Saturday, June 20, 2015

Is Being in the Special Area Rotation Right for You?

Call me crazy, but I LOVE being in the Special Area rotation at my school!   Will this schedule work for everyone? No, it depends on the size of your school, your special area scheduling and resources.  Have you been asked to be in the Special Area Rotation?  Don't panic!  Read on about how I've made this decision work for me, the benefits I have experienced, and the questions you should consider if you think you might be interested in experiencing one of the most worthwhile things I have done in years!

How it Works on a Daily Basis

The first thing you must know is I am NOT in the schedule full-time.  I split a 6 class daily schedule with our Media Specialist and each of us does three classes a day. Each class is 45 minutes long so that comes out to only 2 hours and 15 minutes.  I still have 2 hours and 45 minutes to see students individually or in group and that takes into account I actually  take my ever elusive lunch and planning period of 30 minutes each.

Our special area schedule is divided into A week and B week.  On A week, I have the first 3 classes of the day (grades 2,1,and 4) and Media has the last 3 classes of the day (grades K,3,5).  That means I am finished with class by 11:00 and have the rest of the day for lunch groups, individuals or whatever I need. On B week I have the last 3 classes of the day and Media has the first 3 classes.  With this schedule I am free from 8:00 to 11:35 and have classes until the end of the day at 2:00. Teachers get a calendar labeling the weeks A and B to help them keep track. If a class falls on a holiday, or a class goes on a field trip the lesson is missed the same as if it were Art, Music, or PE.  When I have to be out, I get a half day sub and prepare a sub appropriate video with activity or coloring sheet for my classes. I am not comfortable leaving my regular lessons for a sub!

I have my own classroom which is wonderful and since teachers are not in the room for the lesson, I take the last few minutes of the class when the teacher comes to pick up the students to summarize the lesson, highlighting any important vocabulary or concepts I would like for them to reinforce.

1) Scheduling!
Before being in the specials rotation, I had to chase down teachers to schedule my classroom lessons. What a frustration and a waste of time! In the days prior to high stakes testing, it was relatively easy to get in the classroom for lessons and pull students for groups at anytime.  In addition to high stakes testing, We have Common Core, and teacher evaluations based on student performance. This makes taking students out of class or scheduling classroom counseling lessons nearly impossible.  Teachers are extremely protective of all instructional time and at my school they were all asking for last 30 minutes on Friday for a lesson.  Being in the rotation gives me regular access to students and a ready made schedule.  No more chasing teachers to sign-up or walking into classes where the teacher says, "Oh, we have you today?  We were just headed out for recess," or "I forgot you were coming, we're taking a test."

2) Knowing All Your Students
I think this is the best part.  My school has about 580 students and I am able to get to know them ALL and they know me.  When I see students for individual counseling we have a frame of reference from classroom lessons that allows us to apply previously learned concepts and ideas.  Whether a small problem or crisis counseling, all students have a large "bank" of skills from which to draw from our work together in class.  They "get" what I am talking about and referencing from class lessons and activities.  This creates a more productive individual counseling time and reinforces the problem solving skills of students.

3) More Services, More Students, Less Time
This is another reason I love being in the specials schedule!  It is the best way to deliver the most services to the greatest number or students for the least amount of time.  In a comprehensive school counseling program ASCA states, "Every student gets everything." Classroom counseling is the most effective way to deliver those lessons deemed essential by your school data.  The ASCA recommendation of 80% direct/indirect services to students includes classroom counseling, but at no specified percentage.  My 15 classes a week only has me spending 56.2% of my time with my students.  I still have 43.8% of my day remaining in which to see groups and individuals.  By seeing all classes twice a month I am able to cover a wide range of topics from social skills to bullying to career education  to personal safety.  Not only does every student get everything, but I feel our regular lesson schedule gives my students the time to also explore and practice these skills.

4) Taking Classroom Lessons to a Deeper Level
The opportunity to really explore a topic with my students is another thing I especially love about being in the special area schedule!  Rather than 1 bully lesson and 1 RRW lesson in the fall, I was able to go much deeper. I did 4 lessons on bullying and cyberbullying and 3 lessons on healthy living and peer pressure. We were able to discuss topics and try activities I would never have had the opportunity to do otherwise.  Because of my regular classroom schedule I have been able to pilot 2 different Personal Safety curriculums in grades K-3 and dedicate 8 sessions to thoroughly training my student mediators. Before being in the special area schedule lessons felt rushed and like I was only scratching the surface of a topic.  With more class lessons, I can take the time to engage students in meaningful conversation and role play rather than rushing to finish a topic in 30-40 minutes.  It's amazing the things students come up with and share when you have the luxury of time to allow them to explore a topic.

5) No Extra Duties!!!
No, maybe this is the BEST part!  Since I am part of the the special area schedule that rotates each week, it was impossible for my Principal to put me on any kind of cafeteria, playground, or testing duty.  She tried a few times then realized, "No, you can't do that you have class."  You know, I would do classsroom lessons anyway, but choosing to put those lessons in the specials schedule has eliminated my availability for non-counselor related duties. Awesome!!!

6) Administration Learns the Meaning of Emergencies
Prior to being in the special area rotation, I would often get called to the office to help with "emergencies."  Only about 99 times out of a 100 the calls were not counseling emergencies, but discipline cases that administration did not want to deal with.  I don't know about you, but I want to stay as far away from discipline as possible.  Yes, I am happy to follow up with a student after the referral and consequence phase to develop a plan for the future. However, I DO NOT want to be there when the student is "getting in trouble with administration." It is important for administration to understand real emergencies are those regarding potential threats of harm to self or others, mental health crisis, abuse/neglect, or family traumas.

Counselor Concerns
1) Handling Real Counseling Emergencies
I know lots of School Counselors hate being in the specials rotation because they feel it prevents them from responding to a student crisis.  However, my question is what do you do now when you are in a class or a group and such a crisis comes up?  What happens then?  In my school, if it is a real counseling emergency, my administration will send someone to cover for me like the AP, media specialist, a teacher with an intern, or the academic coach.  Other situations that are serious but not of an urgent nature, were handled after class.

2) Managing Classroom Behavior
Some School Counselors have concerns about teachers being out of the room and having to manage the class.  This does not have to be an issue.  I have my own classroom, therefore I have my own expectations, rules, and procedures.  Even if you are going into a teacher's classroom, establishing your own behavioral expectations is important for good classroom management.  It is also a lot easier than trying to remember the different rules and procedures for 34 different classes. 

I have heard School Counselors express concerns about having to be a classroom disciplinarian and how it is contrary to being a School Counselor.  I agree, that is why I manage my classroom the same way I parent my children with love and specifically communicated expectations for behavior. We are a PBIS school and I teach and re-teach my students our school-wide behavioral expectations and what is expected in my classroom. Because I am constantly reinforcing Perform personal best, Act responsibility, Work and play safely and Show respect and reminding the students in a positive way what that looks and sounds like I have few behavior problems.  For more ideas about classroom management check out my post about Positive Behavior Cones, 3 Simple Ideas for Managing Classroom Behavior, the  PBIS website, CHAMPS  by Randy Sprick or Doug Lemov's book, Teach Like a Champion.

3) So Many Lessons, So Much Planning
First let me say, stay calm.  Don't try to plan a separate lesson for every single topic in every single grade level.That is a recipe for burn-out or insanity.  Plan two lessons, one primary, one intermediate for each topic. That's year one. You will get to do these lessons numerous times and really make them your own, figuring out what works and what doesn't at each grade level. In year 2, create two more for each topic, building on what you created the year before, doing the new lesson for everyone who previously heard year one's lessons.  In year 3, create two more lessons for each topic, again teaching it to those who have heard the previous lessons for year 1 and 2.  And now, you have a separate lesson for each grade level and quite possibly, your sanity as well.
Here is a link to a post about exploring free lesson resources on the web.

4) Teacher Does Not Hear the Lesson
In a perfect world teachers, parents, and administrators would all reinforce the fabulous lessons and concepts we teach.  However, I feel like these people are adults with relatively good life skills and they don't have to hear all the basic details of my lessons.  A nice summary at the end before returning the class to the teacher or an email or hand-out of lesson highlights is sufficient.  If it is a lesson that is being shared across the grade levels or school-wide, where you are introducing a new skill set to all the students, then sharing a 5 minute explanation at faculty meeting can be just as effective.

5) This is NOT Why I Became a School Counselor
Many School Counselors have stated "This is not why I became a Counselor." And I agree.  To a point.  ASCA tells us an important part of a comprehensive school counseling program is providing counseling for ALL students.  If I spend the majority of my time with individuals and small groups I am not providing a comprehensive program that meets the needs of ALL.  ASCA does not specify the percentage of time to spend in each of the direct services to students, but tells that is to be determined by the School Counselor based on the needs of the school as indicated by the data and the school size.

Questions to Ask
Interested in being in the specials rotation but still not sure it is right for you? Here are some questions you should consider and discuss with your administration before deciding if this is something you would like to try at your school.

Do I enjoy sharing classroom counseling?
Do I have good classroom management skills?  
Do I have enough curriculum?  
Are there resources for purchasing curriculum?
Will I be allowed to choose my lesson topics and curriculum?
Do I have a bank of lessons from which to draw?
Will I have a classroom or be expected to travel from room to room?
If I am traveling will I always be allowed to access the technology in the classroom?
Will I be in the schedule half-day or all day?
Will I have input about what the schedule will look like?
What will our procedure be in the event of a student emergency?
What will happen with the special area schedule during state testing time?
What provisions will be made for the School Counselor absence in case of illness, workshop, or personal time?
What is the expectation for classes missed due to school holidays or school- wide events?
What if the arrangement isn't working? How long will we give it and how will we handle removing the School Counselor from the schedule?

Choosing to be in the special area rotation was a big decision for me and one I have not regretted.  It has allowed me to control my calendar, protected me from extraneous non-counselor duties, and has gotten me out of handling "student emergencies" that were really disciplinary situations and not counseling crisis.  In many ways being in the special area schedule has simplified and enhanced my services to students and allowed me to provide a more comprehensive school counseling program.

I would be interested to hear your experiences about being in the special area rotation.  What benefits or issues have you seen?  Please feel free to post below or on the Exploring School Counseling Facebook page.


  1. Hi, do you still support RTI? If so, what does that look like? We have been placed in rotation next year. Thanks :)

  2. I'm sorry, I'm not sure what you mean by support RtI. What does that look like at your school? I support BRtI, meaning if there is a student who needs behavioral interventions I am the person with the expertise who helps teachers plan and implement the interventions needed for that student, which is of course directly in line with our training. However, classroom teachers are the experts on academic interventions and at my school, they are (and should be) responsible for determining, organizing and providing RtI for all things academic.

  3. Hi,RTI is Response to Intervention or student support. It is for the students that are struggling academically and are put on Tiers in order to create strategies for academic and behavioral concerns. Some are placed in special education.

  4. I am in the state of Georgia and am a school counselor for K,2,4. Next year, we will be part of the rotations schedule and I am trying to get as much information of the pros and cons as possible:-)

  5. I sent the initial email from "unknown" on March 18th.

  6. How do you handle having 4 year olds (4k) and kindergarten for 45 minutes? At my last school, my lessons for 4k were 20-25minutes and 5k were 30minutes. I also saw the students more often when I made my own schedule at my last school. This time I will only see them once a month. Thank you!!

    1. I've not had 4K but I would suggest a specific routine they come to know and expect like movement, story, songs, coloring, and sharing. You have to provide consistency and keeping moving!