Inclusive, innovative career education for K-12 students founded on global competencies
In 2018 Tricia Berry joined New Brunswick’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development as Learning Specialist, Universal Design for Career Education. In this newly-created role, her mandate was to do no less than transform career education as it was being delivered across the province to the latest international best practices.
Not only was transformation on the agenda but so was equality of access for all students, no matter their backgrounds or abilities. In a recent interview, Tricia told us: “Universal design for learning (UDL) focuses on equity, diversity and making sure that all students have the supports they need for success. My role was created to ensure that every student, especially those that have typically been marginalized, has equal opportunity in career development and career education.”
Consulting and collaborating with communities
Tapping into multiple means of engagement to develop policy and practice is a UDL principle so one of the first things Tricia and her colleague and partner, Learning Specialist Andrew Culberson, did was travel around New Brunswick to talk to educators and students from Kindergarten and up.
“There is nothing sweeter than a Kindergarten student telling you what they need to get ready for the future!”
They also made a point of gathering diverse perspectives. They tapped into the many partnerships the province has with community groups including those representing students with disabilities, the LGBTQI2S population, newcomers to Canada, and the Office of First Nations.
With an extensive background in universal design for career education, Tricia represented Canada at the 2019 International Centre for Career Development and Public Policy (ICCDPP) Symposium in Norway. She and her colleagues developed a position paper that outlined the current state of career development in Canada and a Canadian Action Plan.
Tricia Berry (far right), Learning Specialist, Universal Design for Career Education, has led the development of New Brunswick’s Future Ready Learning K-12 strategy.
Bringing it all together
The product of this work is New Brunswick’s new career education strategy, Future Ready Learning K-12, based on the best practices of modern career development. Tricia points out that the strategy integrates “social-emotional learning, global competencies, experiential learning, real-life career planning and access to labour market information” which the evidence shows are the drivers of success for career education in a rapidly changing world.
One of Future Ready Learning’s important tools is myBlueprint.ca, an online career/life platform that uses an inquiry-based approach to career education and career planning. Tricia explains that “the tool was customized for learners who are too often marginalized. We created custom guides for students with disabilities, newcomers, Indigenous students and LGBTQI2S learners.”
"Career education needs to happen early and frequently. We want career education to span the whole curriculum, every subject and every grade."
Experiential learning boosts student engagement
Another key element of the Future Reading Learning strategy is to integrate experiential learning across the curriculum. “Career education needs to happen early and frequently. This is part of making it accessible. We want career education to span the whole curriculum, every subject and every grade. When we think about traditional career development, it often sits in pockets. It’s something that the guidance counsellor does or that the career teacher does. In fact it is everybody’s role to help students prepare for the future,” Tricia said.
The other data point that the New Brunswick career education strategy wanted to address was the engagement drop-off that happens to students in middle school.
“We see really high engagement in elementary school then suddenly there’s a dip. Perhaps learning becomes a little less experiential then. Maybe the connections between the real world and what we’re teaching in classrooms aren’t being made. Or maybe students are not identifying their purpose or plan so it’s hard to engage. What we know is that if we incorporate more career education in Grades 6 through 8, there are proven benefits in terms of mental health outcomes, engagement, academics, and so on.”
Putting a career education spin on Investigate! Invent! Innovate!
That’s where Tricia decided to tap into The Learning Partnership’s Investigate! Invent! Innovate! (I3) program. “I3 is a project-based, entrepreneurial program that really hits on all of the best practices of Future Ready Learning: it’s experiential and it gives students an opportunity to develop global competencies and social-emotional competencies,” said Tricia. “We started talking to The Learning Partnership to figure out how to adapt it. We layered career education and career development onto it, including myBlueprint.ca, and we adapted it to suit New Brunswick’s own global competencies.”
“Career development is no longer ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’. It’s about helping students find their purpose and plan to achieve their preferred future.”
“At first glance you wouldn’t look at the I3
program and say that it’s career development but when I look at it that’s what I see. It helps students plan and prepare for their preferred future by solving problems, and exploring their skills and interests. That’s more aligned with modern career development. Career development is no longer ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’,” said Tricia.
The Investigate! Invent! Innovate! program is project-based and experiential, developing students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and other skills — it’s ideally suited to a career development context.
Giving educators a road map
I3 also provides extensive support to teachers. “What we loved is that it provides a road map for teachers to get going,” said Tricia. “At no time over the past two years has an educator said, ‘No, it’s not my job to help prepare kids for what’s next.’ But they want to know how. They’re saying, ‘You know, I’m the math teacher, how do I do career development?’ I3 gives them instructional techniques to try, encourages a “guide-on-the-side” mentality, and teaches them how to allow students to direct their own learning,” Tricia explained.
I3 is a natural fit for addressing equity. “Traditional career assessments based on job titles probably leave some students out. What if a student is a newcomer? Assessments assume knowledge of jobs that they might not have. In I3 students are focused on a challenge or a problem and then work backward to learn about a career or type of work that might need that kind of problem-solving or those skills. This is something every child can do.”
COVID-19's silver lining
New Brunswick’s Future Ready Learning strategy is focused on building the skills and competencies that students will need in a future we can’t even imagine right now. “If there’s a silver lining in COVID-19 it’s that it’s forcing us to gear up for an unpredictable future. Suddenly entire industries have been halted. This is exactly what we’ve been talking about in terms of the future world of work these students face. Kids need to build the skills to be resilient and adaptable, to maneuver through just these types of situations,” Tricia said.
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for the Province of New Brunswick and The Learning Partnership to escalate the next phase of development of the program now called I3 Careers. Tricia told us that they are now looking at what a virtual program can look like. “This is our chance to see what can run entirely online and what will be available if we have to close schools again.”
Tricia sees Future Ready Learning as a strategy of hope. “We want an educational system where students, regardless of their background or their race or their sexuality, can find their purpose and believe they can achieve their preferred future,” she said. “There’s a strong relationship between these career development practices and positive mental health outcomes. Students who feel like they have hope and a purpose are more engaged, and when engagement goes up then academic success goes up. The long-term impact is that everyone benefits from a system where career development is a focus for all and not just for some.”