Saturday, August 7, 2010

Finding Focus with Data

I received a question from a reader about what to focus on in the first year as a school counselor.

Q: I see that you're a relatively new school counselor.  I graduated in May and I just landed my 1st job in a 6-8 building!  I am so, so excited but also very overwhelmed.  There are so many things I am planning and trying to organize right now.  Do you have any suggestions on what to focus on in the first year?  I have a ton of ideas but I feel like it's unrealistic to believe I will be able to implement all of them! 

A: Trying to figure out what to focus on your first year at a school can be a daunting task. I started my current job in the middle of the school year and it was hard to determine focus then also.

When I first started at my current school, I asked the principal what he believed to be the areas that needed the most focus. Based on where he saw the need, I started working with 6th grade on conflict resolution and 8th grade on scheduling and career awareness.  After being at the school a few weeks I was able to determine some other areas of need, such as anger management and conflict resolution for other grades, but it was still difficult to maintain a focus.

DATA! DATA! DATA!

Data is the driving force of a school counseling program. It is difficult to find focus if you don't know where to start. If you do not know where your school is currently, you also won't be able to show the effectiveness of your lessons and programs.

During the school year, I attended many conferences and workshops that emphasized the benefits of using data to drive your school counseling program. My district does not currently have a school counseling curriculum, so my goal was to look at the data and base what I was doing on data and ASCA standards.  I consulted other counselors and got ideas of how to collect data and how to use data that already exists.  If you ask around, you can usually get access to attendance data, discipline referrals, state testing scores, report cards, etc.

The American School Counseling Association (ASCA) has resources on the school counseling standards and using data to drive your school counseling program. I would recommend getting the following books if you don't already have them: The ASCA National Model, The ASCA National Model Workbook, and Making Data Work.

Another great resource for learning about utilizing data is Dr. Russell Sabella's website SchoolCounselor.com. SchoolCounselor.com has tons of information about what technology you can use to collect and analyze your data.

Using data to show where your school is currently and how you are impacting students is crucial. Not only will you be able to show your impact at your school with the data, but you will also be able to show the importance of school counseling in general.

FINDING FOCUS

The other school counselor and I met yesterday to discuss our plans for the upcoming school year.  All of our efforts are going to be aimed at decreasing discipline referrals, increasing attendance, and raising state test scores. We are going to accomplish those goals by continuing to look at the data and focusing all of what we do on those areas.

At the end of last year, a team including the principals and myself, created a framework for a School Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) program as a part of Response to Intervention (RTIi). The whole school will be focused on rewarding positive behavior based on three school rules: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Ready (the three Rs). We will be defining the rules for each area of the school, including the classroom, the hallway, the bathroom, etc.

The other school counselor and I planned out programs and areas of focus for each month based on the three Rs. We also plan to make our classroom lessons aligned to ASCA standards and integrate them into the curriculum. There was a great article, Leveraging Classroom Time by Dr. Erin Mason, in the most recent ASCA magazine about doing just that!   

Getting Started

Being a first year counselor can be overwhelming. It was hard for me to realize that I can't do everything, especially not my first year. I recommend trying to pick two or three measurable goals for the school year. What is the greatest need in your school? What classroom guidance lessons, groups, or programs can you facilitate to influence change in that area?

Once you have determined goals, base your efforts on supporting those goals. Before you start and along the way, collect data so you can show impact. Not everything you do is going to work, but the great thing about data is you wont waste time doing interventions that don't work. You will know when it is not working so you can change it or try something else.

I hope this post helps new counselors focus their efforts! Do you have any ideas for helping new counselors find focus? Comment below or email me your ideas!

Danielle is a K-12 Certified School Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor, and blogger at School Counselor Blog, a place where school counselors share innovative ideas, creative lesson plans, and quality resources.  Contact Danielle via email, follow her on twitter, and become a fan of the School Counselor Blog Facebook Page.

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