The Two Most Frequently Asked Questions About Pathways

In education, we encourage our students (and staff members) to ask questions.  The fact they are asking relevant questions shows they are engaged in the topic.

Whenever I’m leading a Pathways workshop, there are several common-sense questions that pop up in people’s minds.  Here are the two I hear most often: Will students be locked into a pathway? And, isn’t it unrealistic to expect 15-year olds to make career decisions?  You’ve probably had and heard the same questions.  Here’s how I try to answer them.

Will students be locked into a pathway?

There’s no one way to handle this, but most schools allow students to change their pathway at least one time during high school. Allowing students to change pathways multiple times does create some scheduling challenges, however. If too many upper classmen are permitted to start a new pathway and enroll in an introductory course, they may take the spot of an underclassman and ultimately prohibit him/her from completing the pathway by graduation.

Offering a well-designed pathway exploration process during middle school or in ninth grade is a good strategy to minimize pathway program changes during high school. If students have a substantive opportunity to experience a number of pathways for a few days or weeks, they are more likely to select a pathway program that is a good fit. Further, when all pathway programs include a strong foundation of transferable knowledge and skills development, all students will graduate ready for postsecondary education or training even if they complete a pathway program that no longer holds a strong career interest for them.

Isn’t it unrealistic to ask 15-year-olds to make career decisions?

Yes. Most 15 or 16-year-olds are not mature enough and do not have enough life experience to make a decision about a career. Of course, there are exceptions. The pathways system model does not ask students to make definitive career decisions. In fact, at the high school level, a pathway program is really an applied form of career exploration. When students select a pathway program, they and their parents should understand this is a career exploration decision rather than a career decision.

More Questions?

In some of my upcoming postings, I’m going to address other frequently asked questions. Would you take a moment and send me a note about the questions you have, or the ones you hear frequently? Also, feel free to let me know how you like to answer the question and I may reference that too. Email Hans at [email protected].

(This post is adapted from Chapter 3 of The Power and Promise of Pathways)

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