I was originally planning to write up my experiences in a single blog post but it got too long and so I have broken it up into four separate posts: this one which will focus on my efforts to organise the counseling space and resources. The second two posts focuses on a) building relationships with other institutions and b) the agencies you need to be registered with, while the final post deals with the internal dynamics of advising students and communicating with parents.
This last year has been incredible in so many ways but also very, very hard. This post is partly a record and reflection of my experiences but I also write with a few other counselors in mind whom I met this year who were in a similar position to me: working in small or new schools and carrying the responsibility of setting up the university and careers provision.
In August 2014 I moved schools. The aim of my new job was to begin developing a boarding program for my new school. Unfortunately for me, in early September of that year the company that owned the school took the decision to place the boarding program on permanent hold.
The resulting two years have been a period in which I have learned an awful lot, met and worked with some truly inspiring colleagues, and had the opportunity to really reflect on and experiment in my teaching practice.
Losing the boarding project opened the door to another really exciting opportunity: the chance to found, set up and run my own College Counseling Department or Higher Education and Careers Department or University and Careers Counseling Department (Yep those are the three titles we have run through this year and we are sticking with the last one!).
To say that this last academic year has been challenging and stressful would be an understatement but it has also been a real honour to build something from the ground up, make decisions and have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of an interesting mixed cohort of kids, from a variety of very diverse backgrounds. I have learned a lot about myself, my own perceptions, my own prejudice, my limitations and my strengths. I want to use this post to reflect on my experience in the first year of setting up a careers and university advisory service in a school.
I officially started the role in August 2015 but I began preparations for it back in April of the same year. This was a start up school environment that at the time had just, in March of that year, received authorisation to begin teaching the DP and were also prepping for our MYP authorization visit that would come in October of that year. Thus everyone was busy, not just with the normal rounds of lesson planning, delivery and reflection; not just on the unit planning, horizontal and vertical articulation that comes with the MYP but also with the additional paperwork that comes with trying to get a school authorized to deliver a curriculum.
So I was effectively on my own. Where would you start to plan a university guidance (at the time I thought it was just university guidance) program? You have an office space and thats it. You have no real background in the area save working in secondary teaching for six years, some of which you have been a sixth form tutor in the UK and a Boarding House parent for 16-18 year olds.
Organising the Counseling Space & Resources
I started by buying maps. Maps of the continental US, UK, and the World. Large ones around 1.2m x 1.0m to put on the walls. While waiting for these to go through our schools insanely long procurement process, I then downloaded the UK University League tables and registered online with every university as a students and ordered a copy of their prospectus. Those that wouldn’t post a copy to Europe, I downloaded a digital copy and saved. Later these were uploaded to the University Guidance Group that I created on ManageBac as a place to share resources with our G9-G12 students. Along the same vein, I wanted to make sure that our space set aside for guidance counseling was warm and welcoming, a place where parents and students felt that they could just drop into. Always at the fore-front of my mind was that we were a very new school, in a very competitive area (26 or thereabouts international schools in the area) and I believe that the university and careers provision that any secondary school offers has to aim to build confidence amongst the community of student, parents and teachers that it is competent. Parents will seek out the “best” schools for the their children and while you there are thousands of different views of what may make a school best, I feel that after a solid academics program (parents want to know there children are learning), a guidance program that helps students identify their strengths and interests and guides them to the next natural step after secondary school successfully is a major want for secondary parents. A school that doesn’t offer that, especially one that you are paying for, will surely send red flags. Hence, ordering maps and materials for the guidance office, to help build the environment for students and parents seemed like a natural place to start. At this time I also ordered books and guides and I continued to do this over the course of the next year. The books I now have in the office aside from the prospectuses are:
- Loren Pope’s Colleges that change lives and Looking beyond the Ivy league.
- The HEAP Guide 2016
- The Fiske Guide to Colleges
- The CollegeBoard College Handbook
- Tina Quick’s Global Nomads Guide to University Transition (Donated by a parent)
- Julie Lythcott-Haims “How to Raise an Adult” (yet to be purchased for the department)
An additional resources that I came across last year that I make parents of students aware of is the gettingin podcast by panoply.
One of the essential tasks that went on alongside relationship building (see below) throughout the year was the creation of a variety of different resources to use both externally and internally of our school community. Early in the year I created the G11 counseling timeline and drafted the G12 counseling timeline which I will be finishing this summer. I scaffolded this process for myself by comparing the timelines produced by a variety of other schools that I had contact or a connection with.
At the same time I began to synthesise and summarise the key steps and information that lay at the heart of applications to the countries that my job description asked me to be responsible for – UK, US, Canada and Switzerland. For each of these countries I produced and essential information document, only two sides in total for each one that gave an overview for parents and students of the application process for each country.
Once all of these documents were created I decided to group them together into the first iteration of the University Guidance handbook, the development of which has carried on throughout the year as I have written new documents which have also been added to the handbook. I am hoping to be able to complete version 4 of the handbook over this summer break.
Early on in the year, and with input from a variety of the my colleagues, in preparation for the CIS forum I created a school profile document. This document summarised our school, giving key information to admissions representatives. It was so liked by our marketing department that they subsequently hijacked it for use with prospective parents!
Throughout the year I also created a variety of forms to help with managing my meetings with students. These included permissions for students to miss class to attend university presentations, or open days, interview forms, teacher recommendation request forms and a university research form to help students build their shortlist of universities. I am not sure how useful some of these will be now that I am using BridgeU which provides a natural scaffold for structuring the timings of meetings with students which I will develop further for next year.
Towards the end of the year I worked with the DP and MYP coordinators to begin drafting policies for use in our community. These were the language course selection and university guidance policy, the predicted grades, teacher comments and recommendations policy as well as the attending university open days and guidance office events policy.
Finally in terms of resources, I was successful in April of this year in convincing the management at school that our community would benefit from the use of a guidance platform to primarily help students in their course and university research. I have blogged about the rollout of BridgeU here and here, so I won’t write too much here. In the final section of this blog on guiding students I will expand a little more as to why this was really important for me and my students.