While this combo does not conjure thoughts of the spa, beach, golf course, or a day at home in your PJ's binge watching Netflix, preparing for the coming school year can give you peace of mind that leaves you feeling rejuvenated. There's nothing like the feeling of closing out the school year with your data disaggregated and an intentional and comprehensive school counseling plan in place to greet you at the start of a new school year. Taking a day away from school at the end of the year to review your data and plan ahead can do just that.
The Spark of an Idea
As president of our local School Counselor organization, I hosted an on-line book club in the fall semester using Dr. Trish Hatch's book, The Use of Data in School Counseling. In the course of our study, our group excitedly came to the conclusion that uninterrupted time to review and disaggregate data was essential for planning a successful comprehensive school counseling program. However, we were discouraged because the time did not exist during our school day to give data a proper look. As you have no doubt experienced, once you walk on campus the needs of the students and the demands of the day take priority and time for data review and program planning is non-existent. The further we got into Hatch's book talking about intentional school counseling versus "random acts of guidance," the more often this conversation about wanting time to work with our data occurred. We knew we needed a day away from campus to analyze our data and make plans for its use in order to create an intentional and comprehensive school counseling program.
With state testing behind us, three weeks of the school year remained. My entire school district was in countdown mode, asking for summer school teachers, recruiting presenters and attendees for summer institutes, looking at student achievement data, and planning the school calendar for the coming year. It seemed everyone was looking ahead and planning for the new school year. Except School Counselors. Just like every other day, we were dealing with the multitude of issues that came through our doors.
But why not School Counselors? While everyone else was in preparation for the upcoming school year why not School Counselors? Now was the opportunity for School Counselors to get the time needed to work with their data. What we needed was a "work"shop. No one had ever requested such a thing, so no such workshop existed on the professional development calendar for our district. So what's a School Counselor to do? Create your own!
After consulting with my VERY supportive principal and a savvy district "insider" about the who and how of putting together a workshop, getting in-service points for the attendees, and how to reserve district spaces for workshops, I was set. I took my workshop description and goals to my academic coach who assisted me with posting our "Data Day" on the school district professional development website. An email was sent along with workshop description and agenda to School Counselors and their administrators and School Counselors started signing up.
As a workshop organizer, my preparation involved writing the proposal, getting the workshop on the district PD website, securing the space, and sending email notifications to Prinicipals and School Counselors. As the workshop facilitator, my preparation involved creating the schedule and PowerPoint for the day, leading the SMART goal activity, answering questions, keeping time, and leading the debriefing and feedback at the end of the day. Attendees brought coffee, doughnuts, and chocolate to share.
After being a testing prisoner for 5 weeks, working away from campus with other School Counselors to think and plan was such a relief. Yes, I was going to be facilitating and working on disaggregating my school data, but it felt like a mental health day. And my other test weary colleagues agreed. Hanging out with other School Counselors always feels so good. Add to that a large quiet space to spread out and work, access to our data, reliable wifi, coffee and doughnuts, table chocolate, easy bathroom access, and the chance to go out for lunch. Yeah it was like a mental health day, only better, because when we left that day, we had a plan. We had reviewed our data and had the outline of a comprehensive school counseling plan for the coming school year.
The workshop was called the "ABC's of Implementing a Comprehensive School Counseling Plan." There was a PowerPoint with a schedule, but mostly this was a "working" workshop for giving School Counselors uninterrupted time for analyzing, brainstorming, and creating. ABC. The schedule was to help us manage the day and keep us on track with our tasks. The PowerPoint included an agenda, schedule, and a review on how to write SMART goals. This was really the only presenter piece. I think a lot of School Counselors struggle with writing SMART goals and it was something we struggled with as a group too. (Worksheets, handouts, forms Counselor were asked to bring)
So from 8 am-3 pm we worked. I mean really worked. We did the brief SMART goals activity and a short calendar brainstorming activity, but for the most part it was an uninterrupted time to analyze and focus on the needs of our individual schools. We even got so involved no one wanted to leave for lunch. We ordered in pizza, took a short break and went back to work. Throughout the day there were intermittent bursts of conversation and spontaneous questions, but for the most part it was parallel work, silently analyzing and creating side by side.
At 2:45 pm we stopped to process the day and complete workshop evaluations. The feedback was amazing! Everyone felt rejuvenated. One person said, "This feels like a mental health day!" Other comments included:
"This is just what I needed!"
"There's no way I would ever be able to do this at school."
" It was good to be away from school and plan for next year."
" I would have never gotten this done during the school day (or at home). I can't wait to show my principal our data and the things I have planned."
" I'm excited to share this with my department."
" I'm so glad we did this now rather than during pre-planning. I actually have time to discuss this with my principal and get some things on the calendar."
"I liked that we did this at the end of the year rather than the beginning. It gives me time to talk to my administrators and start the year with a plan in place."
"Two days to do this would be even better. I felt like I needed more time for planning."
"We need to do this every quarter to look at our new data."
The Take Away: Advocate for the profession
When you think about it, teacher teams meet regularly to look at student achievement data and plan their lessons and programs to meet their students' needs. Why not School Counselors? When do School Counselors get to do this, especially elementary School Counselors? Why don't we have special planning times designated for School Counselors to collaborate with their same level peers to create a comprehensive school counseling program? Is it because we never thought about it or because we never thought to ask? For those who are not quite sure what a comprehensive School Counseling program looks like, reading a book like Hatch's, The Use of Data in School Counseling will answer your questions and get you started.
Advocating for the profession is not easy. I won't lie to you, I ran into a series of roadblocks and some resistance that could have prevented me from bringing this workshop experience to life, but we cannot be deterred. When you see a need, speak out, address it. When you have questions, ask. Do whatever you can to make it happen. That's advocacy.
All the feedback I received both written and verbal indicated the workshop was a positive experience and a much needed opportunity. Discussion and suggestions included advertising workshop opportunities earlier so more School Counselors could plan to attend, offering a series of days both quarterly and during the last 2 weeks of school to make it easier for School Counselors at the middle and high school levels to attend by staggering their attendance. Also, offering a series of days would enable School Counselors who needed additional time for disaggregating and planning a chance to return and complete their work.
Does your district give School Counselors time away to disaggregate data or plan for the upcoming school year? If so, I would love to hear about it! Please share below the planning process School Counselors in your district have for creating a comprehensive school counseling plan.