Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Ten Goals for This School Year

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The start of a new school year is a lot like the start of a new calendar year.  Everyone begins with a sense of fresh opportunity, convinced this is the year that will be different from the time we vowed to give up chocolate, use the treadmill every day, or walk the dog even when it’s cold.

In the spirit of eternal optimism, here’s my list for this year. I’d love to hear yours:

This school year, I vow:

1.     To write my college letters of recommendation right after I meet with each student.  The fresher the meeting, the better the letter—even if the ones I write at 2 AM the night before they’re due are just fine, too.

2.     Not to scream when someone talks about the 3 Rs of education.  Only one of them is an R, so it’s easy to see why people don’t take educators seriously when we use this term—but I’m pulling a Queen Elsa here.  We’ll see what happens.

3.     To figure out if there’s more I can do to help students pay for college.  The need is greater, and the resources seem smaller, but once my letter writing is done, this will be my focus, since getting into college doesn’t matter if you can’t afford it.

4.     To ease off on social media.  It’s too easy to look at the phone; it’s time to look more at the world first-hand.

5.     To master Excel and Google Docs.  How hard can it be?

6.     To make sure no student’s college essay uses the word Epic.  I know—right?

7.     To eat lunch out of tmy office, with other people, at least once a week.  Yes, it’s become that bad.

8.     To help at least one state pass school counselor training reform in college counseling.  We need to know more, and we know we need to know more.  I hope my state is first past the finish line, but if another state wants help doing this, call me.

9.     To figure out when I can do leisure reading without falling asleep.  Doris Kearns Goodwin is a great writer; why have I read the same sentence about Teddy Roosevelt every night for the last four months?

10.  To let people call me whatever they want.  School counselor, guidance counselor, college counselor.  I know I work hard for kids; that’s all that matters.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Was Done for School Counselors on Their Summer Vacation

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Schools are opening after a summer of activity rich with support and opportunity for school counselors.  There are almost too many highlights to talk about, but these four come to mind:

First Lady Michelle Obama electrified the profession when she appeared as a keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American School Counselor Association in June.  Mrs. Obama recognized school counselors for their hard work, and acknowledged that their work was made even more challenging due to large caseloads and insufficient training in career and college counseling.  Mrs. Obama promised to do more for school counselors…

…and she made good on her promise when the White House held a July summit on school counselors and college advising at Harvard.  120 college advising advocates met to discuss current progress and challenges in this vital field; participants were also asked to make a promise to advance college advising in some way over the next six months.

The summit came about a month after US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to the 50 state chief education officers.  In that letter, Secretary Duncan asked school leaders to make sure counselors received adequate training in college and career counseling. He also asked them to make sure school counselors received the training and opportunities necessary to be seen as the leaders of creating a college readiness atmosphere in their buildings—with both goals accomplished by the end of this summer.

Common Application was supposed to open August 1st for high school seniors to begin the college application process.  Fraught with logistical challenges last year, Common App put the concerns of many counselors to rest, as the application tool opened twelve hours early, on July 31st.  Since then, students and counselors have been completing online materials without a hitch, much to the delight of all members of the Class of 2015 and those supporting their work in the college application process. (Disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors for Common Application.)
School counselors find themselves in the unusual position of starting the school year with positive momentum built by others, so it’s natural to ask—what should we do next to build on this summer of school counselor support?  Three things come to mind:

Continue to implement the excellent programs and support school counselors are known for.  The White House is extending unprecedented support to school counselors because the work we do for students makes a difference.  Plans for future services are always important, but only if they are built on the continued success of our programs—as a result, we need to keep up the good work.

Find out what steps your state has taken to implement the requests of Secretary Duncan’s “Dear Colleague” letter.  Early indications suggest state school leaders have been slow to consider or develop initiatives that will give school counselors the better training they deserve in college advising and in building leadership in college readiness.  Now is not the time to let this opportunity die due to lack of counselor input; contact your state education office, and ask about their plans.

Get involved.  The White House is holding another college advising summit in December, where invitations are extended based on commitments to strengthen the relationships between K-12 and higher education.  There’s really no such thing as free time to a school counselor, but if your state is behind in its Dear Colleague commitment, now is the time to step up to the plate.  Not only will it help counselors and students; it may land you in the Roosevelt Room with the First Lady.