Dr. Karen Wolffe Listen to Dr. Karen Wolffe’s answer to the question, “What do you believe that professionals should do to help parents teach and reinforce career education at the home, in the school, and in the community?”


I’m Dr. Karen Wolffe. I’m with the American Foundation for the Blind. I am the Director of Professional Development and CareerConnect.

What do you believe that professionals should do to help parents teach and reinforce career education at the home, in the school, and in the community?

I think that parents need professionals to reinforce career education activities at home and at school and in the community. And that the way that we support that is to really establish first of all, and maintain, a positive rapport. To reach out to parents, to let parents understand that we as professionals want and need their support. We need to engage them and help them understand what it is that we are doing at school, find out what it is that they are doing at home, and work collaboratively to support each other, to reinforce the skills that are being learned at home, in school, and to support the skills that are learned in school in an applied setting at home. So, establishing and maintaining that positive rapport.

That we ask parents, “What are the skills that you would like to see us teaching your child?” Not assume that we know everything but to reach out to parents and say what’s important to you? What would you like to see me doing? What would you like me to be working on? What do you think is most important for your child to be successful in your home, in your community, and beyond school? And find out from parents so we can address their concerns, not just tell them.

I think we need to really support parents. If they’re concerned at all about some of the activities that we recommend—I’m constantly talking about doing chores, for example. It’s important to find out from parents are they comfortable with what we’re asking them to do? And if they’re not, to be prepared to go into the home and teach the skills—the same skill sets that we’re teaching the children—teach the parents. So that they understand those alternative techniques that we teach as vision teachers and not think that it’s some kind of magic or mystery that they can’t possibly learn because they didn’t attend a college course in that. So we go in, and we teach them, and I think that is one of the things that professionals have a responsibility to do.

And then I think we need to share with parents about the importance—always—of focusing on the next environment, which is how we help parents understand that career education doesn’t suddenly just happen at age 14, 15, or 16. Our instruction begins with them at home, bonding with the child, communicating with the child, teaching the child the organizational skills that they use at home, and teaching the child the ordering of the schedule that happens at home. All of those things that we want to be happening, we need to reinforce and let the parents understand that that next environment is always just right outside of the current situation. So, when the child came home from the hospital, that was a transition. That next environment went from hospital to home. When the child goes from home into that early childhood program, that early childhood program becomes the next environment, and at home, you’re preparing for that. From preschool into elementary, you’re preparing, and you’re learning skills that are going to help you be successful in that next environment. And that notion of always planning for the next environment is a notion that I think we have to share with parents and help them understand the importance of that concept for them to ever really understand career education and how career education is a lifelong process—starting from birth and always working towards that next environment.

We give parents the instruction that they need in order to provide good home-based training and application of skills that the students have learned. And then finally, in this area, I always think about the importance of helping parents understand the difference between early intervention, school-based services (K through 12), and adult services because I think that they are so radically different. And parents often become complacent about the kinds of services that they are receiving at a juncture, like middle school, thinking that that’s the way it’s always going to be, and the reality is—as we know from a professional perspective—is that it’s going to change, and it’s going to change radically, and we need to prepare parents for that change.