By F. Barrington Harris, Ph.D.

During my career, I have worked in schools with a high socio-economic status (SES) as well as schools with a low SES. Regardless of where they fall in the spectrum, most parents want to be involved with their children's schools, but various obligations often prevent parents from being able to volunteer or participate in events and meetings. There is no easy solution to the problem, but through the years I've discovered a strategy that provides parents with a powerful opportunity to have a role in their child's school life: Career Day!

Planned right, Career Day can have several valuable benefits. First and foremost, it provides students with an up-close and personal view of a wide variety of jobs. In addition, it offers parents who may not normally be active in their child's school to get involved. As a result, Career Day allows students to take pride in their parents and their parents' support.

Planning your Career Day starts by soliciting parent volunteers who can visit the school during the day and talk with students about their jobs. Parents may need permission from their employer to take time out of their workday for the visit. In many cases, all the parent may need is to show their employer an invitation from you on your school's letterhead. Be sure to discuss with parents whether specific information needs to be included in the invitation, such as time of day or other companies that have allowed employees to participate in the past.

The most memorable events have included a wide range of occupations. By the end of one Career Day, our students had seen over 40 individual presenters representing career fields ranging from college professors to cardiologists to public librarians. One of the highlights was a presentation by a hairstylist who gave one to two students per period an actual haircut! The hands-on demonstration not only added to the presentation, but it captured and held the students' attention as they learned about that field of business. Another parent was a realtor, who taught students about buying and selling houses and the potential income that could be generated by doing so. This unique presentation included a look into the mathematics involved in calculating those earnings, giving the students real-world application for skills they were learning in the classroom.

As a service for the presenters, I set up a Hospitality Suite (usually in a medium or large-sized conference room or a comparable-sized classroom). Food, beverages, and coffee are available for presenters to enjoy whether they come for a full day or half of a day. Within the Hospitality Suite I also include a networking center, which consists of an area where presenters can leave business cards for and/or take business cards from other presenters. Each parent also receives a Certificate of Appreciation in acknowledgment of the time and consideration taken to assist and support our efforts.

During the days following Career Day, I send feedback forms to all of the teachers who hosted volunteers. You can create a simple survey form that asks the teacher to rate (on a scale of 1 to 5):

  • each speaker
  • his or her presentation
  • its appropriateness to students
  • student attentiveness

I also ask teachers to grade how the activities flowed, whether information was communicated well, and how they felt Career Day went overall. The feedback, both positive and negative, is used to enhance the event for the next year.


F. Barrington Harris, Ph.D. has been in education for the 12 years. He has served in the capacities of classroom teacher and school guidance counselor.  Dr. Harris is currently a middle school assistant principal in Cobb County, Georgia.