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Career Readiness | High School

5 Steps for Teaching Professionalism in High School

May 4th, 2022 | 8 min. read

Bri Stauffer

Bri Stauffer

For nearly 10 years, Bri has focused on creating content to address the questions and concerns educators have about teaching classes, preparing students for certifications, and making the most of the AES curriculum system.

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Professionalism is an essential soft skill in today’s workplace, and high school teachers are often the ones expected to teach these skills to their students.

You need to prepare students for their future careers, but 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 started teaching a College and Career Readiness class and the Job for America’s Graduates (JAG) program.

For both of these, Lori needed an engaging, relevant way to teach career readiness skills. So she implemented resources that provided a student-centered approach, and the results are an engaged classroom full of students who are confident in their professional skills!

In this article, you’ll learn the five steps Lori takes when teaching professionalism to her high school students:

  1. Start with Practice Interviews
  2. Assign Lessons on Professionalism
  3. Include an Activity on Professional Attire
  4. Have Students Complete Additional Professionalism Lessons
  5. End with a Final Group Project

After reading, you’ll be ready to teach these skills and better prepare your students for lifelong success.

1.  Start with Practice Interviews

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When teaching her unit on professionalism, Lori starts with an opening activity about interviews. She uses this activity to introduce the skill and get the class 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.

How to Run an Activity on Professional Interviews:

If your existing instructional materials come with interview examples and scenarios, you’re good to go. If not, try Lori’s approach and search for some ideas online or 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.

During the discussion, 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

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After the class discussion, Lori’s students log into Business&ITCenter21 to complete interactive lessons on professionalism and interviewing.

While her 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 the material independently, 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 as homework, depending on how quickly they do independent work.

How to Assign Independent Student Work:

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 may get through this work before your class ends, remind students to complete the work at home if needed, so they are 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, your students stay more engaged with their lessons. (Talk about a bonus for a high school teacher!)

3.  Include an Activity on Professional Dress

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Lori jumps to a new task once most students have completed their lessons and the accompanying assessments. The next group activity relates to professional dress, which aligns with the digital lessons they will complete next.

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 have dressed appropriately for the stated job and which aren’t professional.

This activity aims to make students more aware of how their appearance and attire relate to whether they are seen as professional by others.

How to Plan Your Activity on Professional Attire:

If your current curriculum materials don’t include this type of activity, you will need to spend some time preparing.

To start, get pictures of people in various 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.

Encourage discussion and ask your students questions such as:

  • What do you think about this outfit?
  • Would this be an appropriate choice for this type of job?
  • What would an appropriate outfit look like?

You could also ask students to share a personal experience of when they saw an employee wearing inappropriate attire.

By discussing professional dress in different job roles and asking students about their own experiences, you are making this topic more relatable.

4.  Have Students Finish Additional Professionalism Lessons

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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 professionalism resource to cover the material.

Breaking up the ways your students learn information is the most critical part of a blended learning strategy, which is one of the best student-focused teaching methods.

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

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After students have completed the 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.

She has students film multiple scenarios 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 boosted 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.

How to Assign a Final Professionalism Project:

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.

When creating the rubric, choose specific topics 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.

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 and More with a Comprehensive Curriculum

In this article, you discovered how Lori White uses a blended approach to keep students engaged while learning professional skills.

If you already have a business or career readiness curriculum as a starting point, you can easily incorporate an idea or two from this article into your classes.

However, if you’re like most high school teachers, you’d prefer to spend your time connecting with students - not building lessons and activities from scratch. If that’s the case for you, consider implementing Business&ITCenter21 like Lori.

With the comprehensive curriculum system, you can teach dozens of critical skills like professionalism, communication, career development, and more. To discover the lesson plans, activities, projects, and assessments available, check out the full curriculum catalog:

Explore the Business&ITCenter21 Catalog