One would guess, looking at my blog, that I'm a real data nerd. I'm really not, but I do see the value in tracking certain information in order to be more efficient and effective in my job.
At the start of the school year I posted about my SMART goal to provide more parent outreach. I mentioned in that post that I was also going to start using a time tracker. I know there are several commercially available trackers, but since I'm never happy unless I'm reinventing the wheel, I made my own.
I'd never used spreadsheets in either Excel or Numbers. The learning curve for Google Sheets was steep. I figured out a lot through trial and error, and when I couldn't figure it out I asked the people at our iSchool. I now have a totally customized spreadsheet that has only the general headings and sub-categories I want. The set-up makes sense to me and I made it pretty, which means I don't dread using it.
We're now halfway through the year, and I've faithfully spent 5-10 minutes at the end of every day entering my numbers. All I have to do is type the number of minutes I spent in each category. (I round them to 5-minute increments because I'm not that anal-retentive). The spreadsheet is set up to automatically add up each row, column, and general heading. At the end of the year, I'll be able to easily compile it into a colorful pie chart to share.
Here's a link to a copy of my spreadsheet so you can see how I set it up. I've had to disable the sharing option, but at least you can use my example as a jumping-off point for your own.
So far I'm noticing some things that I wouldn't have noticed without tracking my time (like I actually do manage to get some planning time most days even though it feels like I never get my prep). You may also be surprised what you learn (and so might your administrator). Give it a try.
It’s that time of year for SMART goals, so I’ve been reflecting on areas in which I need to improve. While there are so many to choose from, I’ve decided that this year I’ll be focusing on improving my communication with parents. It’s a big goal, so I’ve broken it down into some very actionable steps. In fact, I can already check most of them off my to-do list!
Step 1: Parents need to know who I am and why I’m here. So I spent a ridiculous amount of time updating my School Counseling brochure and making a tri-board.
At Open House, instead of putting up a few signs pointing to my office and waiting there for people to show up (or not), I set up a table right in the foyer. I had the tri-board, copies of the brochure, a stack of my business cards, some of my “self-calming and mindfulness tools” for people to take (pool noodle stress fidgets and Starburst candies), and a sign-up sheet for my parent e-newsletter. Which brings us to...
Step 2: Parents might like to hear about what I’m up to at our school: what concepts and strategies I’m teaching in different classes, what kind of groups I’m running, and what school-wide initiatives I’m helping to organize.
I decided I’ll write a parent e-newsletter they can subscribe to. I’ll also include tips and resources for them to help their children develop social-emotional skills. I’m planning on publishing the newsletter once a trimester. That’s not as overwhelming as a monthly commitment, and I can always do more than that if I'm so inclined (I won't be). I haven’t sent the first one out yet because I’m still trying to figure out Mailchimp, but I have set up a link for people to subscribe on my Google Drive. Don't sign up there, but if you want to get a copies of the newsletter when they go out, e-mail me and I'll put you on a non-school list.
Step 3: For some parents, even signing up for my e-newsletter might feel risky. So I’ve set up a professional Facebook page and Pinterest account, which allows them to “lurk” without interaction or commitment if that's what they're comfortable with.
Finally, Step 4, which is related but not directly: I’m collecting data to assess how I’m coming on my SMART goal. I’ll track the number of followers I have on my FB and Pinterest accounts on the last day of every month, as well as note how many posts or pins I made that month. I also, of course, will track the number of people who subscribe to my e-newsletter. At the end of the year it will take about 10 seconds to compile that data into a sweet little line graph to upload to Teachpoint.
Having a goal this public is either going to be really motivating or really embarrassing. We’ll have to wait until June to see which!
Hip hip hooray, it's time for more data collection!
Seriously. I'm not being as snarky as I may sound. (You know me so well). Even though "data" is becoming something of a dirty word to a lot of us, I'm actually collecting information I can use to answer the #1 question for school counselors: Am I effective?
A large part of the answer has to do with my relationship with the teachers in my building, and whether they view what I do as helpful to them and to their students. It's not enough to be a good counselor to the kids; I also have to effectively collaborate and communicate with the adults.
This--the end of my first full year in a new district--is the perfect time to find out how teachers think I'm doing (as nerve-wracking as that may be for a sensitive overachiever like me). So I've bravely turned to my new best friend, Google Docs, to create a teacher/staff survey.
UPDATE 9/3/2018: Here's the link to the document. I've had to change it to "view only" because people kept changing my original despite detailed instructions on how not to do that. It was very stressful. So now you'll have to make your own from scratch in your Drive, but you may of course use my questions if that helps!
Crisis Intervention, Fights with Friends, and "My Teacher Sent Me:" Data Collection on Unscheduled Sessions
Because my district is REALLY struggling financially and I'm the newest of only four school counselors, I figured it would be wise for me to have information on hand to show how much of my job involves crisis intervention or dealing with the unscheduled and unexpected.
Before the start of the school year I made a Google Doc form for that purpose. I've been spending maybe 5-10 minutes after school entering the name and general presenting issue of whoever has shown up at my door that day. That version has been okay, but it doesn't quite capture everything I want to track.
So I created a new form to collect data on the number of unscheduled kids I see, how those kids get to me, how much time I'm spending with them, and (super important from a CYA standpoint) whether these sessions with kids in crisis are forcing to miss any of my kids on IEPs or 504s.
Much like the school nurse, I am responsible for the well-being of every child in my school regardless of whether or not she is technically on my caseload. Unfortunately, in a school with 500 students I have a lot who are on my caseload, and they keep me very busy. I often worry about those kids who may be quietly having a hard time but don't know who I am, what I do, or that I am available to help them.
So I was very psyched to come across the idea of Minute Meetings on a couple of school counselor websites. I don't know who first thought of them, but I'm giving credit to Andrea Burston and Danielle Schultz.
I e-mailed teachers telling them I'd like to spend 45 minutes or so with each of their classes. The first 5-10 minutes is for me to introduce myself to the class, and the remaining time is for me to sit in the hall and meet individually with students for literally about a minute each to ask a few get-to-know-you questions. In my schedule I set aside two blocks per week for Minute Meetings between now and Thanksgiving. I put an old-school (i.e., paper) sign-up sheet in the teachers' room. Since I'm quite new to the school and the previous counselor was not very visible in the building, the teachers were excited about the idea.
I created a survey form using Google Docs. When I'm done I'll be able to use Google Docs to sort the information I gather (yo, here's a golden opportunity for ever-lovin' DATA COLLECTION). You may notice that I'm asking some different questions than other counselors do in their Minute Meetings. For me, it's hugely important to know how connected kids feel at school, so I chose to focus on that.
This week I started with my first two classes. I took a bag with some of my "tools" (a book about feelings, a stress ball, a magic wand, and---of course---my celebrity sidekick Mr. Squishy). I used the props to explain what my job is in the building. I told them where my office is, as well as how they can request an appointment if they need one. Then I planted myself in the hall with my new tablet to hold the individual Minute Meetings.
A good time was had by all. The kids got a kick out of being able to punch in their answers on the tablet. I enjoyed sharing. And later, at recess time when the classes went by my office on their way to the playground, I heard a few excited voices saying, "There's her room!" and "Hey, I see Mr. Squishy!"
Best of all, I had a few kids who said yes, they have something they'd like to speak to me about. Without a Minute Meeting, I may never have connected with them. I feel good knowing that soon all 500 students will at least know who the heck I am and what I do, and will have the opportunity to ask for help. Awesome!