Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Everybody Needs Their Space—Especially Counselors!

By Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D

Every counselor has an ideal office, complete with four big windows looking out on a beautiful garden, three secretaries, and classical music playing in the background.

Since we all don’t live in that world, it’s important to keep these points in mind when evaluating the office you have, and considering how it could be better:

The key is student access to information.  Many counselors like to see papers in folders and books placed neatly on a shelf—but how does that make the information accessible to students waiting in the office?  Your physical space has to be student-centered; every student should leave your office area with more ideas about themselves and their world than they had when they came in, no matter what they came in to talk about.

This doesn’t always mean students have to have access to you.  Thanks to counseling Web pages, Facebook pages, the morning PA announcements and more, students don’t always have to see you to get the information they need. Look at your counseling Web site and ask yourself, What help does this give to your students and parents?  Better yet, buy four students a pizza and ask them this question while touring your Web site at lunch.

Remember the liquid rule.  Counselors have been trained to hold on to information, and that’s very important when it comes to issues that require confidentiality—but how confidential is information about summer programs, college visits, and other information for the public good? This information is water to students thirsty for college knowledge—let it flow into every estuary you can create, in the office, online, or otherwise.

How much assistance do you have?  It’s going to be tough to keep a Web site current if you have to print every transcript, and keeping a local scholarship file up to date is pretty hard if you have 700 students.  Be good to yourself --think creatively about the kinds of volunteers you can use to expand the reach of your office.  There has to be one parent out there who would love to keep that Web site open, and another who wouldn’t mind putting scholarship applications on a spreadsheet.  Use your resources.

What spaces are available?  Your office and waiting area probably have all kinds of counseling materials up and around, but what about the main office, or that empty bulletin board in the English hallway, or that 30 minute slot on the local cable TV show once a month?  If you took 10 minutes to think of where you could be spreading the college word, you’d surprise yourself at just how big your office can be.

How much delegating can you do?  If computers aren’t your thing, give the Web site to someone else; if you don’t have time to put the Career Night flyers up in local businesses, call the Chamber of Commerce, or the National Honor Society.  If your filing is driving you crazy, a retired educator in your town is dying to give back.  Getting bigger sometimes means letting go…

How much delegating can YOU do?  …and to do that, you have to be honest with yourself.  Does it really matter what color the napkins are for the cookie reception after Financial Aid Night?  You need to shape what the flyer for your test prep program says—but do you have to decide what it looks like?  Many hands will make light work, as long as you aren’t holding them all the time, or holding them back.  Be good to yourself, and help others help you.

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