Them),” a visually compelling, highly engaging workbook for students in middle school to help them explore their options and understand their own aptitudes and interests in a way that’s actually fun. (Canva for Education is available for K-12 districts, schools, teachers and students, and is 100% free to use for K-12 teachers and students at eligible schools.)

The playbook is designed to help parents, educators, leaders, and instructors at youth-serving organizations–basically, anyone who works with kids in middle and high school–provide their students with an interactive way to gain the tools and knowledge they need to step into the future with prepared confidence. 

The guide is divided into a few critical categories:

Understanding Identity

Understanding identities can be an intricate process, especially for middle schoolers. The activity involving the “identity circle” serves as a tool for students to discern various facets that contribute to their individuality. This exercise initiates an exploration of how elements such as gender, culture, and interests converge to form integral aspects of one’s identity.

Exploring Values

A person’s values often guide their actions and are typically acquired from family, friends, and environment. This activity encourages learners to delve into their values, prompting them to reflect on the principles instilled in them. Subsequently, they are encouraged to consider how these values can serve as guiding forces in shaping their individual priorities.

Navigating Career Options

The reality is that so many young people simply aren’t aware of the vast array of career options available to them. So, it’s critical that we give them space and opportunity to explore. This activity will help kids uncover career clusters, salaries, education levels, and job details to better understand what’s involved in the career paths they may be interested in pursuing. 

Leveraging Personal and Professional Networks

Social capital is absolutely essential in helping kids move forward in life. Whether it’s a relative, family friend, teacher, or any other caring adult in a student’s life, it’s important that we guide them toward the right people who can offer advice, answer questions, and instill confidence in determining potential education or career pathways. This activity will help students to think about the people in their lives who might be able to offer assistance.

Building Skills

Once kids have the chance to establish their identities, values, career options, and networks, the next step is to ensure they have the actual skills they need to succeed. This activity will help them understand the skills they currently possess as well as the skills they need to improve.

Prioritizing Self-Care

The concept of “self-care” is often discussed, but there’s rarely a unanimously agreed-upon definition of what that actually looks like. The truth is, it can mean different things to different people. This activity will help kids understand how they might engage in self-care and check in with themselves.

The playbook is already proving to be a hit among middle-grades educators who have test-driven the resource with their students. Here’s what a couple of them had to say:

“As a teacher, it feels like there’s never enough time for everything that matters. The student playbook resources provide relevant, polished activities that are so clearly explained and presented that students can complete them with no special preparation needed by teachers, saving precious time while still providing meaningful self and career exploration experiences for students.”

Katie Powell

“School leaders juggle the needs of several stakeholders: students, faculty, and families. This resource offers faculty and staff members a plug-and-play framework that supports career exploration that is invaluable in building student capacity, including wellness and communication, throughout the middle level years.” 

Jennifer Rose

We hope that you find the workbook useful in helping the middle schooler(s) in your life navigate their options and develop a sense for what’s possible beyond high school. And if you do use the resource, we’d love to hear how the experience was!