Moving on, handing over: 1

Making the decision to move on is not easy. Particularly when you have spent the last four years building a program from scratch. It has been a fascinating ride, and I have learned so much in the process, not just about guidance counselling, but also more generally about working with colleagues and about wider school aims and objectives. I still have a lot to learn and I could certainly still do more in my current post but at least there is a skeleton of a program. I leave it to others to add meat to the bones.

In this post and the next, I thought I would prepare my handover notes to a colleague who will be taking over my role when I move on to China. It’s a good opportunity to reflect on what I have learned in the last few years and to think through how things might be improved.

I have created the concept map below which I think neatly covers the different aspects of this diverse role and reflects how I have broken up the role in my mind as I have developed the program at my current school.

Download (PDF, 1.64MB)

Aims of School Guidance

School guidance programs should support the wider aims of the school’s mission and vision, of course. To this end they should be developed to maximise the formative development of the young people they serve. In practice, and in conjunction with other departments within a school, this means helping students to think about and plan for their futures as well as develop writing and conversation/interview skills among others. When implemented well they can help catalyse students into gaining more from their school life by becoming active members of the school community.

Working with students

The most obvious point of interaction for a guidance counsellor is working with the students in the school. I recognise that different schools have different ways of organising their programs, depending on their specific context but there are particular tasks that I believe schools should channel through their guidance counsellors.

In my context, I have developed a program that focusses on “career” education in grades 9 and 10 (Y10 & 11). In practice, this means that we focus on interventions for students that will expand their horizons in terms of the jobs that are available to them. For example, many students (if not all) have heard about doctors, and have some idea of what they may do professionally – normally they have all been to one. But many students are unaware of the other professional routes in healthcare like physiotherapy, radiography, biomedical research, nursing, paramedic science. The aim of our program in these early grades is to expand students knowledge about these topics.

The Future-You festival (FYF) acts as a focal point for this with other activities interspersed throughout the year as shown in the following table.

Grade 9Grade 10Grade 11Grade 12
Career Investigator (Delivered as part of the FYF)Futurewise Career Profile Futurewise if not completed in grade 10University Application support
Future-You festivalFuturewise Career Discussion & CV writing workshop (as part of FYF) Persuasive writing workshopsPersuasive writing workshops
Future-You festivalFuture-You festivalInterview skills training including body language
IBDP subject choice guidanceUniversity & Career researchFinancial Aid application support and post offer decision support
Individual meetingsIndividual meetingsIndividual meetings

This “career” education aims to engage students with research and thinking about their future. We hope that by doing this, students may be better informed when making their subject choices in grades 9 and 10, particularly with an understanding of how the subject choices for the Diploma impact on the options they have for further study.

Once students move into the Diploma program we aim to help them successfully research, apply and enter a university that it is a good fit for them.

In grade 11 we provide online tools to help students identify these options and this is supported by two whole grade workshops in term 1. From January we move to individual meetings (usually one every three weeks) supported by three whole grade workshops in term 2 and three in term 3. These workshops (add link), supported by the English department, focus on helping students develop solid persuasive writing skills that they can use in their personal statements or motivational letters.

Finally, in grade 12, we support students with their applications – it is surprising how long it takes a young person to fill one of these in! We continue with individual meetings and block out deadlines to help students manage the process. As part of the FYF we coach students on interview technique and body language, as well as give each student mock interviews to help them prepare for the requests that they get. Grade 12 reaches fever pitch around December as we push students to have everything prepared early, but students still need ongoing support and help with replying to offers and dealing with any potential fall out on results day.

Working with parents

Alongside working with students we strive to provide support to parents as well. This often comes in the shape of face to face meetings to discuss concerns or specific questions that families have. Questions can vary widely and depend, in the international context, on what the families own paradigm and passports are.

We also run presentations and information sessions for parents which we also normally open up to the wider public. These vary in content but we currently run one a term. This year in term 1 we held an introduction to Dutch HE following on from my tour of Dutch Universities. In term 2 I provided an information session on applying to a range of different university systems.

Team culture: teachers and counsellors

“I am applying to Bangor” the student said. “Oh, great! I applied there too!” says I, “It is an excellent school for Biological Sciences”.

As the school’s university counsellor I probably should have had a bit more of an idea that this student had decided to apply to this particular university, particularly considering this was rather late in the year – around April or May of Y13.

Follow up conversations made me aware that this student’s homeroom teacher had initially made the suggestion that this student applied to Bangor.

Let me get out in front of this. I am not trying to suggest in this post that teachers should not speak to their students about their university applications. I am not suggesting that teachers should not even offer advice to students and help them make sense of what can be a very confusing time of life, but teachers do need to think before they speak.

I have heard of schools where the guidance counsellor takes an aggressive, defensive approach in working with teachers. If you so much as whisper the word “university” to a student without their knowledge they may have words with you.

I have heard of teachers being reprimanded by the school counsellor for sharing a book list of subject specific reading with the Y12 and 13s and writing to them in an email that reading would be an excellent way to improve their university applications.

This wasn’t covert. The teacher wasn’t trying to go behind the counsellors back. They cc’ed the counsellor in, thinking they would be pleased that the teacher was trying to engage students to do things beyond what was merely required.

In my world then this is perfectly acceptable, as reading widely is an educationally excellent thing to encourage young people to do.

The teacher was called to the counselling office and made to apologise for that action.

This same colleague still gives me a cool reception when our paths do cross.

As a teacher, before I became a counsellor I wanted to encourage interested students to read my subject at university. I think this is natural. As someone who taught DP and A level and interacted with 17-18-year-olds pastorally, I was naturally curious as to where the students I met were applying, and what for.

It is frustrating when this information is never shared. When Teachers are never told when students have applied, or have interviews or get offers of admission. “Why do they need to know?” Is usually the question posed when this is raised.

Teachers do need to get with the school’s program and get behind the counselling team. Speak to the counselling department if they have ideas about individual students or groups of students and feel that you have the expertise to share. Global university admissions is an ever-changing landscape and teachers are not always up to speed. Also, teachers may not take into account other cultural factors like international diversity, when recommending institutions, which may hugely impact a students future happiness.

I would also submit, from experience, that teachers are not natural counsellors. I have written about this tension between teaching and counselling elsewhere and won’t bring it in here again. But teachers don’t necessarily know how to pose questions to draw out students thinking on such subjective matters about a students future, and they also may not have the full picture, painted by the families worldview.

Just like the teacher that ignores a school’s behaviour policy and does their own thing in their classroom, undermining their colleague who sticks to the behaviour policy, to the detriment of the whole team and school culture, the teacher that doesn’t engage with the counseling team to communicate ideas and discussion points about students, just serves to undermine the counseling department. This can lead to damaged reputations and undermining of the school’s reputation.

But it works both ways. Counsellors need to make teachers feel included. They need to seek students consent first to share the information (internally) about where students are applying and where they have been successful. This information serves to catalyse the team on the celebration and helps to build ongoing fruitful relationships between students and the staff that work with them. Why do teachers need to know? Because teachers care, becuase teachers invest their time, more than anyone, to work on behalf of students, because teachers know just when to put in the right word of encouragement, just when a student might need it.

It allows a whole team celebration of the students achievement and contributes to building a strong team culture amongst the staff. So counsellors and teachers: work together!

The future-you festival

In my first year at my current school I was one of the grade 10 homeroom teachers. At the time, the grade 10’s were the eldest grade, the school having only opened the previous year with all grades up to grade nine.

That year our Head of School organised for some parents to come in on an afternoon to speak to our grade nine and ten students about their various professions.

The session lasted a couple of hours while different parents rotated in front of our small cohort of 18 students to tell them they needed a passion.

The next morning the feedback in homeroom was less than excellent. The major theme that came across was that the kids would have liked some choice about what they saw and who they listened to.

Later that year I was given the chance to set up the university counselling program and part of that required me to organise careers day.

In the first year I was responsible for it (my second year at the school) my main aim was to introduce choice for students.

That year we held it in May and the event ran from after lunch until 7pm. From 2pm until 4pm we had a series of career focussed workshops. These were bookended by a keynote and plenary session. The latter were compulsory for all students, but, during the time in-between, students rotated through workshops that they had previously signed up for.

After the plenary from 4pm to 5pm we held a short university fair, hosting universities from Switzerland plus a few others.

Following this we hosted an author who spoke about her book and work that supports international students making transitions to study at international universities.

In my second year, the academic year just finished, we moved the date back to March. Unfortunately, with the extra classroom hours I was working, I simply didn’t have the time to organise a university fair – the amount of time that goes into simply emailing contacts is extraordinary. However, we did run an evening event again this year. This was organised by my colleague in the schools marketing department and took the form of two guest speakers, with dinner and wine for attendees. Next year we have decided to call this part of the evening “future-you conversations”.

This year I am hoping to expand what we do slightly with morning skills based workshops on top of the afternoon career focussed workshops. These will be run in conjunction with inspiring futures who offer two days of their advisor time to members. We bought membership for next academic year.

Grade 12 will have a session on interview skills to support students who will have interviews as part of their university applications but also as many of them will be interviewing for jobs in the next 12 months.

Grade 11 will have a session on persuasive writing for their personal statement. This will hopefully provide them with some raw material with which to begin their personal statement drafts later in the year.

Grade 10 will have a session on cv writing as they will be looking for work experience this year as they have a work experience week in June.

Grade 9 will use the inspiring futures career investigator.

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.