Wednesday, January 26, 2011

So—have you cleaned things up on Facebook yet?

By: Patrick J. O'Connor, Ph.D.

One of the biggest challenges students face is understanding how, when, and where to share personal information with others. This is an ongoing developmental issue, one that became both clearer and more important with the advent of social networks.

Once MySpace and Facebook went viral, students and adults started talking about all kinds of things with all kinds of people—including perfect strangers, potential employers, and college admission offices. The results have sometimes been disastrous: college students who lose internships because of party pictures; athletes who let off steam about their coach on Facebook and lose their scholarship the next day; finalists for jobs who lose out because they showed a little too much of their personal lives for all the world to see.

It’s true employers have more time to Facebook hunt than colleges, but students applying to college—especially the current juniors—need to hear the importance of this message in language they can relate to. To that end, this counselor rap was produced—spread the word, dog!

(Based on a true story that happened somewhere else.)

Joanna thought she was all that
She knew she was a winner;
A 3.9, a 32
The gal was no beginner!
Took 5 APs and tutored too
Her homework was a snap
Spent most nights on the Facebook page
Just dishin’ out some smack
She posted pix of homecoming
Her folks would see as knockouts
But dog, they’d never seen them, since
Her FB page was blocked out

You can’t imagine her surprise
When counselor said “Yo lady,
I got a call from East Coast U
The news will make ya crazy!
The U was ready to admit
When in arrived their intern
‘The buzz is all on FB, man,
These pics will make your hands burn.’
The intern loaded up the page
Of some homecoming hijinx
And in the photo, there was you--
Which made our rep do eye blinks.

“They saw your pictures once or twice
And thought they’d overlook it
But then they read your Facebook smack
And that’s what really cooked it.
Your essays were all erudite
And very nicely tailored
But then they saw the real you
Has language like a sailor.
They read your app and loved you girl,
It’s you they were admittin’,
But now they said they just can’t take
A profane party kitten.”
So dudes and dudettes, hear me out,
Few colleges go lookin’,
But if FB vibes come their way
That just can’t be mistooken
Your full ride dough, your dream admit
Are goin’ down the tank, sir
And all because you tried to be
A bad-selfed Facebook gangsta!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Most Important IEP You Can Complete

Public school teachers are keeping a close eye on several states thinking about changing or eliminating teacher tenure.  Many teacher organizations agree that change is needed in the system, but that change must include more comprehensive evaluation of teachers before their jobs are ever on the line.
Patrick O’Connor is a past president 
of the National Association for College 
Admission Counseling and author of t
he book College is Yours in 600 
Words or Less

If proposed tenure changes are making teachers think twice, school counselors need to go into a serious state of meditation, and fast.  School counselors are often represented by teacher unions in collective bargaining, and find themselves on the short end of negotiated contracts that overlook the handful of counselors whose professional needs are not more or less important than classroom teachers—just different.

Often, these differences aren’t addressed because classroom teachers don’t really know what counselors do.  Since most principals are former classroom teachers, they take their limited understanding of counseling to the front office, where it appears in everything from budgets to personnel decisions to teacher—and counselor—evaluations.

If you’re thinking there’s something wrong with this picture, you’re starting to get the picture.  How in the world can a principal observe most of your work as a counselor without violating client confidentiality?  How will that play out when it comes time to let go of staff, either through layoffs or through changes in teacher tenure?

It’s time to come out from the shadows of your classroom colleagues. Since you can’t change your labor agreements all by yourself, it’s time for an IEP—Immediate Education of the Principal:

  1. Schedule a meeting with the principal and the entire counseling staff.  A brief, organized meeting that spells out the goals, structure, methods and assessment practices of the counseling office will build the foundation of knowledge your principal will need to understand, support, and defend your program.  Principals like things in writing, and they tend to like data, so provide both, and have enough copies of the materials for the principal to share with the superintendent, the school board, and the public.  Your goal is to build awareness and advocacy, so you have to speak their language, so they can speak on your behalf.
  2. Schedule a regular meeting with updates and information.  It may be once a month or once a quarter, but regular formal contact with the principal goes a long way to dispel rumors, support school-wide initiatives, and garner administrative respect.  This is the give-and-take phase of any healthy professional relationship, and you want yours to thrive.
  3. Discuss assessment and evaluation procedures well in advance of using them.  Too many well-meaning principals plan observations a day before they’re due, but that just won’t work for school counselors.  Use a meeting to talk about the best way to make contract-required techniques work when it’s time to evaluate your work, and make sure that discussion is at least a month before the evaluation occurs.
  4. Evaluate your principal’s support of you and your efforts.  A study I completed in 2000 showed counselors need five things from principals in order for counseling programs to shine, and there’s a way to evaluate how well your principal is doing on all five.  If you’re not sure how your principal is doing in program and logistical support, engaged advocacy, capital allocations, affirmation, and support of program growth, your principal probably doesn’t know either. You owe it to your students to share your insights, and a good principal won’t mind hearing from you.  

It may appear to be troubled times for tenure, but a little advanced planning can turn this challenge into an opportunity for dialogue, support, and growth—and that’s what school counselors do best.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Angst of National School Counselor Week

Patrick O’Connor is a past president 
of the National Association for College 
Admission Counseling and author of t
he book College is Yours in 600 
Words or Less
I have mixed feelings about National School Counseling Week. I like the idea behind it: the purpose is "to focus public attention on the unique contribution of professional school counselors within U.S. school systems", according to the American School Counseling Association (ASCA).

Then again, NSCW has its flaws—timing, for one.  It’s slated for February 7-11 (tell the truth, school counselors—you didn’t know this, did you?), when elementary school counselors are busy helping many of their 600 students work through cabin fever.  

At the same time, counselors in grades 6-12 are swamped helping their 800 students with, ahem, class scheduling for next year.  All of those graduate school classes we took in bubbling in forms seem to be paying off; evidently this is part of our unique contribution to U.S. school systems.

The second concern I have about NSCW is the party itself—specifically, who’s going to throw it?  Suggestions and supplies for celebrations can be found in full force on the ASCA Web site, but the only people who follow that site 
are (you guessed it) school counselors—and we’re supposed to be the honorees, not the party planners.  Is the public’s awareness and respect of our profession so low that we have to throw our own shindig by buying “Celebrate School Counseling” pencils in bulk and handing them out ourselves?

In a word, yes.

You may remember we were in pre-party mode this time last year when the Public Agenda report came out, saying most young people saw their school counselor as a hindrance in their college search.  This wasn’t news to us, but the fact that the Gates Foundation spent money on a study to berate our efforts publicly stung like the January wind.  (Note to Bill: Next time you want to spend thousands of dollars figuring how out to help school counselors, use $20 to take your local school counselor out to lunch.  They’ll tell you the same thing any study will; you can spend the rest on bulk pencils, which we’ll pass out when it’s time for scheduling.)

The news doesn’t get much better when you look beyond college advising.  Whether it’s students with personal problems, learning challenges, family issues, career needs, addiction practices, or questions about the way the world works, school counselors have the skills to help, and the will to help.  They also have too many students (or buildings) on their caseload, too many duties that have nothing to do with counseling, too few administrators who understand what we do, and too little time to explain it to the administrators who don’t.

Just like the Public Agenda findings, it’s not new news that the football coach gets to teach three sections of weight training and run two study halls in the off-season, while the school counselor has to cancel the career awareness seminar because the principal  “needs” them to cover Algebra 2 for a sick teacher.  No, this news isn’t new—but it’s still very sad.

Maybe throwing our own party is the best idea after all.  Find a sympathetic parent who will put together a nicely designed fact sheet on what you could do, and want to do, to improve the lives of your students, and wrap a slice of pizza in each one.  Your students and colleagues may only glance at it briefly before throwing it out, but it may get the attention of your principal or even the media. 

Something’s got to change, and change is what we learned to help others do when we were in graduate school, not scheduling. If nothing else, National School Counseling Week is a good opportunity to tell that to someone.—better yet, tell it to everyone.