Life long learning…creating a guidance program from scratch (part 2)

Part one of this two part blog focussed on the major milestones that I encountered in setting up my guidance program in the previous two and half academic years. Part two is devoted to my ideas for next year.

In part one I described three aspects of guidance counseling that I felt were essential for a program to succeed. I welcome comments and discussion as much of what I write I have had to figure out in my own time. I also believe that an effective program covers the following elements:

  1. Careers guidance that comes prior to university guidance; I am currently trying to build this into grade 9 and 10. I believe this is essential in order to encourage meta-cognition and encourage students to reflect seriously on what their strengths are, what they enjoy and what types of work their personality traits would fit.
  2. University Guidance.
    1. Pre Application research, from the end of grade 10 onwards.
    2. Applications, from the end of grade 11 onwards.
    3. Post Application decisions.
    4. Post result fire fighting, if applicable.

Academic year 2017-2018

This coming year I will need to work much more closely with the G12 homeroom teachers to ensure students have time to work on their university applications and also leverage the HODs to ensure that teachers read and pay attention to the policies on predicting grades and writing comments and references. I finally have some time in August inset to take staff through our policies and approach to university applications and their role in the process.

In addition I have (finally!) been granted a budget and was able to plan more effectively for this year. Therefore I am now bringing in career profiling and assessment software for students in grade 10 but will also utilise it with grade 11 next year.

My plans for next year are as follows:

Grade 12

Term one:

  • Grade 12 will take priority in term one as per last year. I have one workshop already booked with them in focus week which will use to finalise UCAS applications and personal statements.
  • Will continue to have timetabled biweekly meetings with each student and more if necessary, less if not.
  • Aim to have UCAS wrapped up by end of September, so that students who are applying to NL can begin applications in October and those applying to North America can begin in October/November.
  • In the absence of core lessons I will utilise one extended homeroom in September, one in October and another in November, to focus on the processes above.
  • Will organise mock admissions testing service exams as well as the actual exams.
  • Will organise interview practice for those going to Oxbridge interviews, but also utilise the future-you festival to provide general interview training for the grade 12s as a group (if they express a desire for it).

Term two:

  • Continue with ad hoc meetings as individuals require it to discuss offers and financing as necessary.

Clearly work with grade 12 goes beyond this time but I am not planning anything formal. That being said the major work load after this point, with this grade, comes during the summer “holiday” when their exam results are released.

Grade 11

Term one:

  • Grade 11 will follow a similar structure to last year: one workshop at the start of the term to onboard them on BridgeU and set goals for that term and another at the end of the term to review progress and set up meeting times from Jan onwards. In addition, this year, they will have a career profile assessment. This will take place in September.
  • During the future-you festival they will have a CV and personal statement writing workshop in addition to the usual workshops we organise.

Term two:

  • Begin one-to-one meetings on a monthly basis to review individual goals and tie in each students CAS and EE into their uni application before beginning work on personal statements.
  • Three whole group sessions on the pros and cons of different university systems (x2) and on writing personal statements (x1).

Term three:

  • Continue one-to-one meetings as necessary and set 1st and 2nd personal statement deadlines.
  • Run three group workshops. One to get registered on UCAS and 2 more to complete as much of the application form as possible and then work on personal statement.

Grade 10:

Term one:

  • Career Assessment profiling and follow up interviews.
  • Future-you festival with workshops on C.V. writing alongside the usual workshops.

Term two:

  • DP subject choices meetings and workshops.
  • Work experience week planning workshop one.

Term three:

  • Work experience week planning workshop two.
  • Work experience week.
  • DP Transition day including work experience week reflection.

Grade 9:

  • Future-you festival including workshop on the career investigator in term two.
  • Grade 10 subject choices in term three.

In conclusion, I welcome any thoughts from colleagues on both sides of the desk to help me continue to improve the services I provide for my students.

 

Life long on the job learning…creating a guidance program from scratch (part 1)

As I blogged on several occasions previously in April 2015 I started working as a university & careers advisor or guidance counselor. In this post I want to summarise how the guidance program I have designed has evolved over the last two years and describe my plans for next year. This post covers what I have done over the past 2 years and the 2nd part will cover my plans for next year.

All this time I have also been a classroom subject specialist for both Biology and TOK, although I was new to teaching TOK too, and initially very under funded but thankfully that has begun to change.

I believe that school guidance counseling has major three aspects that all need to be developed in order to best support students:

  1. Good structures and knowledge surrounding the processes and administration of the program. This can be simple if students are only applying to the UK through UCAS (currently the gold standard in organisation) but the complexity can increase exponentially as students apply to other countries.
  2. Good knowledge of courses and universities, which tends to come with time, visits and conferences.
  3. Good knowledge of students interests and an ability to actually counsel them.

Academic year 2014-2015

I started this year as Director of Boarding with five hours a week teaching, at a school that had only been open for 11 months. I was meant to be planning a boarding program, recruiting students, advising architects but it didn’t work out. By the end of the year I was a University and Careers Adviser. At the time I was also grade 10 (UK year 11) homeroom teacher and grade 10 was our eldest cohort of students.

I officially made the transition in April and have written about those early months here. Essentially my starting point consisted of working out how to garner resources for the office and focussed on essentials like getting the school registered with UCAS, Admissions Testing Service and CollegeBoard among others. It was a research intensive time where I spent a lot of time signing up for resources (I requested prospectuses from every university in the UK and others), finding networks of colleagues I could plug myself into like Swiss+ counselors group, OACAC and the UCAS Adviser group all of which have been lifelines over the last two years.

This was very much a planning phase but at the time I really didn’t have enough experience to structure a program.

Academic year 2015-2016

My teaching contact hours were pushed up to 12 hours a week as my former grade 10 students moved into their first year of the IBDP. Still with no final year students, this year I had plenty of time to carry on my research and building my network of experts that I could draw on with questions.

At this stage my guidance program was still underdeveloped. In the first term, What I did, then, in retrospect, was largely unsuccessful, but it did help to focus my thinking on the first and second elements I have identified above. Up until this point had been largely planning and getting necessary registrations and resources in place and I quickly realise that while important, that wasn’t what counseling was about.

Despite lots of time with which to meet with students, relatively, during this year, my knowledge of courses and universities was severely lacking and, with a background of a classroom practitioner, a feeble ability to actually counsel students. I struggled with the gap between what I knew I had to do and my abilities to do it.

The turning point came for me around Easter of that year when I was given permission to bring on board a platform to help students with their research of universities. I had had to fight quite hard for this and only obtained it through the use of some political game play, and I knew that it would help to bridge the gap  for my students in my lack of knowledge of institutions in the US and elsewhere.

In addition I was able to organise a morning workshop in June of that year. This was my first and only whole group workshop with the grade 11s that year and I thought it would be enough to get them 12 students registered on UCAS and College Board and give them time to begin working on their personal statements. I had planned 3 hours for this but had not factored in how long it takes students to register on UCAS and begin to fill in the application form!

During this year I also wrote the policies for predicting grades, writing references and comments, as well as for student visits to university open days. I also organised my first Future-you festival.

Academic year 2016 – 2017

It was this year that my program really began to take shape. Working more with colleagues and capitalising on changes made in the structure of the timetable I have been able to get more scheduled time in front of students. Extended homerooms on Wednesday mornings and grade 11 core periods have meant that this year has been much more structured for the rising grade 12. The structure this year was as follows (I haven’t included university visits or the careers work that I organise also:

  1. Grade 11 Term 1:
    • A workshop in focus week on BridgeU and university research in general
    • A workshop at the end of the term to review progress on BridgeU. A general theme here is that I a stressing to students the need to structure their CAS and choose an EE that will support their applications to university.
  2. Grade 11 Term 2:
    • Began regular one-to-one meetings (aim for one a month) to review university matching and CAS planning etc
    • Hosted group sessions on the UK and US application process (I had universities come into deliver these).
    • Began the personal statement writing process with a workshop mainly giving students time to think and write.
  3. Grade 11 Term 3:
    • Continued one-to-one meetings and brought the rate down depending on students personal ideas and where they had decided to apply.
    • Ran personal statement writing workshops with two deadlines – 1st draft on May 1st and 2nd draft 1st June (the second was flexible so that students could focus on exams).
    • Ran two workshops on registering with UCAS (I learned from the previous year that it can take my students an hour to run through this). I also made some video materials to support this (I thought students would rather watch than read – but they don’t even do this!). Student have all managed to complete all sections except personal statement and choices.
  4. Grade 12 Term 1:
    • Ran several homeroom sessions to provide time for students to work on personal statement.
    • Had plenty of one-to-one meetings on an ad hoc basis in order to advise on personal statements and completion of UCAS forms.
    • Ran Admissions Testing Service exams and interview practice.
  5. After term 1 I didn’t see that much of the grade 12’s, unless they specifically asked to see me to go through additional applications. This is an area that hopefully will be developed more next year, but essentially, without solid relationship building students are disinclined to visit their counselor and get advice on offers, finances etc.

When I returned to school in August, none of the grade 12 students had written a first draft of their personal statement. I am not sure why I expected them to have done so!

This year the structure has been much tighter for the grade 11s and I hope that next year will be more so for these students as they move into grade 12.

Aside from the regular timetable changes the DP & MYP coordinators decided to make field week the 3rd week in August and I managed to bag some time with both the grade 11s and grade 12s.

There are many reasons why it is very helpful for students to have curriculum time given over to letting them complete their applications. Mainly it reduces student stress but it also valuable time for the students own formative development. The difficulty is convincing colleagues who have no experience in this area that this is the case.

Next week I will write about my plans for next year.

 

Thirteen reflections at the end of my first guidance cycle

This week, on Wednesday, the IB results were published and this marks the beginning of the end of my first cycle of working with students as a university adviser/guidance counselor. Here I aim to summarise the key points that I have learned about this work this year.

I blogged about this work last summer, aiming to reflect on my first 15 months in post.

As a summary I started in this work in April 2015. With very little real experience (although I guess I thought I had plenty at the time) and was tasked with founding the university and careers counseling program in a school that was still being set up.

Now our first graduates have got their first set of results and this is the culmination of the last four years of work, since we first opened our doors. When I refer to counseling, I am referring to academic/university guidance not social or emotional counseling. Here is what I have learned:

1. There is an inherent tension between teaching and counseling (part 1: emotional) and I am not convinced that it is good to have one member of staff doing both. As a DP Biology teacher, I am responsible for getting the best out of my students, whether they like it or not. Often that means holding kids to account for the quality of their work and work ethic. Obviously counselors do this too with their deadlines etc but the relationship with students is different. This can be a problem when students may then be annoyed at you (as teacher) for bringing them back at lunch, for awarding poor grades(!) or giving some other sanctions as a teacher, that then makes them perceive you negatively. At worst this can damage your relationship with a student and prevent a student from wanting to come and see you as a counselor, making it all but impossible in some cases to counsel them effectively. This may make them want to go elsewhere for advice. I still haven’t found a solution for this problem.

2. There is an inherent tension between teaching and counseling (part 2: practical). This year I have been teaching 17 hours a week (G9-12 Biology & G11-12 TOK). To say the least my working weeks this academic year have been rather full. This has made it very difficult to make my non-teaching periods match up with the student’s private study periods. My Head’s argument (whose aim for our school is to be the best day school in our country) is that the school cannot afford a full-time guidance counselor. But unfortunately I am only able to work with students and families when I am not teaching and if these times don’t line up with when a student is not in class then it can make for very poor provision. Of course I offer times outside of class, and after school, but with all the other non-academic demands on students this isn’t always a solution. I am hoping that timetabling will take into consideration my request to have two days of non-teaching time to give me the dedicated space to meet with students and their families. Another side of this coin is that when no one else in your team has experience of your job and then at best can only imagine what your job is like (see Dunning-Kruger effect), it can make for difficult relationships with colleagues. I am convinced that my departing VP views me as a cover-dodger because I always have to respectfully decline their last-minute requests that I cover a lesson normally because I was in a pre-arranged meeting with students. My teaching colleagues often wonder my I have so little teaching.

3. Clear boundaries and communication with students and their families matter. In my first set of feedback for the schools University Guidance program (clue is in the name) one student commented that they gave me 3/5 because, despite helping them identify a course they would love and match their academic interests, in the country they were interested in studying, (the student told me that they were not interested in applying elsewhere), I wasn’t able to give “global apprenticeship advice”. Basically I wasn’t able to spew out results to the families various and diverse requests like google can. All that, despite my flexibility in responding to the mother’s requests for info to the best of my abilities for over two years. Clearly this family thought that “University guidance” meant “post-18 life advice”. I now send a letter to all rising grade 11 families making it clear that I “only” provide advice on university applications to North America, UK, NL and CH.

4. Being a team player is really important and doesn’t come naturally to some teachers. Lots of teachers think that they know how to counsel students. I am guilty of this one. In past lives I have thought that I was well placed to advise students where to apply to the chagrin of my counseling colleagues. I do understand that teachers are on the whole giving of their time and advice. It is what they do; they want to be helpful and have a healthy interest in young people and their outcome. Unfortunately, from the counselors perspective it isn’t helpful, especially when advice is given without even at the minimum informing the counselor of the advice that has been given to a student. I am not saying teachers shouldn’t give their students advice but this advice needs to coordinated (I may expand on this theme in a future blog post). To combat this, I need to get more time in front of staff, explaining the need for good solid guidance in our context and the benefit for the students. This needs to happen alongside going through policies with staff.

5. Working with colleagues from a whole school perspective can be really, really challenging, especially when you are not empowered with any actual authority. Taking time out the day to have conversations is really quite important in changing mindsets.

6. With the above in mind, it is also necessary to have time with the whole staff to be able to lay out your vision for counseling at the school to get buy in from your team.

7. Predicted grades seem to some people (parents particularly) to be a form of black magic. In addition there are cultural differences in what predicted grades are, notably between North Americans and Europeans. This year we changed our policy on this and I will blog about this elsewhere.

8. It is important that transcripts make it clear what the numbers mean. Timing of mock exams and their results should be clearly marked up.

9. Counseling is a formative process and encourages meta-cognition in students, which brings school wide benefits as students set goals and become motivated. Programs need individual and group time during the school week.

10. Don’t feel you need to give time to people trying to sell you something.

11. Routines are just as important in counseling as they are in teaching and parenting.

12. Having a clearly defined structure and plan to your guidance program (within whatever constrains you may have to work with). In the first year of this cycle I was teaching 12 hours a week out of a maximum of 24 teaching periods. I only had 12 grade 11 students and so it was quite easy from that perspective. However, at the time I was still learning the ropes (I still am) and was hugely inexperienced at sitting down with students “counseling” them. I had no idea really of how the cycle progresses from the end of grade 10 to the end of grade 12 and despite not teaching all that much I had no official curriculum time with my students. In addition to that, apart from my time, I was denied any other resources to work with. I was consistently denied funding for any sort of database that would help me generate course/university lists for my students for example. This year I had 17 hours of classroom teaching time, but due to changes my line manager brought into the structure of the school day I suddenly had times in the week where I could get in front of all the students together. In addition I was allowed access to some resources that required money and so my current grade 11 students have benefited from more focused time and tasks to support their own search.This has been picked up in my feedback at the end of the year and I have planned changes for next year to improve this further which I will blog about.

13. If you have no guidance from above don’t be frightened to make your own decisions. My line manager is fairly absentee because they are pulled in so many directions themselves. This has hugely frustrated me this year because I am a rookie and I need to bounce ideas off of someone. I have also been really unsure as to how to proceed at times. However the best thing to do is make a decision and run with it. This summer I decided to make it really clear to families what they can expect and can’t expect from my program, to avoid any further confusion.

 

 

 

This weeks grade 12 revision advice

DP Revision Instructions

  1. Make a list of all of the experiments and procedures mentioned in the DP guide. –make sure you know what these are and can describe them.
  2. Make a list of all of the calculations (including statistics) included in the DP guide.- make sure you know what these are and can use them.
  3. Make a list of the drawings required in the syllabus included in the DP guide.- make sure you know what these are practice drawing them.
  4. Make a plan (for however many weeks you have) of which topics and in what order you are going to revise, along with how many hours of review you will put in each week.
  5. Execute plan
  6. Complete past papers
    1. Start with open notes
    2. Progress to closed notes
    3. Progress to timed with closed notes

Active Revision tools

  1. Textbook
  2. Ofxord IB Biology Guide (thin orange textbook)
  3. Workbooks
  4. Syllabus (AKA confusingly as the DP Guide)
  5. Use all the above to create shorter and shorter summary notes for each topic/sub-topic

Active Revision Strategies

  1. Connect-Extend-Challenge.
  2. Brainstorming and reviewing against notes.
  3. Peer-2-Peer teaching and feedback.
  4. Thinking/Discussion about the course material that pertains to specific functions as you carry out those functions e.g. digestive system while you are eating.
  5. Word-Phrase-Sentence to help you summarise and re-summarise.
  6. Create voice memos on your phone for each subtopic and then listen to these on the train/bus/etc.
  7. Create mind maps and concept maps.

A list of good open questions for use in teaching…

“A great question is one that gets us all thinking…students questions give us a glimpse into what they are thinking, what issues are engaging them, where their confusion is, where and how are they making connections…where are they seeking clarification?” Richhardt et al 2011

Counseling

  • Why do you think you want this versus that?
  • How will your long term plans be impacted and why?
  • What would you lose if you didnt do that, and why?
  • What would you do if you could do whatever you wanted and why?
  • Write down the first thing that comes to mind when you think of college?
  • If you could say one thing to your parents what would it be?
  • Write down one message to your children?

Teaching

Questions need to focus on learning and not on work, using the language of inclusion (we not I or you)

Give praise for the effort not for the outcome = growth mindset.

  • I was wondering if…
  • Can you say more about that?
  • Im not following you can you explain that in another way?
  • Questions that model an interest in ideas
  • Questions that construct understanding
  • Questions the clarify and facilitate thinking
  • What makes you say that?
  •  What does that tell us?
  • What questions are surfacing for you?
  • What do we see?
  • What do we think we know?
  • What else do you notice?
  • Can we explain this?