Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The “Other Duty” That Tests a Counselor’s Nerves

By: Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

High school counselors across America are breathing a sigh of relief, as they say goodbye to the May chore they like the least—supervising Advanced Placement testing. Brand new counselors know this is the biggest job that falls under the contractual obligation of “other duties as assigned”, but they can’t really understand the demands of alternate testing, pencil sharpening, DVD tracking, and test administration reports, until they live through at least one May, where they commit the College Board phone number to memory.

Counselors understand the importance of relevant testing and assessment, especially since it plays a vital role in career and college counseling, as well as course placement.  But knowing what the results mean and organizing the logistics of testing are two different things, and only one is an appropriate use of counselors’ time.  If you’re trying to figure out how to replace your one-on-one testing manual time with more time for students, consider one of these strategies when talking about this important issue with your supervisor:

Agree on the duties you do and don’t have.  Counselors often swear their job description is being made up as the school year goes along, and depends on which teachers are absent that day, or how bad the weather is.  Every educator needs to be flexible, but if math teachers can be confident they’ll be teaching math every day, aren’t counselors entitled to the same assurance?

That’s where the Annual Agreement comes in.  Designed by the American School Counselor Association, the Annual Agreement is a document completed by a school counselor and their principal that outlines the counselor’s duties every year.  From outlining the hours the counseling office will be open to allocating percentages of time to various duties, the Annual Agreement gives principals and counselors a chance to create an overview of the counselor’s role in the school that’s based on planning, and not reaction. Type in Annual Agreement - ASCA National Model in your search engine, and it will pop up.

Explore the administrative support you need.  It helps if administrators see the big picture of what counselors do; it helps even more when administrators offer support that advances the work counselors do.  I did some research in 2000 that discovered five key areas where counselors want administrative support for their work—and a tool exists to measure just how much support you’re getting.  29 questions will help you get a better understanding of the support your administrator is getting, and how you can begin to get more support in the areas where it’s needed.  A self-scoring copy of the questionnaire is available at no charge; e-mail me and ask for a copy of the administrative support questionnaire.

Ask about your administrator’s counseling goals.   Many counselors would rather talk directly about their concerns, and there’s an easy way to do that with your other duties.  By asking the principal to outline their goals for the school counseling program, the counselor understands what parts of the program are valued, and which may be misunderstood.

Once you know what your principal is looking for, you can gather data to show them how well those counseling components are or aren’t working—and then have a discussion how those results could be even better, if only you had more time to focus on them.  This can get your administrator’s attention and support in ways surveys often can’t—and it makes your counseling challenges more real to them.

These approaches have led to great growth for counseling programs.  Consider the one that would best work with your administrator, and give it a try. 

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