Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Scheduling Season—A Time for Quality Counseling

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The last of the schedule changes for this year is in the rear-view mirror, just in time for school counselors to embrace yet another task that isn’t exactly counseling—scheduling for next year. Most administrators are convinced this is what we mean when we talk about college and career advising. In some ways, they have a point—it’s a little tough to be college ready if you don’t graduate from high school—but there is little in the school counselor training manual that addresses how to have meaningful conversations with students whose entire goal in scheduling is to end up with the same lunch period as their friends.

School counselors are champions at making the most of awkward situations—after all, who else can turn lunch duty into a meaningful affective dialogue? That’s why it’s important to see annual scheduling as an opportunity to check in with students, reaffirm their goals, and give them a chance to take direction of their lives. As we do so, here are two questions we often have to field from students who may not be thinking as long-term about their lives as they could be:

Do I have to take any more (fill in the subject area here)? High school graduation requirements are designed to make sure students are exposed to a broad array of ideas and activities, where the goal is to give them a greater understanding of the world around them, and some insights into what they might want to explore more deeply. That can be hard to remember this time of year, as student after student rolls into the office to ask “Am I done with Science?”, or, “Do I really have to take any more French?”

It would be easy to see this as a student who is just tired of being stretched, of someone who would rather slouch home and devote their remaining hours to the pursuit of a video game or six. Another way to see this would be to recognize that you are looking at a student who has taken a long, deep look at the world of Science or French, and decided it isn’t for them—they are now eager to begin the pursuit of understanding a new part of the world. This is not the time to bemoan a match that wasn’t made in heaven; it’s time to find a better one. Check the student’s plans for life after high school (remembering that many colleges like to see two years of language, and many prefer to see more), be sure they are making an informed choice, and look forward to what’s next.

Do I have to keep up the trombone? This is also the time when students start to evaluate their electives and their extracurricular activities. The cool activity they just couldn’t live without in middle school has lost its shine, but they’ve heard colleges really like to see commitment to some core extracurriculars. They turn to you to know if they have to be miserable for the next two years, or if they get their life back. No pressure here.

In many ways, this is the same situation as giving up French. Colleges do like to see students commit to a few core activities and grow in them (by becoming part of an award-winning robotics team, or getting a promotion at work), but it’s unlikely a student will rise to new levels of leadership if their heart just isn’t into it. Junior year is no time to join seven new clubs—the colleges will see right through that—but if it’s time to grow, it’s time to go.

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