Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reverse Advocacy




True story and too tragic not to share...

A former coworker, who is now the Assistant Regional Superintendent somewhere in Illinois sent me an email yesterday titled "School Counselor Story." 

He always has something to share that inspires growth so I was eager to read this one for sure. Here is what it said:

"Last night I ran into a young lady who was in graduate school and had a two minute conversation. She told me she planned to be a Guidance Counselor. I said, "Aren't they referred to as School Counselors now?" She sheepishly said, "Yes, but most people just know them as Guidance Counselors." I told her I had a School Counselor friend that would strangle her and she better start educating people."

He was delighted to have that opportunity to remind her to advocate for her profession, and I am grateful that he seized the opportunity. I am also grateful that the one thing he took away from our interactions was how he identifies counselors in the school setting.

Beware School Counselors in training, if you don't know how you should identify yourself, one of the last people you want to educate you on what title is appropriate is the Assistant Regional Superintendent.

Our advocacy efforts are working on those outside of our profession, but maybe we should be focusing more within our profession.

Please share your thoughts on this topic.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Free School Counseling Resources for Individual Student Planning


If you work at a school similar to mine, you are in a budget crunch. I work very hard to keep my program current, relevant and low cost. When it comes to helping students prepare and plan for college this can be tough if you want to send them home with something tangible that will actual help them stay on track and informed.

My solution...Free US Department of Education Publications and the College Board's My Big Future resources. I also use the What's Next Illinois portal, but it is only open to IL schools.

The US Dept. of Education publications have College Prep Checklists in English, Spanish and even Braille! How awesome is that!

My favorite College Prep Checklist recently got an update! Each year my juniors and seniors get a copy of the checklist during their ISP meetings. I also put them out during every parent event that I host. I can't wait to get to school tomorrow to place my new order for the year-all at no cost to my district.

I give this publication to every student during 8th Grade Parent Night, an event where I discuss 8th grade Explore scores with parents to help them understand and use the data as they assist their student in planning a freshman year schedule and four-year plan.

Visit the US Education Publications website to register for an account and order your materials before you begin your individual student planning meetings. Have a tech minded, visual learner on your caseload? Steer them to My Big Future for an interactive & comprehensive approach to post-secondary planning.

What free tools do you use in your program to build and maintain a college going culture?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Illinois School Counselors do more with the Corp

Between budget cuts, difficult to manage case loads, and being responsible for activities considered inappropriate for a school counselor (e.g. teaching classes when teachers are absent or coordinating testing programs), school counselors must become more and more efficient at weathering the storm and doing more with less year after year.

According to ASCA, a professional school counselor’s primary role is to address the developmental needs of all students through a comprehensive school counseling program that supports each student’s unique academic, career and personal/social development.

In Illinois, the Developmental Counseling Model for Illinois Schools was published to supplement the ASCA Model, support the SEL standards, and provide structure and consistent practices and procedures throughout the State. According to the State Code (105 ILCS 5/10-22.24b), school counseling services include, but are not limited to:
  1. educational planning (4-6 year plans)
  2. career development and counseling
  3. college counseling
  4. developing and facilitating anti-violence education or conflict resolution programs, or both
  5. providing crisis intervention programs within the school setting
  6. making appropriate referrals to outside agencies
  7. interpreting achievement, career, and vocational test information
  8. developing individual career plans for all students
  9. providing individual and small group counseling
  10. addressing the developmental needs of students by designing curricula for classroom counseling and guidance
  11. consulting and counseling with parents for the academic, career, and personal success of their children
  12. facilitating school to work transition programs, and
  13. supervising school counseling interns
So, how do we provide school counseling programs that are comprehensive in scope, preventive in design and developmental in nature, and demonstrate accountability when resources are lacking, caseloads are well over the recommended ratio of 1:250, and we are overburdened with responsibilities beyond the scope of our formal training and the legislative definition of the services school counselors may provide? 

Many Illinois school counselors call in the Corp and map out a plan for success.

The ISAC Corp is responsible for assisting students with career exploration, college selection, test preparation, scholarship searches, application completion, and the financial aid process. Each college district has one to four ISACorps members assigned within their community. The best attributes about this group of individuals is they are well trained by ISAC, will assist your school district in building a college going culture and enhance your school counseling program’s delivery system for FREE! Click here to find contact information for your ISACorp representative. One phone call may be all it takes to expand and more appropriately align your school counseling efforts, maximize your time and demonstrate increased accountability this year.

So exactly how can the ISACorp members help you? 

According to ISAC, last year, the Corps conducted over 4,200 outreach events, including more than 700 FAFSA completion workshops and 600 financial aid presentations. This year ISACorp members are eager to connect with schools in all regions of the state to offer educational planning support for all students via the whatsnextillinois.org portal, a free electronic student educational and career development planning portfolio, and deliver presentations on a variety of topics. Contact your school’s ISACorp representative today to make plans to incorporate their services into your delivery system, before you finalize your 2013-2014 program goals. If your an intern this is a perfect opportunity for you to make contact with the representative in your area and pitch an idea to your supervisor!

Each year before the students come back, I meet with our ISACorp representative, Krystin Baker, to discuss how we can integrate her presentations into our school counseling program and determine how much time she can devote to assisting our students with updating their WNI portfolios,which are now mandatory for our entire student body, and a vital part of ourschool counseling core curriculum. After our meeting I finalize my program goals, meet with my principal for approval, and together we execute an Annual Agreement. Sometimes securing a meeting with the principal is tough due to scheduling conflicts etc., but persistence pays. Advocate for your program and the students you serve, don’t give up. 

Krystin & I at last year's Financial Aid Process Event
By partnering with Krystin I am able to address 7 of the 13 defined school counseling services at no extra cost to my district every year. This year we also expanded our collaborative efforts with ISAC by registering for an Illinois College Application Month event. Doing more with less can feel like you’re driving full speed through a downpour; but if you efficiently utilize your resources, build resilient relationships with other stakeholders in your school, district and community, and collaborate with a purpose, you will find you have a steadfast umbrella that will see you through this educational tempest. 

No matter how you manage to do more with less, don’t forget to share the results of your efforts, despite the results of each lesson or activity. The PR you do for your program could be the PR that saves your position and your program. As you wade through the troubled waters, remember that you’re not alone, be your own professional advocate, keep your program goals in mind, expect obstacles and resistance, but always remember what drew you to the profession because even though you’re doing more with less, someone out there is just glad you showed up to do what you do.

How do you  utilize your resources, build resilient relationships, and collaborate with a purpose? Share your methods below.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

YouTube meets PowerPoint 2010: Techie Mediation

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to (finally) really get involved with Freshman Academy after 5 years of assisting, but always standing on the sidelines for the actual event.

For the last 2 years I helped devise the curriculum, but couldn't actually be a part of the delivery due to scheduling conflicts & my cancer recovery last year.

This year I made sure I would have the opportunity to get involved first hand so I could really measure the results of our efforts & share the great work our homeroom advisors & the Coordinator do throughout the program.

This is where things got out of hand between YouTube & PowerPoint. On the first day of Freshman Academy the students take an Anti-Bullying pre-test and a diagnostic exam so we can measure how much they learn from the presentations spread throughout the week, and specifically measure our anti-bullying curriculum.

At the end of Day 1 I took the pre-test home to grade & run data analysis. Once I was done gathering the data I decided to create a PowerPoint outlining the results so I could make handouts for the students to study from before their post-test on the last day.

Everything went smooth, copying data tables, statistics & facts until the last slide was before me-waiting patiently for this embedded YouTube video.

I cannot tell you how many times I got this message:


I think at one point I actually almost cried! Seriously, this presentation was that important to me.

I mean really, it brings real data, an important topic & music together-what School Counselor wouldn't love this combination?

I pretty much tried everything. I went through the help topics, no help. Then I searched the web for what seemed like an eternity & finally found an article about using Windows Media Player to embed the video into PowerPoint. Finally, my prayers were answered.

I started reading the article and just before I could really get down to business my husband came home & it was time for dinner. After family dinner I went back to the computer to start reading again & just before I could really make sense of how the process worked my 2 year old demanded his bath. Really, this is my world!

And as fate would have it, as I am bathing my son, my husband sits down at the computer & navigates away from the article and when I attempt to intervene, he closes the window! @&$/$&@ I could not make this chaos up. **Sigh**

I regroup and try to find the article again. I didn't have any luck, but I did stumble across an even easier way to complete the job--A YouTube Plug In for PowerPoint.

So simple. Download the Plug-In, import it into PowerPoint & follow the simple directions to add a the video to your presentation (Happy dance!). As a disclaimer I did encounter a couple of issues with this method:

1. You must start the presentation from the menu across the top of the program. If you try to use the shortcut icon at the bottom of the page the video won't work, weird, I know.
2. Once you play the video it does not rewind it-you must do it yourself before you exit the presentation view.
3. The annoying adds come up during the video, but you can just X out of them.
4. The plug in puts lots of extras on your computer. I went to my Control Panel and deleted them all, but I was very annoyed with this.

Other than those minor issues it worked like a charm & I was very pleased with the result. Once I got the two programs talking, let them clear the air & learn how to communicate better all was right in my world again.

I will share my final product below.

You will need to download it to view the show and "Enable Content" and "Enable Editing " before you launch the show.

 If you click the image of the fingers crossed on the next to last slide it will take you directly to the video also (my back up plan). The last slide where I embedded the video is also there.

Check out my final product.

Do you use a different method? I would love to know if there is an easier way to do this. Please comment & share your tips below.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Building your School Counseling Program-One Step at a Time

Recently, through Twitter & Facebook, I've come across a lot of new school counseling graduates looking for tips, tools & advice as they begin their school counseling journey. I can remember when that was me & how little there really was out there, so here are a couple of really simple tips, mostly applicable to middle & high school, to get you started.

1. Meet with your principal before the teachers get back, if possible, to discuss how you would like to structure your program, results of needs assessments, surveys and/or data from previous interventions & the current reality in your building (State report card, grades, testing & discipline data etc.). Complete an Annual Agreement  (pg 64-64 of the ASCA Model, 3rd ed.) & ask that it be shared with the school board (raise awareness about your program). In addition to the Annual Agreement this tool from NOSCA is a great resource to build a collaborative relationship with your principal.

2. Don't forget to introduce your program & yourself & Solicit ideas & information

If you're new to the District try to secure an opportunity to speak at the first faculty meeting to introduce yourself, your program, events for the year and ask for feedback from the teachers (maybe make a simple GoogleDoc asking them questions to help drive and shape your program) and schedule short classroom visits at the beginning of the school year to make contact with all students.

My first year I put together a packet explaining my background (1st career, education, teaching experience etc.) and my vision for the school counseling program & solicited feedback from everyone to help me create a program that would meet the needs of all stakeholders. I included a survey and a copy of my referral form. I also let teachers know that they could pick up additional referral forms from my mailbox any time. This year I am hoping to be allowed to create a GoogleDoc Referral Form so they can complete the form electronically & print it out. If you have been able to implement electronic referrals into your program I would love to hear about your method.

3. Share your knowledge, you are an expert

The first day is always a tough one for many teachers since schedules are often modified, they anticipate that the kids won't be ready to learn just yet and they have to spend some time going over housekeeping items, what they plan to cover & expectations. Why not provide them all with a simple lesson focused on study skills that they can tweak to help students learn to successfully navigate their course materials and prepare for academic success, or a lesson focused on teaching students how they might use that subject in the future.

If you have a common Advisory or homeroom period, this lesson is a great one to have the teachers deliver. You can use the data collected on each student to build a pool of students for a small group focused on Study Skills.

4. Plan to implement 3 groups right away: Study Skills Boot Camp (pre-identify these students with testing data, grades etc. & solicit teacher referrals), Get A Life (goal setting: academic, career, personal/social), G.I.R.L.S (this one will take longer to populate, but is applicable to most any school population); adjust the curriculum of each group to meet the needs of your population. I also use parts of Owning Up with my students. [The key word here is PLAN]

5. Use your State's mandated curriculum as a guide to drive the rest of your program & seek out as many free resources as you can.

Here are a couple of sweet spots: (there are soooooo many more)

IL DCFS Mandated Reporter Training
Internet Safety Lessons & tools for students & parents and here
Mental Health & Wellness Curriculum
Missouri School Counseling site (one of my favorites by far)
Suicide Prevention Resources
What's Next Illinois (Course specific study skills lessons)

Please share sites that you frequent often

Keeping your focus on creating a program that compliments the total educational package, while meeting the needs of your student population, is essential, in many State's the school counseling program must support the Common Core.

Taking things one step at a time & building relationships along the way will help you develop a sound program that meets the needs of the population you serve and evolves as your population changes.

Enjoy the journey and remember to always stop and smell the roses.

Best wishes for a positive & productive school year from School Counselor Space!

Would you like to share additional tips or have plans for something that is not listed here? Share your ideas below.