Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Now That the Online Dust is Settling

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

It is very comforting to see the parent posts on social media lavishing well-deserved praise on teachers and counselors. Though few and far between, it’s clear a good number of people have figured out that this isn’t “time off” for educators. In fact, those educators with dependents at home report working and using after-dinner time to write, record, and post lesson plans, grade assignments, and respond to student requests for one-on-one time.

As we begin to find the new rhythms of this new approach to counseling, it’s interesting to read the responses of counselors, who are finding themes in online counseling that are strikingly familiar to those they experience in the building:
  • Counselors are surprised they aren’t hearing from more seniors about their college plans. This isn’t new for this time of year, as many seniors quietly enroll in the college of their choice, then get back to the business of finishing up senior year. In this case, senior silence could be due to the uncertain, where students are waiting for their colleges to announce their plans for the fall, or parents are double-checking on the affordability of the original college plan.

  • Ditto with high school juniors and their college plans. As a rule, counselors are hearing from more juniors, typically with questions about testing. Colleges are changing their SAT/ACT requirements daily—yesterday alone, four colleges announced they’re going test-optional for at least next year—so it’s easy to see why students may be feeling they are trying to hit a moving target.

  • The students who are having a hard time adjusting to change, but aren’t reaching out for help. This is a group very familiar to counselors, as students experience change and loss of all kinds when school buildings are open. Most counselors can rely on the caring hearts and students-first posture of their teaching colleagues to make sure these students find their way to the counseling office. But most of those referrals are based on cues teachers pick up by evaluating the student’s physical presence in class. That can be tough to do when instruction is online.
The solutions to these familiar patterns aren’t new—walk the halls, wander through the lunch room, check in with teachers during a break in class—so it should be no surprise counselors have created online solutions designed to replicate these approaches:
  • Online office hours, where counselors sit in an online office—through a program like Zoom, or simply by actively checking email—for an announced period of time a few times a week. Send the link to students, parents, and teachers alike, and see what happens.

  • Online coffee time for teachers. A similar idea is to hold a one-hour online time for teachers to drop in and share their new and concerns about their students. This isn’t quite the same as an in-person concern, but if a teacher has picked up an online vibe that a student has needs, this gives them a clear, safe space to discuss it.

  • Production of a weekly newsletter/video. The college needs of juniors and seniors can largely be anticipated at this time of year, and covered in a one-page newsletter, or a two-minute video. I just sent out a newsletter all about enrollment deposits; while only a few students have asked about them, it’s safe to say there are many unasked questions about the topic. It’s easy enough to provide advice and resources on these issues, starting with a one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s a little weird to think we’ve been in our new school approach long enough to see the emergence of familiar student needs. The good news is we have ample resources at hand to try and meet them.

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