Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions Should Include Counselor PD

By:  Patrick O'Conner Ph.D

If any group knows the limits of New Year’s Resolutions, it’s school counselors. Like everyone else, we have friends whose December 31 plans for the perfect life are in tatters by January 2nd. But we also have the students who begin the new school year with plans to become the next Einstein, only to find a few weeks later that their study skills aren’t quite all they need to be.

Given our checkered history with resolutions, you’d think we’d be hesitant to try and use them as a tool for our own personal or professional growth. But since we also know the key elements of effective goal setting, it’s possible to take resolutions to the next level, and use them as a tool of powerful change.

We clearly need to do that, especially in one key area – professional development. Like resolutions, we begin our search for professional development committed to finding the best programs that will help us do even more for our students. But too often, due to either cost, location, or availability, we end up taking the programs that are easy to get to, free, or that fit in our schedule without much conflict, even if they don’t always advance the skills we most need to work with our students. One colleague confided she was just a few hours short of meeting her required PD updates, so she took a course on spreadsheets—even though she had mastered spreadsheets a long time ago.

The best way to realize a goal is to make a plan we can stick to, and that’s just as true for professional development as it is for anything else. Try this framework to develop your PD resolutions for the coming year:

What work do I do with students? There’s nothing like getting back to basics when creating a set of PD goals, and there’s nothing more basic that remembering what you do for a living. Use your calendar to review the programs, meetings, and individual sessions you’ve had with students and parents since the start of the school year. What do they cover? What knowledge do you need to present them? What skills are needed to make sure your clients can apply the information? How do evaluate the success of your work?

When is the last time I received training in… Now that you have your list of skills and information to keep sharp, when is the last time you updated each of them? Be careful here—there’s a difference between the last time you usedinformation, and the last time you trained in it. You may be giving students information all the time about the hottest jobs in your state, but if the last time you looked at an updated career list was 2012, it might be time for an data upgrade. As you put this together, prioritize your needs based on how often you use this information with your clients—if you mostly talk with your students about college, college updates are the place to begin.

Where can I get this training? This is the most time consuming part of goal setting, but it’s also the most essential. If the best place to get a career information update is a two hour drive for a Saturday conference, sign up now, and put the program on your calendar—you’re less inclined to change your mind once it’s in your calendar. Ask colleagues and your professional organizations for help finding quality programs. You’ll see there’s strength in numbers, as you work together to become even stronger student advocates, together.

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