Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring Cleaning for School Counselors

By: Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

It isn’t news to any school counselor that, as a whole, the number of students each counselor has to support is up—in some cases, way up.  The national average in 2010-11 was 471, with California reporting a stunning 1016 students per school counselor (all states can be found at
Increased student ratios means students - and counselors - have had to do more with less, a challenge that understandably leaves counselors feeling unsupported and limited.  But just like we respond when students feel they have nowhere to turn, it’s time to develop a strategy that looks past coping with counselor cuts, and seeks ways to help students even more, without adding to our sense of burden.

It’s time to toss the ugly urn.

You know the one I’m talking about.  The, um, gift from a well-meaning relative, you displayed for a week, only to realize it really wasn’t quite your taste.  You kept it in the closet, but displayed it when that dear gift giver came to visit; but there was that one time you got busy, and the spot was bare.  She noticed, and you knew it, but what could you do?  It’s now found its way to the back of the closet, behind two water bottles and some old Girl Scout cookies, even though it would be best to pick it up, dust it off, and head to the resale store.

Every counseling program has a few ugly urns, no matter how much you’ve had to trim in the last few years.  Examples?  Sure:

Individual scheduling appointments You probably finished this already, so look back and think about how many times you really had to work on class selection for a student.  Most of them knew what to choose, and those that didn’t will be looking at a round of changes once the master schedule kicks them out of three of their top choices.

There’s a better way. Ask each student to submit a completed schedule three days before the appointment.  When their time to meet comes up, review their schedule by yourself; if it makes sense (and most will), call them in to congratulate them on a job well done, then spend that time talking about college, bullying, study skills—some other part of the counseling curriculum.  Better yet, put a dozen well-scheduled students in a thorough group presentation that lasts 30 minutes; the 120 minutes you spent scheduling now leads to a strong group activity, and 90 minutes to focus on other counseling issues.

Career exploration  You bring 15 students to the computer lab, and spend 15 minutes of a 30 minute activity explaining how the career search program works—to a group of students who can text with the same hand they use to hold their phone.  Develop a 2 minute video with Camtasia using screen shots of the career exercise directions, then use Remind 101 to text the video link to the students.  They then come to the lab with a complete search, giving you 30 minutes to tell them what it means in greater detail.

Lunch duty  A $5 gift card to the nearest Dairy Delight goes to the student who answers the College Question of the Day.  You walk around and pass around copies of the question; they fill out the form, and you put it in the second pocket of a two-pocket apron.  The answer (and winner) are posted at Dairy Delight, which gets more business because the students come in to see who’s won—and gladly provides the gift cards for free as a result.

Got lemons?  Make lemonade.

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