Harry Drier

Harry Drier

What role can the school guidance counselor play in a student’s academic success? A very crucial one, according to Harry Drier, Head of the National Consortium for State Guidance Leadership. In this week’s conversation, he explains what constitutes the most effective guidance.



How important is guidance to the quality of education that students get?

We’ve been conducting research as to why certain students seem to have goals and life plans and achieve them. It’s not an accident. Kids that are in schools that have an effective guidance program, for example, take more math and science and they do better at it. And of course they stay in school longer so they can take more of it.

What do you mean by “an effective guidance program”?

A good guidance program helps students make the connection between what they are doing in school and what they will be doing when they graduate. There are a lot of kids that aren’t making the connection. They just can’t connect with math because they can’t see its importance, they can’t see it applied to something that makes sense to them. Our concept is, don’t teach me to divide unless you can show me how division is important to a worker, an employee, and ideally in the area in which I’m interested. If I want to be a cosmetologist, let me do my learning in that context.

What a good guidance program does, then, is work with the math department, work with the science department, and so on, to introduce the world of work into what they’re teaching. Guidance really becomes an integral part of the total curriculum.

I’ve heard it said that in another ten years 90% of all the white collar jobs that we have now won’t exist anymore. How do you do career counseling in a world that is changing so fast?

That statistic might be right – nobody really knows. Looking at the labor market in the last ten years, maybe it’s more like 100%. But you have to notice what it is that is changing. If you’re talking about what a bookkeeper does and how he does it and for whom, that will probably change. But the basic, rudimentary job of a bookkeeper will be the same. You might have different titles and tools, but they are still people who deal with numbers and keep the books. The math principles aren’t a whole lot different. The context in which they’re doing it is different.

It’s also important to prepare students, not for specific jobs, but for what we call career pathways. That’s a whole family of careers, occupations and jobs. Within that family, there are always things you have to know. For many pathways, for example, math and science are going to be there. The basic, fundamental knowledge and skills about geometry and physics and so on won’t change. It’s how you use that knowledge and how you use other technology to apply that knowledge that changes.

How would you compare this approach to what we used to call “vocational education”.

I used to run a vocational school, and what we did in the 60s is a lot different than what we do now. For example, the notion that voc-ed prepares people to go straight into a job coming out of high school–that was true in the 30s, 40s, 50s and maybe into the 60s, but it’s not true anymore. Many industries want more than a high school degree.

Because of that, voc-ed has changed to give a focus to the common core skills, the academics. We know the vocational skills are really the application of the academics in many cases, and more and more in the future. So we teach academic skills, and then we teach students how to apply those skills in the context of the kinds of career opportunities they want to pursue.

And your research shows that this is effective?

When you put what you are trying to teach into a context that is meaningful for a student, you’re not teaching math anymore, you’re teaching math to Mary and Joe and to every other student in a way that will reach them. You are bringing the human dimension to the classroom, and we have empirical evidence that when that works, students come more often, they pay attention more often, they participate, and they achieve.

Thank you.



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