This post continues from yesterday’s post.
Working with colleagues
For any guidance department to be successful it needs, like all good teachers and their departments, to not work in a silo.
Getting colleagues on side is hugely important. In a culturally diverse staff body, many colleagues bring very different sets of values which colour their view of guidance. It is essential that guidance counsellors work closely with teachers; by understanding the educational heritage and philosophy of colleagues we can best ensure that the team works together to support students supported by a common understanding and vision.
Specialist colleagues are involved either officially or unofficially with the administration of the guidance program and I make a point of sharing thanks for this support by highlighting the efforts of particular colleagues with the SLT.
The English teachers and teachers of other languages are well placed to offer support in writing techniques, although it is important that they understand the aim of the different types of writing that different university applications require.
Counsellors I have spoken with have sometimes said that they don’t like involving English teachers because they can give conflicting advice. I think that this is a mistake. The English teachers I know and have worked with in the past have much stronger skills than me when it comes to coaching students writing. With proper time for discussion, collaboration and planning any differences in opinion and outlook can be adjusted for and the team can work on the same page.
The development of writing skills is important but staff can be involved in helping to prep for interviews also. In actually delivering mock interviews I have relied on a variety of staff as I feel that the most beneficial effect is gained for students when they interview with someone that they don’t know. I have also used the drama teachers to coach students on body language.
The real challenge for the school here is getting these relationships formalised. This is a priority, as the teachers who give up their time to plan and deliver support to students need to recognised and compensated for this. It isn’t fair to simply expect them to take this on.
Another aspect of working with colleagues comes with getting them on-side to understand the procedures involved in making and supporting university applications.
All teachers support university applications by supplying written comments and predicted grades for the subjects they teach. The school needs a policy for making predicted grades which must be clearly articulated to and understood by teachers so that the team is predicting grades in the same way. In the same way, teachers need to understand the timeline and process that their students are involved in. In an international school, students may be applying to many different university systems, each with their own nuances. It is helpful if teachers have some understanding of that. One of the most unhelpful things that a well-meaning teacher can do is to continually offer an extension to deadlines for students.
Teachers need to understand how their comments are used to help the counsellor construct a reference and to understand what makes these comments different to a report. Generally, they must be positive and evidence-based. It doesn’t escape my notice that teachers, often, could do with support from the English department in terms of structuring their writing (PEE/A; SEX; Claim, Warrant and Impact).
Finally, in some cases, teachers may be called upon to write full references. The processes for this and requirements for the writing need to be carefully explained and understood.
Finally working with colleagues, also includes organising the transcript production process and having some input into the production of the DP handbook and making sure that the information within it aligns with the guidance handbook.
Working with outside organisations
Ultimately the role of the guidance counsellor is about working with organisations outside of school: universities.
I once heard a Head tell a conference that that role of the guidance counsellor was 50% in school and 50% out of school.
Our work involves liaising with universities, of course, but this can take many forms.
Firstly university visits. These require planning within the school, to agree a suitable place and time that visits can be generally held. Currently, we try to avoid clashes with lessons and encourage universities to visit at lunch or after school.
If I had more time, I would love to allow these visits to include a tour, perhaps the observation of some teaching (this has gone down well in the past) as well as the delivery of the universities presentations. I feel that this goes a long way in building a relationship with that institution, and allows them to better understand our particular context.
I also make a point of reaching out to universities after I have met them at conferences after our students have applied to them, and after students receive an offer (or not). Again, this keeps the lines of communication open and helps to build more of a relationship with your partner on the other side of the desk at that institution.
In terms of non-university institutions, we are currently using BridgeU and UniFrog as platforms to help students do their research and plan their applications. I have been planning to write a comparison of the two all year, and I hope to get this published soon. It has been useful to get feedback from students regarding the two programs.
We also work with Inspiring Futures and use their Futurewise and Career Investigator programs to support our career guidance programs in grade 9 and 10.
What would improve this guidance program and help it meet the aims of formatively developing our students?
Well, a couple of things.
I think to start some of the skills, like CV writing, earlier, in grade 8 for example, would help students begin to think about what how they can maximise their final four years in school to really develop themselves. Once students are introduced to the concept of a CV and, perhaps, realise that they haven’t got that much on there, yet, they can start thinking about what they can do to get stuff on there. The caveat here is that is isn’t about getting stuff on the CV its training kids to think about what they learn, about themselves and the world, from the activities they do do.
I think also that relationship with colleagues who support the department; teachers who help with writing, for example, need to be formalised, recognised and given the space to commit their working time to this, otherwise, apart from the risk of overburdening already busy teachers, you are effectively running a program on good-will and favours which can’t last forever.