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The Career Tree: Creating a Narrative That Changes the Game

What’s the Career Tree? I mean, what IS it? If you answer it’s a great wall graphic used in classrooms to motivate students to set goals—well, you’re partly right. But there’s so much more to it than that.

The Career Tree is ultimately not a product; it’s a philosophy. It’s not just a classroom tool; it’s a mindset about education and students and even the profession of teaching. Yes, it comes with interactive wall graphics and videos and worksheets and online resources, but those things are not the Career Tree. They simply support it.

Creating a Powerful Program Narrative
As part of the Education with Purpose® philosophy, the Career Tree is really designed for the creation of a powerful program narrative. It’s about changing paradigms and expectations—and some of those paradigms and expectations might even be your own. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat with lifelong educators as they built their unique program Trees and watched their faces as they discovered so much more about their field than they ever knew was possible. It’s so inspiring. And it doesn’t stop with them.

Students and parents need all the information in order to make the best choices for their educational journey. They need to see the big picture—and that’s exactly what the Career Tree shows. When they experience the Career Tree narrative for the first time, it’s transformative.

That narrative is simply this: there are hundreds of viable, exciting, living-wage careers at all levels of the Tree, and far from limiting students’ options, program completion actually expands those opportunities exponentially with a dynamic competitive advantage.

This is what the Career Tree is all about: capturing the hearts, minds, and imagination of today’s younger generations with a compelling vision of the future they want to create. That’s the Career Tree. The Interactive Program Wall Graphic and all the other materials are just the tools that come with it.

Keeping the Philosophy the Main Thing
So say you’re using the Career Tree in your program and you received your Career Tree Interactive Program Wall Graphic. It’s beautiful affixed to your wall, proclaiming the amazing, tip-of-the-iceberg career possibilities in your field. How do you keep the main thing—the philosophy of the Tree—the main thing?

You need to be able to connect the Tree and students’ goals that it shows to what your class is learning that day. You might mention that today’s lesson is foundational to the career Laura is interested in, or that Marcus will become highly proficient in this particular skill in his chosen career. You might talk about one of your alumni who struggled with this concept but eventually mastered it and went on to succeed in their career. Tell them why this topic is so important to them. The contextual learning of career-focused education is all about making the material relevant to real life, and the Career Tree gives you an effective tool to do that.

To have its full effect, the Tree has to become a regular part of the classroom conversation. Some organizations designate a day of the week to highlight the Career Tree in every classroom, while other instructors use the first two minutes of every class to grab students’ attention with a Career Tree conversation. Whatever your strategy, making it a consistently scheduled part of your classroom plan will yield the greatest results.

Philosophy First
Changing the game with the Career Tree starts with using it as a philosophy first and a product second. Yes, you need all the materials that have been developed to support it, but they are simply the tangible tools that make the mindset visible. If you view the Career Tree as simply inspirational classroom décor or an exercise to be done once at the beginning of the school year, your results will be limited. Your students will not get the full Career Tree experience to set, revisit, adjust, and pursue their career and life goals.

The Career Tree is far more than the sum of its parts. It is an entire philosophy about the goal of education and student empowerment—and that’s where we start to create the narrative, change the education paradigm, and make a bigger difference for students. Let’s do it!

About the Author

Mark C. Perna Mark C. Perna is the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client’s desire to make a difference.

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