5 Steps for Teaching Professionalism in High School
High school teachers need to do more and more work to teach soft skills to their students
Professionalism is an essential soft skill in today’s workplace, regardless of someone’s age.
The best way for someone to act professionally is to learn it early — like in high school!
Your students need to be prepared for their future careers, but there aren’t many resources out there to help you teach professionalism. And the ones that are available don’t work for high school students.
Finding or creating activities to teach professionalism that will resonate with your students can be time-consuming and seemingly impossible!
Lori White at Star City High School in Arkansas faced this challenge when she first moved to teaching high school, and she found a solution.
Star City High School was starting a Job for America’s Graduates (JAG) Program and a College and Career Readiness course, which Lori had to teach.
For both of these, Lori needed to find an engaging, relevant way to teach career readiness skills.
That’s when she decided to apply her strengths. Lori tried a student-centered approach to teaching teenagers, like she used to do with elementary school students.
Her results were an engaged classroom full of students who are confident in professional skills!
You can use this way of thinking to teach professionalism to your high school students too.
So, how do Lori and other teachers do it? Read on!
1. Start with Practice Interviews
When teaching her unit on professionalism, Lori starts with an opening activity about interviews. She uses this activity to introduce the new skill and get the class all on the same page.
The introductory activity for professionalism is a practice interview. Lori pulls example interview questions from various sources, including her Business&ITCenter21 curriculum and related websites.
Then, the students ask each other the provided questions as if they are doing an interview. Students practice their responses and switch roles so they know what an interview feels like on both sides.
The idea is that students get comfortable with the concept of an interview so they can nail it when they apply for their first job.
What You Can Do:
If your instructional materials come with interview examples, use them.
If not, try Lori’s approach and search for some ideas online.
You could even write up a few of your own.
Once you have your questions, have your students act out interviews in pairs. Then, lead a class discussion about them.
For the discussion you can ask questions like:
- Was this a good or bad interview?
- Why do you think that?
- What did you notice?
- What would you do differently?
The insight of your students may surprise you, especially when asked what they would do instead!
2. Assign Lessons on Professionalism
While students work through the interactive lessons, Lori walks around the class helping students and answering questions as they come up. After each section, students take a quiz that is automatically graded and recorded for Lori to review later.
This makes students apply their interview experience to an educational setting. The interactive lessons let students work through material on their own, which removes a lot of pressure students feel to keep up with traditional learning.
Typically, Lori’s students end the class doing the lessons and sometimes need to finish them up as homework, depending on how quickly they do independent work.
What You Can Do:
Whether you are using a digital curriculum, textbook readings, or a resource you found online, now is the time to have students do some independent work.
While some students will get through this work before your class ends, remind students to complete the work at home so they come in prepared for the next day’s class.
This change in gears bridges the first activity with later projects on professionalism. And by using a blended teaching approach, you make your students stay engaged with their lessons. (Talk about a bonus for a high school teacher!)
3. Include an Activity on Professional Dress
Once most students have completed their lessons and the accompanying assessments, Lori jumps to a new task. The next group activity relates to professional dress, which aligns with the next digital lessons they will complete.
Lori shares images of people wearing various outfits with the class and asks their opinions to spark a discussion on professional dress.
Students indicate which employees are dressed appropriately for the indicated job, and which ones aren’t professional.
The purpose of this activity is to make students more aware of how their appearance and attire relates to whether they are seen as professional by others.
What You Can Do:
This activity involves a bit more work by the teacher.
To start, get some pictures of people in various types of outfits ranging from casual to formal business attire. Look for images of young professionals to keep the activity relevant to your students.
Share the images by passing them around or projecting them at the front of the class.
Again, encourage discussion and ask your students questions such as:
- What do you think about this outfit?
- Would this be appropriate dress for this type of job?
- What would an appropriate outfit look like?
You could also ask students to share a personal experience of a time they saw an employee wearing inappropriate attire.
By having a discussion on professional dress in different job roles and asking students about their own experiences, you are making this topic more relatable.
4. Have Students Finish the Professionalism Lessons
Next, Lori instructs her students to complete the rest of the lessons on professionalism and job seeking skills in Business&ITCenter21.
As before, Lori walks around answering questions and helping students.
Once her students complete the last lessons, they take the module test which is a cumulative assessment based on all of the lessons. Like the quizzes, the test is automatically graded and recorded for Lori to review later.
This shift in activity makes her students mentally pivot to keep them engaged throughout the class period.
Also, by jumping back to an actual lesson, students will complete a more traditional assessment by the end of class. This shows Lori what students learned that day and which students may need more help.
What You Can Do:
This is the ideal step for independent student work.
If you previously had students read from a textbook, look for another resource to use to cover the material.
Breaking up the ways your students are learning information is the most important part of a blended learning strategy, which is one of the best student-focused teaching methods in pedagogy.
If you don’t have more lessons, ask students to complete a worksheet, assessment, or other activity on their own to reinforce what they have learned.
5. End with a Final Group Project
After students have completed all of the digital lessons, Lori has them work on a final group project on professionalism.
The project requires students to write, role play, and film three interviews: good, bad, and ugly.
The reason she has students film multiple scenarios is so they can show that they understand the difference between a good and bad interview.
Why should they do a third “ugly” one? Lori’s reason is engagement:
“They have fun, that’s why I throw the extra one in there. I could just have them show me a good one and a bad one. But you should give them the opportunity to get creative and have fun -- let’s face it we all want to have a little fun. If they’re not having some fun when they’re working, they’re going to get bored and disinterested.”
What You Can Do:
While you can certainly think up your own idea for a final project on professionalism, Lori’s idea is proven to work.
It’s a great way to let students reflect on all aspects of professionalism they have learned about, such as interviewing skills, professional attire, communication, and body language.
You can start by creating a rubric for what you expect students to show in their presentations.
Choose specific pieces from your professionalism unit that are “must do’s” so your students have clear expectations for the end result.
Some examples would be:
- Using terms used in professional interviews
- Being aware of body language
- Dressing appropriately
You can also write up some clarification on how long the videos should be and what could be too over-the-top for an ugly interview. Once your rubric is created, split your students into groups and let them get to work!
Depending on your syllabus, your students can do a bulk of the project during class time, but some students may need to collaborate outside of school. As a result, this portion of the unit could take much longer than a single class period.
As a way to wrap up your professionalism unit, show each groups’ videos to the class. It’s entertaining, productive, and reinforces what it really means to be professional!
Teach Professionalism Now
Blended learning is the smartest approach to using digital lessons, discussions, activities, and projects in the classroom. Lori uses it to meet her students’ diverse learning needs and differentiate her lessons so students can learn professionalism at their best pace.
To help, Lori uses Business&ITCenter21!
If you’re trying to teach professionalism without Business&ITCenter21, you’re making it harder for yourself. Improve your classroom and your students’ results with one curriculum system!
Check out Business&ITCenter21 for yourself:
About Bri Stauffer
As a Marketing Content Creator, Bri writes relevant articles and documents for CTE and elective educators to help them have more success in the classroom. She enjoys working with teachers from across the US to help students find their passion and future career paths.