Friday, February 22, 2013

Stop using that term, we are Professional School Counselors

Advocate for our profession, share this graphic.
Each year it becomes tougher for me to contain my emotions when a school based mental health professional identifies him or herself as a "Guidance Counselor," or when an administrator or other member of the school community does the same; we are School Counselors. More appropriately, we are Professional School Counselors.
We are mental health professionals in school settings who do a lot more than "guide" students towards math & science careers. Sputnik launched in 1957 & our profession has come a long way since then. If you don't know how those two are connected, or why I make that reference, please make it your mission this weekend to figure it out.

Recently, Erin Mason, Melissa S. Ockerman & Stuart F. Chen-Hayes published an article to assist School Counselors in understanding the need to reflect upon their professional identity, the article is a must read for pre-service, in-service and seasoned School Counselors.

The ASCA National Model is in its' third edition and the Comprehensive School Counseling program is becoming the norm. Social media is becoming a School Counselor's most valuable tool and accountability to yourself, the profession & stakeholders is now, more than ever, of the utmost importance. If you are a School Counselor you must be able to not only answer the question, "How are students different as a result of what you do?" but also back it up with data. This is a process, but as long as we are striving to do better each year and committed to our stakeholders & annual goals, we are on the right track; the proof is in the process.

As a School Counselor, if you cannot change how you identify yourself and evolve as the profession has, you are not furthering the profession and I question whether or not you're meeting our ethical obligations, as School Counselors, of "responsibilities to self."

All School Counselors must have pride in the profession and what it has become, not just what it was initially created to do. Administrators, teachers and other stakeholders must become better educated on the pivitol role we play in each student's life, for the sake of our Nation's future.

Next time you hear someone use that term, remind them that this is 2013 and we prefer to be identified as "Professional School Counselors," because that's what we are and we do so much more than "guide."

What are your thoughts on this topic? Please comment below.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Using Data to Create Opportunities for Student Success

Art Courtesy of Danielle Schultz
A Review of the February 5, 2013 #SCCHAT

When School Counselor's get together to talk about data, I get excited! I am a very goal oriented person by nature so moderating this chat was very exciting for me, despite the major technical difficulties that I faced throughout the chat. As I reviewed the transcript created by Danielle Schultz I actually realized how many comments I never saw during the chat, which prompted me to follow up with a blog post to try to cover questions and concerns that were raised, and hopefully continue the discussion.

The following questions shaped the chat:

1. How do you define student academic success?
2. What are the key components of student academic success?
3. What are the perceptions of academically unsuccessful students? How can you create opportunities for success based on their perceptions?
4. What types of data or student reports are available to you as you set academic goals with your students?
5. How can you enhance your school counseling program to promote more student academic success?

As the chat developed many school counselors shared their experiences & thoughts on each question.

Student Academic Success

There are so many ways to define students success, as is referenced in the chat transcript, but one common theme also emerged, student success is individual. One students success may equate to another's lack of progress. Danielle Schultz said it best: "student success=making forward movement."

To fully understand what this means for each of our students we must first know our students, understand their strengths and identify their weaknesses. In essence we need to know and understand the data that relates to each of our students. During the chat, Kelly Johnson shared a great insight for school counselors, "[help] students reach their full potential, one size does not fit all, students need a growth mindset, not a fixed one." The methods we use to find student data differ from school to school and grade level, but the purpose remains the same, to create opportunities for student success each and every day.

As School Counselor's we cannot be afraid of data, we need to embrace it so we can help each of our students create their own personal academic success.

Key Components of Student Aademic Success

In order to create academic success for our students we must first understand the key components of student academic success. Of course, there is no one size fits all answer here, but having an idea of what conditions are needed is essential when attempting to create specific results.

Here are some of the components shared by counselors during the chat:

*support systems like parents*friends*teachers ready to help*resiliency & perseverance*access & resources to be successful*motivation*desire to learn*opportunity* understanding how what is learned relates to the real world*collaborative learning environment*ownership

One of my favorite contributions on this question came from Kelly Johnson, "I realize more and more every single day that relationships are everything."

If you're a practicing School Counselor this comment might sound familiar to you as we are all embracing the Danielson Model. Using our relationships with students as a building block to their success, we are able to assist them in realizing all of the other conditions necessary for their success. Again, this is not a one size fits all answer, the conditions for success are personal too.

Know your students, carve the path to academic success for them and have faith that they will walk that path with ownership and courage, but if they stumble, you and the other educators in that collaborative environment will be there to help them find their feet again, and eventually experience success.

Student Perceptions (theirs or others')?

So now that we've discussed "what" student academic success is, and the necessary conditions to create academic success, we must examine the opposite end of the spectrum. What are the perceptions of academically unsuccessful students and how can you create opportunities for success based on their perceptions?

This is really the crux of this chat because we can easily identify the students that have not been successful & learn from them; data is our friend, even when the outcome is not favorable.

From the chat we learned that many times students have one misstep & they give up. Many students who have experienced failure become apathetic, angry, unmotivated, and sometimes pose behavior problems. Jeremy Goldman made a beautiful point during the chat that brought some of my personal experiences with this question full circle, "asking about perceptions of academically unsuccessful students needs to address both self-perceptions and others' perceptions."

How often have you or others that you work with altered your expectations of certain students who have a history of failure?

I have seen many educators alter their expectations of students who have failed, this is one of the most frustrating parts of being an Ethical School Counselor; they don't get you and your constant positive view, and you don't get their way of thinking or understand why they chose to go into education.

Students who are treated differently, or perceive that they are not expected to succeed will rise (or fall) to the occassion. This is why I love the comprehensive school counseling program and pride myself on being an ethical School Counselor. I expect all of my students to succeed, to graduate, to find their own happiness in life. This may look different for each of them, but I expect them all to do it, that is the perception they all need to have in terms of my investment as their School Counselor.

Data & Making this all Work for your Program

Creating academic success for students really is about having a relationship with them and using data. First and foremost, student success needs to be one of your school counseling program goals annually. From there, your Action Plan will create the path for you and eventually your students.

I receive data on my students from multiple sources, School Report Card, Weekly Eligibility Report, testing, Attendance Reports, Failure Reports, Course Rosters, Pre/Post tests, etc.

The data that you focus on should be driven by the GOALS of your School Counseling Program.

I personally focus on testing data (Explore Early Intervention Roster), failure reports and eligibility reports; these help me identify the students that need that extra TLC, in addition to what is provided through the School Counseling Curriculum.

For example, each summer I look at the Explore Early Intervention Roster to see which 8th graders I want to invite to my Study Skills Bootcamp in the fall. These would be students who expressed a need in learning more about Study Skills; I do the same thing for the freshman. This is a very easy way to formulate a plan for Small Groups, focused on the Academic Domain, and easy to fit into almost any School Counseling Program.

Identify Data Mines that work for your program goals, study the data, create goals and action plans, and look forward to the results.

TweetChat unanswered questions

During the chat we had some technical difficulties which caused me to miss these questions:

  1. What recommendations do you have when developing pre/post test to collect data.
  2. Why data is important & new ideas of how to collect & share it!
  3. How can we continue to work smarter and not harder when it relates to data
  4. Finding some new ways to get data and how to utilize it more effectively
  5. I want to learn more about using attendance/testing/report card data
I hope that this blog post shed some light on your questions and helps you to take the next step to creating more academic success for your students.

What have you learned from this post, or from the TweetChat?
Please share your thoughts below.

The next School Counselor Tweet Chat is on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7 pm CST

For transcripts of previous #SCCHATs, schedules for future School Counselor Tweet Chats, and information on how to participate, visit #SCCHAT Info:

Thanks again to Danielle Schultz for the opportunity, I LOVE #SCCHAT!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

National School Counseling Week 2013 "School Counseling: Liberty & Learning for All"

Early in my career I found it a little awkward to celebrate NSCW since it felt like throwing my own birthday party, but over the years I have learned that the celebration is more about educating others and raising awareness about the School Counseling profession; and less about me personally as a School Counselor. 

Do what you can to celebrate next week, big or small, your efforts to raise awareness matter. Here are some activities that I have used in the past. 

NSCW Activities

Each year many of the activities that I plan change, but one has remained a constant due to overwhelming student interest-the Counselor's Crossword (2013 crossword link below). Other activities over the years have included:
  • Daily Announcements
  • Counselor's Connection Newsletter
  • Guess how Many Legos-jar full of Legos, students submitted guesses during lunch (idea from Danielle Schultz)
  • School Counseling Curriculum classroom lessons focused on Academic & Personal/Social domains (ILP's, Learning Styles, Decision-making etc.)
  • School-wide character education unit customized and adopted by each teacher as they saw fit. (provided quotes for teachers to hang and online resources for lesson integration)
  • College Door Decorating Contest (new this year) - 8th graders, administrators, Wellness Coordinator and one Community member will all serve as judges.
  • Counselor's Query (new this year) - Daily questions to make teachers and students think. Answers can be tweeted to me or turned in the old fashion way during lunch. This new idea encourages the appropriate use of technology and supports the common core standards.
  • Prizes-$25 Visa card for Crossword winner, teacher gifts daily (food, articles to read, classroom signs, homemade gift certificates etc.), pizza party, ice cream social, and breakfast with the Counselor (new this year).
  • Faculty College Collage (new this year) – a collage of information about each faculty member, including what college they went to, their major, their credentials etc.
Extended Details

Crossword puzzle focuses on the theme of the week and also requires the students to:
  • pay attention to the morning announcements, provided by ASCA,
  • read the Counselor Connection Newsletter (I didn't do one this year, using more technology instead),
  • visit my office
  • use technology to research, and
  • learn more about a school counselors credentials and why they are in schools today.
I will award 4 winners this year, one from each class, with small gifts that promote learning. Email me at if you would like a copy of the crossword puzzle.

College Door Decorating Contest

Each homeroom will have two weeks to decorate their doors to educate the student body on the colleges that most students are interested in learning more about (data collected from student electronic portfolios). Each door must meet the minimum requirements to be a part of the competition: name of college, location, minimum or average ACT score of those admitted, admissions requirements, cost to attend, housing options, mascot, school colors, and a specific article about the FAFSA (

 This contest is integrated with our annual PSAE kickoff. During the PSAE kickoff students compete in contests focused on college admissions etc. The College Door Decorating Contest is part of my effort to build a college going culture and further educate our students on why they should file the FAFSA. The culture of our school is still poisoned by the thought that “we make too much money to qualify for anything with the FAFSA so we just won’t apply.” 

I’m hoping this exercise will educate the students and empower them all to consider all of their post-secondary options. 

The winning homeroom will win Breakfast with the Counselor (provided by our local McDonald’s & the homeroom teacher will win a book, Liberty and Learning: Academic Freedom for Teachers and Students by David Moshman 

Counselor’s Query

This idea came to me late one night last week. I have been posed with the task of articulating how my curriculum supports the Common Core so I have built in many supports through my School Counseling Curriculum (journaling, peer help with electronic portfolios etc.), but this activity takes the curriculum beyond the walls of the high school and encourages the positive and productive use of technology for our students. Students can Tweet their response to me, or turn them in the old fashion way during lunch.

Our students are allowed to text, tweet etc. during passing periods (5 minutes) and lunch (30 minutes). This activity poses a new question to students and faculty each day that encourages thought and evaluation of one’s life, choices, daily decisions, engagement in learning and commitment to life-long learning.

The questions are focused on Academic Freedom, which is defined as follows: 

(a)  the freedom of students to learn, think, speak, write, examine alternatives, seek information and discuss ideas;

(b)  the freedom of their teachers to devise and teach an academically defensible curriculum and to promote student learning and development.

 The questions are as follows: 

Monday: How do you exercise your academic freedom?

Tuesday: How would others know that you are exercising your academic freedom?

Wednesday: Students: where will you take what you have learned at CHS after you graduate?

Thursday: Students: How will you continue to exercise your academic freedom after you graduate?

Friday: What is the most important lesson you have learned at CHS or in life? 

A daily winner will be drawn based on the most thoughtful response to each query, and a small prize will be awarded the following day. 

Just remember… 

No matter what you do next week, remember that the celebration is not about you, so it’s ok to celebrate. We celebrate National School Counseling Week to advocate for our profession and raise awareness about the impact we can make, while also thanking those that support us each day (certificates available through ASCA). 

In the last five years I have grown into this belief and advocated all the way up to my Regional Superintendent who hangs his head each time he calls me or any other counselor a “G” Counselor. 

Next week, empower someone else to know how to answer that burning question, “How are students different as a result of what School Counselors do?”  Then, come back to School Counselor Space to share & inspire others.  

For more ideas on how to celebrate NSCW, follow Danielle Schultz at
Follow the National School Counseling Week 2013 posts on Twitter with hashtag #NSCW13. Follow me on Twitter @FSabens.