Where does the time go?
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.
Who's a Lucky Duck?
Today was a very VERY busy day in School Counseling World (maybe because of the super moon last night?). It was a day that called for a little retail therapy after school.
But since I'm not a normal person, my retail therapy did not take place in a shoe store. It took place on Vistaprint.
Look. How. Awesome. . .
So, yeah. I enjoyed the Minute Meeting thing last year, but there were some aspects that didn't really work for me. For one thing, "Minute Meeting" was something of a misnomer so there were only a couple of classes in which I got to meet all of the students. In all, I met slightly more than half the students that way. Not bad, but nowhere near as many as I had hoped.
Also, having lunch with me is now a highly coveted "thing" in our building. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and invite different kids to eat lunch with me throughout the year as a way to at least meet them and touch base. I'm putting class lists on my bulletin board so I can check off those who've already come and see who I've missed.
I think I can have some success with this because:
1) I can eat lunch with 3 or 4 kids at once, so can get through an entire class in about 8 lunch periods.
2) Since our 500+ students are now divided among 5 different 20-minute lunch periods, even if I only schedule lunches one day per week I can see up to 20 kids in that one day.
Of course good intentions and all that, but it feels pretty doable (stop laughing). I'll let you know in June.
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!
Advice on Being a Rock Star
My own kids may not want to be seen with me in public but---like most of you, I bet---at school I'm a rock star. I can't walk into a classroom or the cafeteria without being mobbed by kids yelling, "Take me, take ME!"
When I began feeling overwhelmed and irritated instead of flattered by the number of kids asking to see me, I decided to set up a system. I started requiring the upper grade students (4th and 5th) to fill out an appointment request form. I printed them on purple paper, and gave a stack to each of the classroom teachers. I went into the classes at snack time and explained what the problem was with the current (non)system, what I hoped to achieve with the purple forms, and how they would work.
This has helped on a number of levels:
One note if you've looked at the form: the question about using the "stop signal" refers to a PBIS strategy that our assistant principal taught the whole school to use if someone was bothering them.
So far, my favorite response to "What have you done to try and make things better?"---"I hit her." And what happened? "Problem is ongoing." Really? Shocking! :-)
This little form has helped tremendously, because now when kids act like the paparazzi chasing a Kardashian, all I have to say is, "Did you fill out a purple form?"
Now I just need to come up with something for the staff...