Monday, February 26, 2018

Educational Tribes






     From the moment I entered the profession, I learned about the many issues our jobs were encountering.  I trained and implemented the comprehensive school counseling model.  I kept outcome data and followed the inquiry-based process.  I promoted smaller caseloads and changes on the non-counseling activities imposed on school counselors.  I joined the “tribe” and promoted the “movement”.  Was there really a movement?  After many years in the profession, several workshops throughout different school counseling associations, it seems that changes still are needed.  What is missing for school counselors to see a change in their professional practice?
I came by the chapter in my dissertation on change theory and began reading it again.  I branched out to the books and articles I used on Systems Thinking and began analyzing the main idea.  I read Seeing Systems by Barry Oshry and it all connected.  It was about not following the general message and having a new perspective: the business of education.

     Student needs are different, but the educational system remains the same.  As in any company or organization, for success to be achieved, the understanding of the parts and their contributions to the whole is essential and common sense.  We need to pause on our ideals we have been sharing and think through the culture, the people and the gaps within our educational systems.  What should we be looking at?
              Emotions: As humans, we live on emotions.  It is part of our developmental process.  The problem is that we focus on emotions based on our perspectives and reactions to a trigger.  Maybe it is the additional non-counseling activity just placed on the school counseling team or the decision to reduce staff in the counseling department.  We begin by reacting rather than understanding.  Understanding does not mean acceptance but getting the right information regarding the decisions.
              Stories: I read that we, as individuals, thrive on storytelling.  We like to share our beliefs and what we perceive through stories.  Stories may not be factual, but a reaction to the emotions felt and what we, as storytellers, want to believe.  Stories can be dangerous as the essence can cause toxic environments.
              History: Before we tell stories, let’s do some historical searching.  Let’s take the concept of validation of profession.  As a school counselor, you may want to spend time trying to understand how the understanding of the professional practice changed from administration to administration.  I recently mentioned to a group of higher education professors in the area of administration how important it is to have a class that educates future leaders on the role of student support systems (school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists and school nurses).  Understanding the history of philosophical changes at the local level can guide school counselors to re-educate administration, faculty, parents, and others on the support and programs benefitting the students as well as the community.
              System members:  Our emotions influence our storytelling and blocks historical perspectives.  Instead, visualize what the administrator or teacher must face daily.  What decisions do they make and what emotions are involved in their practice?  What struggles are they encountering in making decisions that will affect personnel and programs?  By going through this reflection process a school counselor can be aware that no decision is made without difficulty.

      How do we approach challenges now?
           Step back and reflect before the reaction takes over.
           Write down the questions that come up in the conversation.
           Talk to the administrators about how the decisions came about.
           Have an open conversation about the difficult process it may have been.

Understand, process and reflect.  Seeing the system can change the perceptions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

School Counselor's Journey



For the past three years, I stopped writing on the blog.  As a school counselor, I was undergoing a professional transformation that required my attention.  The professional transformation was also affecting me.  By questioning "why is a school counselor leader needed" it also questioned my personal value as a human. 

Many said I did not play the political game correctly that exists in education. I beg to differ.  I believe that every child deserves a chance to learn and be successful. I believe that school counselors should be focusing on students rather than managerial tasks.

I put a pause on everything.  I made a difficult decision to let go.  With one door closing, I had to take a break and reflect on all of the teachable moments endured.  This took a year, a change in mindset and a desire to continue inspiring.

Here is my story from the past years.   I have met and spoken to many school counselors nationally who have similar ideas and are faced with different perspectives or conflict. I embraced courage to share my journey since 2016 in the hopes it will give school counselors some inspiration to being a support for others.

Today is the first day of a new journey. I am setting my goals and my pathway for the coming year, personally and professionally. I am not sad, upset or discouraged. I am free, centered and balanced. I did not cry during the New Year arrival but was encouraged and excited to feel a new energy embrace my soul. Welcome 2016!I read many quotes regarding today being the first day of a 365-page book. My first page is about understanding that the past were lessons that prepared me for the growth I have experienced. Not moments that defined my personal or professional character. Moments that opened my soul to new experiences.

You really don’t begin thinking about who you really are until you hit the bottom of the barrel. In my recent years, I noticed myself being the target of harsh words that kept pushing me down further and further. Every morning I would wake up with a knot in my stomach and the words repeating in my mind: you are worthless. I questioned who I was as a leader and a school counselor. I even began to question who I was as a person. The environment became chaotic, I was useless, my purpose was unclear and I felt unsafe in a world where before I made a difference.

In my journey of clarification, I found that I had lost a sense of purpose and understanding of who I am. Call it soul searching, but it was more than just feeling good. It was a path that would bring me back to who I really was and had lost along my many years of trying to be accepted and belonging to a cultural environment that felt disconnected.

Who am I? An earth angel with lots of smiles as one person who inspired me once said. Yes, not a true angel, but a human with an abundance of support, positivity and caring for others. A guide who delivers a sense of purpose and clarifies the next path to be taken. An inspirational soul that believes in a profession that supports everyone and assists them with finding their own journey. Hence the career of school counseling matched my purpose in life.

I am also an empath. I feel the joy, sadness, frustrations and all of the emotions one can feel. I struggle with them as I try to help others overcome the barriers. At the end of the day, I find a way to let go knowing that tomorrow the sun will rise and a new day begins with different emotions. I look for the beauty of a new day, of each person I meet, and how they are teaching me something new. Not how I am helping them. With a new knowledge, I grow as a person and can understand humanity better one issue or emotion at a time. I can celebrate the gains and spread the smiles!

Through my own soul searching, I found my peace. I found that it is important to take care of myself first if I am to support others. I found that there is a reason for why things happen and look for lessons from every event that comes my way, good or bad. I have learned that angry words and behaviors towards me are not “my problem” but a reflection of the dark soul who shares those. I have embraced the smiles, gratitude, and the desire to continue spreading the wealth of positivity. I am an earth angel!

                                                               The Power of Positivity

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Student Meeting Data - Changing Mindset and Behavior




     Today as snow fell down and blanketed the wishful and anticipated green yard I long to see, I decided to read some of the postings on different school counseling pages on social media.  The question of the day, once again, "how do you doccument student meetings?"  Counselors quickly began sharing different programs used, cost of program, how much information was being documented and who would be able to see it.  I saw a couple of themes emerging that were focused on different mindsets.  Let me explain what I mean.

Products
     In 140 characters or less, or with a thumb up next to a comment, school counselors shared which products they were using for documentation.  Free, user-friendly, quick, were some of the terms posted.  What was missing was the "so what" about the use of these tools in connection to the overall comprehensive school counseling program.

Transparency
   Why do others who work with the student needed to know the information you documented in the tool you use?  Don't administrators and others understand what a school counselor does?  Yes, I used to think the same way as it was always a concern if tomorrow my school counseling position would still be there.  I also worried about confidentiality, and still do.  Finding balance in sharing of information is also important.

Change your thoughts towards a focus on student support rather than school counselor role can lead to different outcomes!

It's all about your mindset!


     Let me use student meeting data tracking to describe what I mean about school counselor mindset and behavior with the two themes above.

     To document the progress of students in education and counseling, several data points are needed. Not just student meeting tracking.  Let me pose some additional questions as you investigate products to support the school counselor work you do:
               1) When you track student meeting data, do you have a way to identify why you met with the student and which domain it pertains to?
               2)  In tracking student meetings, can you identify easily which interventions were put into place and at what level (1,2 or 3) of intervention?
               3) Do student meetings logged have an ability to be identified as individual, group or classroom?
               4) While at the team, committee on special ed, or child study meetings, can you easily run a report on how many times you met with the student, for what reason and what interventions were put in to place?
               5) If classroom, is there a written lesson aligned to national standards and response to intervention level you can refer to in the program?
               6) Is the classroom lesson identified as part of the comprehensive plan developed by the department as a grade specific, with time frame delivery and assessment method?
             
     My point is that a product to track student meeting should also show greater implications for a comprehensive school counseling program instead of focused only on a task the school counselor does.  If you can run a report that shows how many students you met with individually for social emotional issues, then you can also share the needed interventions.  For example, if you are meeting with 10 students having a difficult time transitioning to a new grade, then that information can produce a peer mentoring group, identification of curriculum to support transition topics and other activities for the school counseling program.

     You don't buy a car only because it has good wheels, or a nice color.  Functionality to get you to work, drive your kids to events, and supporting the family routine is essential.  If you are thinking of money, remember to always evaluate what you are getting for your money - a color, or a complete car?


                                  Fixed mindset: it is about the school counselor role and how overwhelming it                                     is meeting with so many students, doing paperwork, etc..How can I keep up?
                               
                                  Growth mindset: it is about the school counseling program establishig                                                 individual student meetings that provide additional information to support a                                           team discussion and student success.
 
     Transparency is the next step of this example.  Why keep everything confidential?  Yes, we have ethical and legal guidelines which I am not asking anyone to break.  However, think of information you may obtain from a student meeting as essential data to support teachers and administrators as well as the family in supporting the student.  Take the transition example.  While meeting with administrators on setting up a new group/lesson/activity, also let the students' teachers know that he/she is having a hard time coming in to the new grade.  This avoids trouble with perceptions if a student is not participating or engaged in class.

     We look at the whole child philosophy and the importance of everyone knowing the obstacles and successes students have.  I ask, if more school counselors had a team philosophy in place to support the whole child, what is now the school community's perception of the school counseling program and work?

                                  Fixed mindset: it is about the school counselor confidentiality all of the time                                       and working with the student.
                               
                                  Growth mindset: it is about identifying the necessary information about the                                         student that would be important to share in a team approach to support the                                             student.  This information can be as simple as "student is having a bad day" or                                      "student is concerned about taking a test, could we compromise and let him/her                                     take it in a different location to reduce anxiety?"

     So now you are probably thinking what is my point with all of this?  It is about finding the right tool, even if you pay a little more for it, that supports the integrity and growth mindset of a school counseling program.  Essential stakeholders are open to learning and hearing about interventions with full team collaborations, and not professional frustration.   Keep an open mind.....and yes, check out www.schoolcounselorcentral.com,

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

School Counseling Formula

Permission from School Counselor Central is required for reproduction of visual and formula concept.

           
       This past week I viewed all of the wonderful ways in which school counselors were sharing their work and values in supporting students.  I went back to my previous posting on the idea that celebration should be more than a week long.  I questioned: if our goal as school counselors is to have the school and community understand our work and embrace a comprehensive school counseling program then what was the formula for this process?

      The question lead me to revisit the idea of solution focused outcomes.  The concept developed by Shazer and Berg (1970) is future-focused, goal-directed, and focuses on solutions, rather than on the problems that brought clients to seek therapy. (http://www.solutionfocused.net/solutionfocusedtherapy.html)  The approach provides clients with support while building a toolbox of strategies in dealing with problems.  Lots of school counseling research and books discuss solution focused therapy, but I wanted to take it beyond the individual counseling approach.

      Just for fun, I began looking at all of the components of a comprehensive program and which one really stood out to analyze and be the essence of the importance of the school counselor.  I looked at the delivery area only and developed a formula that is yet to be tested.  Please note that Math was not my strength!  That is why I am writing this blog to see if there are others who are interested in testing and finding out the "so what" of the results!  Consider it a puzzle!

      Here is the overall question that took me to the formula development: What if we could show the impact of the delivery system as solution focused response to intervention, would the perception of the school counseling program change?  Notice that I said, school counseling program and not school counselor.  If the program is shown to be essential, effective and is now considered part of the Response to Intervention Pyramid at the local level, then the perception of the school counselor as an essential professional also changes!

       Formula:  If we take the total number of students who multiplied by total classroom lessons delivered the result would equal the total number of solution focused interventions provided at Level 1.  If we take the number of students and the number of groups provided the results would equal solution focused interventions provided at Level 2.
       What would you present to your administrators and the educational community?  The results that show that the school counseling program provides different amounts of interventions at each of the levels.  What might be expected and hopeful outcomes: increased class time or identified groups that are needed; less non-counseling activities; and reduced caseloads to improve RTI results.

       Let's change our ways and instead of accountability, let's use solution focused interventions.   Instead of going at it by claiming a time and task aligned to non-counseling activities, too many students on the caseload and other emotional appeals to changing the profession at the local level, try aligning it to the RTI process and showing a simple formula on solution based interventions.

     

      




Sunday, February 1, 2015

School Counseling: Celebrate all Year!





     As the official celebration week begins, I often wonder why it should only be one week?  I understand that it is important to highlight the work of school counselors and celebrate it with commitment and passion to the profession.  As any celebration, it seems that by the end of the week, we all go back to our tasks and responsibilities as the school year goes on and question why folks don't understand or value our profession.  So why not keep the celebration as a year long event?  Take the week and bump it up a notch to showcase on an ongoing basis the wonderful events of a school counseling program.

     You are probably thinking this is going to be overwhelming.  Not really!  Let's take the idea of benefits of a school counselor for our stakeholders and think of ways to showcase current work being done that benefits each group.

     1) Teachers:
          * Create a bulletin board in the teacher's lounge showing the month's lessons and group topics.  If you have data from prior month's activities, show the visual on the board.
          * Involve teachers and ask them to tell you where they went to college.  Create a display with banners for students to see entitled "Where our staff went to college."  I would also include your clerical support and other staff members.
          * Attend curriculum/department/team leader meetings and present what activity you will be doing and when.  Also ask, based on the upcoming activity, what teachers would like students to learn from the lesson.  Take a moment to share the ASCA Mindset and Behavior Standards as a guide on the alignment of the activity to national standards.

     2) Parents:
         *  Remind parents to go to the school counseling website for resources and news.
         * Send an email out to all parents sharing the calendar of activities.  Don't let the school counseling calendar be static on a website, but remind parents of dates to remember for each month.
         * Create a one page newsletter on lessons completed and what students learned as a result of the lesson.  Always provide additional resources on how parents can continue enhancing themes learned as a collaboration with the home.

     3) Administrators:
         * Create a pyramid of intervention for academic, social/emotional and college/career activities done in level 1, 2 and 3 to remind administrators.
         * Share with administrators articles on different school counseling related topics.  Avoid reminding them of caseload and importance of school counselors.  Try to share topics on social emotional interventions and effectiveness of lessons related to mindfulness, character education, etc..
         *  Take a look at the discipline record, search for themes (cutting class, for example) and propose a group for those students with a clear set of activities and measurement of the intervention.
       
     4) Students:
        * Survey students on their needs and engagement in a school counseling program.
        * Share data on lessons done and what the needs are.  With that, create additional support for ongoing delivery of the theme presented.  For example, if I do a lesson on the college application and see students struggling to understand the common application from a survey given, I will then create lunch bunch meetings to walk through the common application again.
        * Communicate with student on an ongoing basis by remminders of events, inspirational messages and doing check in meetings.

     At the end of the year, use the school counseling designated hallway bulletin board to showcase the Year in Review for the school counseling program.  Post the  mission, vision, lessons, data and any other visual that would show what the school counseling program is all about and how it is integral to the educational system!!!

 Let's keep the celebrating!



Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Resolutions - Focus on Profession


     Happy 2015!  During the first day of the year, as I posted new information on the School Counselor Central Facebook page, I saw several articles that had been shared through the network.  The theme: not enough school counselors.  So I took time to think about today's post about resolutions.  As we make promises to loose weight, be more active, quit smoking, all of which are hard and should be tried, how about making a professional resolution?  Like what you might say?
Here are a few - In 2015, I, as a school counselor will:

                   ........write a school counseling job description aligned to the national standards of school counseling and distribute it to the administration and HR office.
                 
                   ........ask to do a faculty presentation on the role of the school counselor and activities to support students in the three domains.

                   .........take the survey results I collected from lessons/groups, compile them on my own time and share it with the faculty and administration.

                   .........create a faculty/parent handbook on the role of the school counselor, calendar of activities and resources.

                    .........not give in to what others believe the school counselor should do, but stand as a leader and educate the community on the importance of the school counselor.

                    ..........be more proactive in searching tools and resources essential in helping the school counselor maintain a comprehensive school counseling program.

                    ..........ask for current school data such as reasons for team meetings on students (academic, social/emotional) and create a chart that shows why students are being referred to team meetings and how a school counselor can suppport the needs through programs.

                    ...........Not find any more excuses or reasons to say that my role as a school counselor is not valuable, needed, and respected!


    You get the idea!  Let's take the second day of the year and begin making your professsional resolutions!  I would love to see them posted here!!!  Happy 2015!!


       


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Season's Greetings



     I have been absent from posting on the blog given a recent hand surgery.  I will be back in full force in the coming year!  In the meantime, I wanted to wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!!