Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best of 2016, and Predictions for 2017

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

There are two great parts to the last day of school before December Break. The first one is the student who has the poise to wear fake reindeer antlers to school. It doesn’t matter what grade you teach— somewhere in your building, a kid is showing off his best Blitzen. Seek them out, and assure them they will be going to college.

The second great part is that the last day almost always gives three minutes to us, to look back on what went well this year, and to think about what lies ahead. Many people seem to be ready to let go of 2016, but the teachings of Eric Erikson remind us of the importance of choosing Integrity over Despair at the end of a life cycle. Since that’s what a year is, let’s take a look at the good in college admission:

FAFSA Filing Changes instituted this year made it possible for students to find out what a college would actually cost them well before they had to choose which college to attend, making it more like the purchase of, say, everything else. There are still some bumps in the system, but this emerges as the game changer of 2016.

For-Profit Clean-Up It wasn’t very pretty, but actions were taken this year to make sure for-profit colleges were delivering on their promises, and those that didn’t were dealt with and closed. As a result, the world of choice becomes a world of better choice.

States Rediscover Counselors The end of the year finds several states finding and devoting resources to improving school counselor training and ratios, including a report from Colorado showing a modest investment in counselors has already saved the state $300 million. Now that ESSA gives more flexibility to the states, will 2017 be The Year of the Counselor?

College Testing’s Value Questioned Bleak reports of overseas security issues with college tests, combined with incredibly late submission of test results to colleges, put both SAT and ACT on school counselor’s naughty lists. The good came when more colleges used the opportunity to reevaluate the importance of testing in the admissions process, choosing to make reporting of test scores optional for most students.

Given these changes, what can we expect to see in 2017?

Obama Farewell Unless John Harvard had been elected our next president, we all knew 2017 would be a change in the way The White House was going to support college access. Reach Higher efforts will continue with Better Make Room, but the coming year will find fewer messages of “Yes, You Too” from the First Couple. Here’s hoping someone picks up the slack.

College Control and the States Changes in federal law will give more authority and funding autonomy in education to the states. The plus here is that states can now tailor programs to better meet local needs; the potential minus is the lack of federal standards when evaluating value and success. Stay tuned.

Counselors are Ambassadors, Too The federal government has long given teachers the chance to shape education policy directly through the School Ambassador Program. Counselors will be allowed to participate in this program for the first time in 2017, and now is the time to apply.

College Isn’t Just Four Years The Great Recession somehow hoodwinked most people into believing four years of college was the only way to a great job. Data, common sense, and the efforts of many organizations are waking society from that dream, creating more options for The Class of 2017. Expect this trend to grow.

Now, go rest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ring in the New, But Don’t be Wrung Out by the New

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

School counselors know this isn’t always the merriest and happiest of times for some students.  From students living in homes in crisis, to those living with families in transition, to the uncertainties some experience when graduating high school, counselors know that the holidays can bring some mighty challenges to overcome.

We’re used to helping others work through these issues—but what do we do when we’re the ones needing help through a transition? While 2016 brought many events that required us to reflect on our personal values, more than a few moments challenged our professional beliefs—and it’s likely we’ll begin the new year with some additional opportunities to review, reconsider, and clarify.  Consider these:

·         Significant changes are expected at the national level of education leadership.  Some of these were already in place with the passage of the new Elementary and Secondary Schools Act, where much of the decision-making was shifted back to the states.  These changes may be magnified further with the election and appointment of officials who believe education is much more a state issue than a national issue, a position that has been used in the past to create distinct educational climates in each state that have led to different levels of college and career readiness.

·         These changes are likely to be heightened by the absence of a First Family whose support of counselors and counseling services is unprecedented.  From hosting the ASCA Counselor of the Year ceremony in the White House to engaging students to ReachHigher, counselors and college access are on the radar screens of millions of students who once saw themselves as beyond hope, and beyond repair—until the Obamas personalized the college journey, and students realized there was room for them after all.
As a result of these two changes, we now have some idea what it’s like for a student whose favorite teacher retires in the middle of the year, and is replaced by someone who has a different vision of how a classroom should operate.  That difference isn’t good or bad; the mere fact it isn’t the same as what used to be is enough to cause concern.

What are our keys to making a successful transition?  The same ideas we offer to our students when they sense their scene is shifting, and they don’t know what their new world will look like:

Say goodbye.  The best way to recognize things will be different in some way is to look back on the good you’ve had an express thanks for it.  This helps you appreciate all the good you’ve had in your life, and it helps you identify why it was good.

Set your goals.  Finding the good in the past clarifies what you value, which will help you determine the qualities you’ll want to maintain in times of change.  Those qualities may manifest themselves in new ways, but focusing on their worth to you will make the new forms of those qualities easier to identify and appreciate.

Stand up for yourself.  A new job or a new boss may challenge you to demonstrate flexibility, but that’s different than giving in.  Looking and listening closely will guide you to know the difference between change that is absolute, and change that is negotiable.  Either way, you don’t have to give up your principles.

Celebrate the victories.  If the journey really is the sum of the steps, recognizing the value of each step can be the difference between moving forward and giving up.  Every step may not be perfect, but many will resonate with purpose.  Honor them, and they will become more frequent.

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.