Career conversations in senior secondary vocational education

K.M. Mittendorff

Onderzoeksoutput: ScriptieDissertatie 1 (Onderzoek TU/e / Promotie TU/e)

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In the Netherlands, many schools for senior secondary vocational education are implementing competence-based curricula. These curricula start from a constructivist approach and are based on the idea that young people should learn to reflect on their personal ambitions and motives, and to undertake action and initiative to direct their own learning and career development (career competencies). To realise this, many schools are implementing career guidance in which they use instruments such as portfolios and personal development plans as well as activities such as career conversations between teachers and students. Several studies, however, have indicated that schools experience difficulties in creating powerful learning environments for career guidance, especially with regard to career conversations. Most schools and teachers lack the experience in conducting career guidance in general and career conversations in particular. There is considerable research available on guidance and counselling, but this research mainly focuses on career guidance practitioners who are specifically trained to offer career education and guidance. In the Dutch school context, the role of the trained career guidance practitioner is taken over by teachers as part of their everyday work, often without specific training for this purpose. As such, this situation asks for research on its implementation and effects. The general purpose of the studies in this thesis is to contribute to a better understanding of the nature of career guidance and career conversations in Dutch senior secondary vocational education, and to investigate the effects of the guidance of teachers during career conversations. The leading research questions of these studies were the following: 1. How do teachers and students in vocational education perceive integral career guidance and the instruments used in their school? 2. What is the nature of the career conversations taking place in competence-based vocational education in the Netherlands? 3. How do students perceive their teachers’ career guidance during career conversations and what profiles can be identified in these perceptions? 4. What is the relationship between teachers’ career guidance profiles and students’ career competencies: career reflection, career shaping and networking? 5. What are the characteristics of a ‘good’ career guidance practice? These research questions were answered with five different studies, each addressing one of the questions. In Chapter 2, the first research question was answered by means of semi-structured interviews with teachers, counsellor and students of three different schools. Of each school, we interviewed 3 teachers, 1 counsellor and 8 students (on average). Interviews were recorded on audiotape with the consent of the respondents. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded in a qualitative-interpretative way. For each of the coded topics, a summary of the statements was made and illustrated with sample statements from the different interviews of each case. The summaries and primary data were discussed with two experienced researchers. This resulted in a final overview of summaries for each topic, based on consensus. After analyses of the separate cases, a cross-case display was made, in order to detect differences and similarities between the cases. The main findings of the study were that a majority of the teachers and counsellors perceived portfolios and personal development plans as important instruments to collect evidence on student development, stimulate students’ self-responsibility or self-direction, and support students in reflecting on identity issues and future ambitions. The study also revealed that a reflective dialogue between teacher and student was essential for career guidance instruments to be considered valuable and useful. When career guidance instruments such as the portfolio and personal development plan were not used in a context of dialogue, students were likely to perceive these instruments as irrelevant and refrained from using them to reflect on their personal identity or on plans involving their future. The career conversation was found to be an essential element in the career guidance process. At the same time, the results of this study revealed that respondents had little experience with or knowledge about the conduct of these conversations and the actual effect of the conversations on the development of career competencies of students. In Chapter 3, the characteristics of career conversations between teachers and students in Dutch senior secondary vocational education (the second research question) were studied more in-depth. For this purpose, 32 video-taped career conversations between career guidance teachers and students in four different schools were systematically observed. A category system was developed and the conversations were coded and analyzed with regard to the content that was discussed (for example whether teacher and student talked about ‘progress of student’ or ‘future ambitions’), the activities that were performed by the teacher and the student (for example ‘active listening’ or ‘giving feedback’), and the relationship between teacher and student (for example whether the teacher acted dominant or submissive). Two career conversations which encompassed all of the coding categories were coded by a second researcher. Inter-rater reliabilities for the different elements of the career conversations were determined and the Kappa coefficients indicated the categorization system to be reliable. The results of the study showed there were many teachers who still acted as traditional ‘mentors of school success’. They talked a lot about the grades and progress of the student in school, gave many instructions and arrived at agreements about how a student’s behaviour or results could be improved. The study also revealed that teachers often showed ‘traditional, teacher-dominated’ behaviour, such as giving instruction, explaining, and asking for knowledge or information the student had gained. Many teachers behaved in a dominant manner; they controlled the conversation and left little room for students to bring subjects to the agenda or to ask questions. The traditional educational culture, in varying degrees, still dominated the actual behaviour of teachers and students. Finally, the study revealed that teachers spoke very little about career issues with students. The number of fragments that were coded as ‘career issues’ (talking about students’ future ambitions and previous education as well as characteristics of the profession), was very low when compared with the content fragments. In Chapter 4, student perceptions of career conversations with their teachers were reported (the third research question). The ‘Questionnaire on Career Conversations’ was developed to investigate perceptions of students and to determine whether guidance profiles of teachers could be identified. The questionnaire was based on the category system of the observational study, and consisted of three elements (content, activities and relationship). Factor analysis revealed three scales for the content element: planning and instruments (8 items), career issues (6 items) and personal issues (4 items), four scales for teacher activities: questioning (7 items), providing information (5 items), being personal (3 items), and stimulating self-directedness (5 items) and two scales for relationship: influence (8 items) and proximity (9 items). All scales were found to be reliable (above 0.65). Data from 579 students of four different schools were collected and analyzed through cluster analysis. The data demonstrated that students noted differences in teacher behaviour, although several similarities were identified as well. Student ratings on talking about career issues and providing information, for example, were very much alike. The students perceived that they seldom talked with their teachers about career issues. Teachers were also perceived to provide a lot of information. This corresponds to the findings of the observational study, which also showed that career issues were seldom on the agenda and teacher explained a lot. The cluster analysis identified four different styles of guidance, which showed an overall general trend although significant differences were present as well. The main differences existed between having a personal or non-personal approach, and between asking questions and stimulating students’ self-directedness. One profile was labelled as ‘personal teacher balancing directive and non-directive behaviour’. Teachers within this profile were active in discussing students’ personal issues and acted in a very personal manner. These teachers were perceived to be controlling or directive in some way (for example, they had high student ratings on the influence scale and providing information), but were also perceived to show non-directive behaviour (had high ratings on questioning and stimulating self-directedness). Another profile was labelled as ‘non-personal and directive teacher’. Teachers within this profile were rated extremely low by students on talking about personal issues and on being personal. They were also perceived to ask very few questions and seldomly stimulated students’ self-directedness. Teachers within the other two profiles were rated highly moderate and were therefore not easy to ‘label’ in terms of a typical style or pattern. These medium, less extreme profiles were labelled as ‘mainstream teachers’. In Chapter 5 we reported on a study that answered the fourth research question. This study investigated the influence of the different teacher career guidance profiles on students’ career competencies, namely: career reflection (the degree to which students reflect on their motives, talents and ambitions), career shaping (being active in investigating possibilities in relation to their career and are taking actions accordingly), and networking (being interactive in relation to their career, build and retain contacts useful for their future career, etc.). From the same students that participated in the third study (Chapter 4), we also collected data on their career competencies using an adapted version of the questionnaire of Kuijpers, Meijers and Bakker (2006). The ‘Questionnaire on Career Competencies’ is a self-report questionnaire of 34 items and three scales: career reflection, career shaping and networking. All scales were found to be reliable: Cronbach’s alphas were 0.88 for career reflection, 0.83 for career shaping and 0.81 for networking. Besides career competencies of students, several other student variables were investigated as well by means of a short questionnaire, namely career decision-making self-efficacy (6 items, Cronbach’s alpha: 0.81), locus of control (4 items, Cronbach’s alpha: 0.71) and demographic variables (assessing age, gender, ethnicity, educational programme, full or part-time student status, level of education and years they have attended their school). Furthermore, the initial career competency level of students (measured one year before, with the same questionnaire) was used as a control variable. Through multi-level variance analysis the relationship between students’ career competencies, the four teacher profiles and the other student variables was investigated. For career reflection, we found that two of the four teacher profiles affected career reflection, namely: the ‘personal, balancing directive and non-directive’ profile and one of the ‘mainstream’ profiles. Although many differences in career reflection (almost 94%) were related to differences between students and very few (6%) to differences between teachers, the effect sizes of the teacher profiles were higher than those of some other covariates, such as career decision-making self-efficacy. The initial career reflection of students explained most of the variance at the student level. The effect of career decision-making self-efficacy was not strong, but it did have a significant negative relation with regard to students’ career reflection. Being a full-time or part-time student or being a male or female also affected the level of students’ career reflection. Part-time students reflected more on their career than full-time students and female students reflected more than male students. For career shaping, the results showed that almost all differences in career exploration at the end of the year were related to differences between students (over 97%). Two student variables (besides the initial competency) were significantly related to career shaping: locus of control and career decision-making self-efficacy. When students scored higher on either of these variables, they explored more. Finally, none of the teacher profiles were significantly related to the level of students’ career exploration. For networking, almost all differences were related to differences between students: over 99%. Again, none of the teacher profiles affected the competency of student networking. Only students’ career decision-making self-efficacy had an effect, namely when students had more self-efficacy in terms of career decision-making they were more likely to be active in networking for their career. The conclusion that could be drawn was that teachers’ guidance styles and behaviour did not seem to have the strong relationship with students’ career competencies that might have been presumed or desired. It seemed likely that when teachers had more experience and developed routines for guiding students in their careers, the effect on students’ career competencies would be greater. Earlier studies on teacher profiles showed that experience leads to ‘better’ profiles and less variation between student ratings of the same teacher. To answer the fifth research question, Chapter 6 reports on a study that investigated the characteristics of a career guidance practice that was labelled ‘successful’ based on our earlier studies. Although the studies described in the previous chapters had few promising outcomes, one particular case was found to be most effective: that of Juridical Service. The study on students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the use and usefulness of career guidance instruments showed that in relation to two other cases, Juridical Service students were the most positive about their career guidance. The observational study indicated that teachers from Juridical Service talked much more about the personal characteristics and personal situation of the students and showed more cooperative behaviour than did teachers from the other schools involved in the study. Remarkable were also the greater extent of stimulating reflection and the lesser extent of explaining and informing behaviour on the part of Juridical Service teachers. Finally, the results of the questionnaire study showed that Juridical Service students scored higher in terms of career competencies than the students in the other three schools. Also, the profile that had the largest effect on career reflection of students was the ‘personal, balancing directive and non-directive’ teacher. Of the seven teachers that belonged to this profile, six were from Juridical Service. The study in Chapter 6 reported on an interview study that was conducted with teachers and students of the Juridical Service case, in order to provide a deeper insight into the context and characteristics of the career guidance practice of this school. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four career guidance teachers and nine students of Juridical Service. Examples of interview topics for the teachers were: goals for career guidance, self-perceived expertise and the organisation of the career guidance practice in the school. Examples of interview topics for the students were: opinions on career conversations, the atmosphere during career guidance situations. Interviews were recorded on audio-tape, transcribed verbatim and coded in a qualitative-interpretative way. Statements from the teachers and students were coded by means of an iterative process of using sensitising concepts from the literature and the data itself. After coding, the statements were categorised according to the topics that were leading in the interviews. For each of the topics, a summary of the statements was made and illustrated with sample statements from the different interviews. The results showed that the teachers from Juridical Service had a shared vision as to what constitutes good career guidance, created a career guidance programme together and arranged with the management the necessary aspects for the organisation of this career guidance programme. The teachers also had regular contact with each other to exchange experiences, and created a context for collective learning. Besides that, all teachers argued that the goal of career guidance was to enable students to reflect on themselves and professional practice. They also stated that aspects such as having a personal relationship with the student, creating trust and support and using instruments in combination with a personal approach were important to realize this personal reflection process. The students of this case found the career guidance and career conversations useful because it helped them to attain a sense of personal identity and to determine their individual strengths and weaknesses. They appreciated the fact that teachers showed interest in their personal stories and found it important that the teachers knew how they were doing and feeling at school, and to know what the teachers thought about them. Although this case was found to be most successful among the vocational schools that participated in the studies of this thesis, it also had several aspects that deserved more attention or that needed to be improved upon. Teachers still acted in a relatively dominant fashion and seldomly stimulated students’ self-directedness. The different studies showed schools are very active in realising new career guidance practices performed by teachers. Our studies also revealed that, although career guidance is seen as important, teachers experienced difficulty in realising actual student-centred guidance and in abandoning the teacher-dominated approach. The different studies showed that teachers seldomly stimulated students’ self-directedness and often showed traditional teacher behaviour such as giving instruction, explaining, and asking for knowledge or information the student had gained. Scholars in the field of mentoring or career guidance often argue that a balance between directive and non-directive behaviour is important. However, teachers apparently find it difficult or are not (yet) willing to realise such a balance, and to let go of their directive behaviour. Another outcome of our studies was that career or personal issues were not always part of the agenda during career conversations between teachers and students. Career conversations often focused on school issues (such as student’s progress and course curriculum) rather than career issues (such as future ambitions or characteristics of a profession), and many teachers still acted as the traditional ‘mentors of school success’. Finally, the studies showed that guidance of teachers in career conversations had very little effect on the career competencies of students. Although many schools are active in implementing new career guidance practices, there is, apparently, still a lot of work to be done. A promising outcome, however, is that the ‘personal approach’ (that appeared to be effective) has already been adopted by some schools and teachers and contributing to enthusiastic and competent students who actively think about, reflect on and realize their own career development.
Originele taal-2Engels
KwalificatieDoctor in de Filosofie
Toekennende instantie
  • Eindhoven School of Education
  • Beijaard, Douwe, Promotor
  • den Brok, Perry J., Co-Promotor
  • van Wesemael, Pieter J.V., Commissielid
Datum van toekenning12 mrt 2010
Plaats van publicatieEindhoven
Gedrukte ISBN's978-90-386-2163-0
StatusGepubliceerd - 2010

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