Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Surprise End-of-the-Year Report

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

You’re just about to begin your summer, when your principal tells you about a new board-mandated counseling report that’s due in two weeks.  In a perfect world, you knew about this last fall, and set up the benchmarks and collection methods you knew you were going to need right now to put together a data-rich report with ease.  But you didn’t, so you couldn’t—what now?

Follow these simple steps, and you’ll have enough of a report to take to any reasonable principal with your head held high, and with your students at the center of your work.

Write down what went well.  A college professor calls this the Drive Home Analysis.  On his way home from every class, he thinks about what went well in the class he just taught, and thinks about why it worked.  This increases the chance future classes will go just as well when this same topic is taught.

Counselors can do the same thing right now.  Which counseling groups went well?  Which speakers were well received?  Why did you talk to fewer students about cheating this year, than last year?   Write it all down, and give yourself some credit for everything that worked.

Write down what didn’t go well.  Being the nice people they are, it’s usually easier for counselors to remember the programs, sessions, and presentations that fell short—we want to serve all students well, and we know when that doesn’t happen.  The best way to reach the goal of better service is to write down where things fell apart, and consider why.  The goal here isn’t to decide how to improve things; record what happened, and why, and leave it at that.

Review what data you have.  Now that you’ve had your intuitive say about your program, it’s time to look at the data.  You can’t make up numbers you didn’t know you needed, but every school keeps track of some things.  For starters, take a look at:
·         The number of discipline referrals you received
·         The number of personal  counseling sessions you conducted
·         Absence, tardiness, and truancy data
·         College application data
·         College financial aid and scholarship application data
·         College admissions results
·         College scholarship results
·         College persistence rates (if you have them through the National Clearinghouse)
It’s very likely this data can be used to compare last year to this year.  Even if this is an imperfect statistical analysis, it’s a place to begin a report, and a summer conversation about everything a counseling office really does. 

Conclude with recommendations.  Your first data-driven report isn’t going to be comprehensive, and that’s a good thing—if data was all your school needed, they’d hire an accountant, not a counselor.  Start your presentation with the data you have, then offer the insights you wrote down when you mentally reviewed your program.  This shows your principal you’re alert to the students and the school, even if you don’t have the numbers to back it up this year.

You end your report with recommendations—what to do to improve the data-based conclusions you have, and how to collect data on the conclusions you know exist, but can’t quantify this year.  This shows support for your principal, and receptivity to improvement that can lay the groundwork for more support from them.  It isn’t a perfect report, but you didn’t have much time to prepare; the best thing to do is to provide what you have, discuss what you’ll do next year, and lay the groundwork for mutually-beneficial improvement.

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