Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Role of the School Counselor: Advocating for Change

 Sheryl Kline is a high school counselor at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa.  Previously, she worked at Central City CSD for two years as a Grades K-12 and one year as a 4-12 School Counselor.  Sheryl is also a former ISCA Board Member.  

I recently came to the somewhat startling answer to the question I have asked so many times before, “Why do administrators care so much why we change our title?” I am not sure about the rest of you, but this question has nagged at me since graduate school five years ago. I could not wrap my head around why administrators, or anyone who has a say in what school counselors’ titles are, cared so much about a name change. Today, I realized that the name change means that administrators also will have to shift their ideas about what we do. Just like those die-hard “guidance counselors” out there, administrators are afraid of what this title change might mean for their schools and who will do the miscellaneous things that often fall into the laps of a school counselor.  Many of these tasks don't fit into what a school counselor should or could be doing to be effective in helping all students achieve. We all know those duties: testing coordinator, scheduler extraordinaire, and expert student lunch and recess supervisor. How do we effectively advocate for change? How do we get administrators beyond this anxiety that our role has changed?  This blog post will give you some ideas about how to begin the process of change that many of us are striving to make in defining our role as a school counselor.

Below are some tips you can use to start making changes in your building and with your administrator.

1. Start small. I had a professor in graduate school who repeatedly told us not to expect huge, sweeping changes in the first year as a professional nor should you attempt them. I took this advice seriously and spent most of my first year relatively quietly infusing the term “school counselor” into my conversations and lessons in the building. I corrected teachers, parents, and administrators politely when they called me a guidance counselor.  My first lessons in the elementary were used to introduce what a school counselor does with and for students. When the administration decided to put signs up outside the offices around the building, I asked to have my sign say “School Counselor.” People began to notice and slowly shifted their vocabulary as well. This, however, didn’t happen without some playful jabs from teachers and my principal about how adamant I was about being called a school counselor, but I took it all in stride. In my current school, my first encounter with the district administrator in charge of school counselors was to ask her to call us school counselors instead of “guidance counselors” after repeatedly cringing in an orientation session with her. I still have to remind people, and it sometimes annoys me, but without this small piece of advocacy, there will be no change.

2. Get administrators on your side and follow the chain of command.   This is so important, and I share it whenever I make a presentation. I will repeat this mantra until I am blue in the face. I think this is the key to any change in your building. Administrators are the decision makers, and you NEED them on your side. There are several things you can do to make this happen: take on extra duties (within reason – don’t burn yourself out), align your goals and the counseling goals with your district, principal and building goals.  Meet with your principal on a regular basis. There are most certainly going to be administrators that don’t seem to budge.  As with any difficult student, you should build rapport with them and approach them in a way that is open and complimentary. You want to find a way to “scratch their backs so that they will scratch yours.” Think of those resistant administrators as a resistant student.  What things do you do to win those students over and apply the same techniques to working with administrators.

Also, principals get annoyed when staff members bypass them by to talk to the superintendent or another district level person to get any change to happen. Principals want to be involved, and since they are often your direct supervisors, you should keep them privy of your plans rather than blindsiding them with news from someone higher up. Your principal can often also help you make the changes you are wanting and help you align your goals to district goals. Principals also seem to know how to word things to get them through other administrative approval, whether it be with your superintendent or your school board. The district level administrators also seem to give their opinion a little more weight.

3. Use data.  School counselors know the vast amount of tasks we do on a day to day basis and about how many kids we may have impacted. However, our stakeholders don't always understand what we do or what value we add to our schools. It is important to share this information using data. Whether you are using process, perception, or outcome data, these numbers and direct quotes can have a powerful effect on your audience. In our presentation to the school board, we made sure to include the number of students we worked with and information about what parents and students said they wanted from us.  We always included data about the impact of our program. School board members and administration can hopefully get behind you when you have this information readily available in a meeting or discussion. It is also a very good idea to share the data throughout the year in a quick email to those stakeholders who are critical in helping you deliver part of your program, especially administrators. I have found that my administrators often want to know things in black and white, so be prepared to talk about your program using a results report that has specific data.  How are students different because of what the school counselor did?

4. Work with teachers and parents to make programming changes they support. To go along with the "Use Data" advice above, survey your parents and students about what they need. Then, find people to help you make the changes necessary to deliver the programming. Because I often have a hard time letting go of big projects and delegating work, this tip was difficult for me. In my second year as a school counselor, I started a Career Day with grades 7-12. I found all of the career speakers, developed a schedule for the day, and assigned each student to their career speakers on my own. Doing all of the work was stressful, so when a teacher approached me about having her junior high students do all of the work as part of her class, I was happy to share the duties but reluctant to give up something I worked so hard on. The day didn't go exactly as I had planned, but I was able to focus on other programming, and it wasn't far from my original design. I also used connections with the PTA to help start a Girls on the Run program. They helped me get the word out about the group, coach, and get other girls involved with our program. Without the teachers and parents in our buildings and districts, things often don’t get done or work as well as we want. We need a team to support us and give access to students that are sometimes difficult to reach because we don’t have a classroom or set time to meet with them.

5. Realize that there will always be resistors. Everett Rogers explains the distribution of people who adopt a change in "Diffusion of Innovations." We all know those people that seem to want to stand in our way or tell us it won't work - the late majorities and laggards. These people are always going to be around. Don't let them discourage you. Resistance will mainly happen with those traditional events that have been happening for years before you and will occur years after you have gone. My principals have been my biggest supporters and my biggest critics. They seem to have all of the most annoying, but important questions every time I wanted to change something or try something new. I have found that the best way to address resistors is to come to the table with a plan and contingencies for things that could go wrong or that others would resist. This gives your resistors choices and control in what you are changing. Also, if you have everything planned out, your principal won't have to do as much. They have plenty going on besides figuring out how you are going to deliver your program in a way that will jive with the rest of the school’s plans.

6. Change takes time! This is the most important thing to remember. Change does not happen overnight. It can take years. I spent my first two years as a K-12 counselor working my tail off. I wanted to prove that I could do everything in the district on my own.  However, this demonstrated how much more we could get done with two school counselors. I had a lot of ideas.  I wanted to change a lot of things, but my high school principal knew I couldn't do it alone. By the third year, the district hired a second counselor. Besides my comments about needing another person, I didn't do much more than the things above and doing my job as a school counselor. Once I was able to start putting a program in place, the two principals and superintendent knew we needed to add another counselor to best serve our students. I can't say that this was all because of me because the operational sharing bill that allowed for districts to share counselors happened in the same year.  The bill certainly made it easier on the district’s budget to add a counselor. We were able to find a way to share with another district to bring in the second counselor. Though this wouldn't have happened without the sharing agreement, it also wouldn't have happened if I hadn't asked for a second counselor, repeatedly.  Even now, as budget cuts are being made, the district has maintained the two positions. This change was in the best interest of the students, and they are lucky to have both school counselors. I hope that the new counselors can continue working on building the comprehensive and developmental program because there is still more to be done.

Overall, I would encourage all school counselors to make your voices be heard. You can't get what you want if you don't ask for it. These tips can help, but advocacy is going to look different for each person and each school. There may be some things that work for you that just won't work in other school environments. It is important to get a good picture of what is possible and not possible in your building. Tackle those things that you know you can change first, and take the time to make slowly the changes that are best for your program.  Remember, the change may only directly affect you, but it is also going to impact others, especially if it challenges their mindset about the role of the school counselor.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Advocacy: Giving Students A Voice

Jaclyn Dehner is a School Counselor at Findley Elementary in Des Moines.  She will be joining the ISCA board as 2016-17 President Elect-Elect.

From the very beginning of our graduate programs, as professional school counselors, we are educated on the importance of advocacy. It is our role to advocate for those who do not have a voice; students with unmet needs, families with barriers, and even teachers without support. We are bred to be the change agents in the field of education, rising to every obstacle, in hopes of making a difference. However, as education reform continues, it is time for us as school counselors to stop and view advocacy from a new perspective.  There is an old proverb that states: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” This proverb can effortlessly connect to the relationship between advocacy and students. As school counselors, it is natural for us to advocate on behalf of our students but teaching them to advocate for themselves is much more atypical.

At Findley Elementary School, we refer to all of our students as dreamers. From the moment students’ walk-in through the front doors, they are reminded of their ability to dream big, aim high, and believe.  A natural culture-and-climate of this statute allows students to feel an overall positive sense of self-worth and importance. It only seemed fitting, as the school counselor, to teach students their ability to advocate on behalf of their beliefs.  Inspired by the proverb mentioned, I decided to make a conscious effort to teach my elementary students how to use their voice to make a difference.   With the assistance of my fifth-grade teachers, we selected students to attend the Iowa School Counselor Association’s (ISCA) Visit the Hill Day held last March.

In best efforts to enhance the overall experience of visiting the State Capitol, I invited ISCA’s lobbyists, The Capital Group, to Findley, where they educated the students on government, lobbying, and current bills. This insight allowed the students to mentally and intellectually prepare for their visit to the hill. On March 7th, with the assistance of Billy Kirby from the I Have a Dream Foundation, we escorted six Findley Elementary students to Visit the Hill. After having the opportunity to hear from multiple speakers and learning how to give “elevator speeches,” we headed straight for the State Capitol where we first started our visit with a private tour from one of the restoration artists on site, Zack Bunkers.
Pradeep Kotamraju, CTE Bureau Chief and VTH Keynote Speaker
Representative Ruth Ann Gaines
Senator Dick Dearden

After learning about the prestigious history of the State Capitol building, students were eager to start “calling out” legislators. At only the age of 10, Findley students exuded bravery and passion as they spoke to both Senators and Representatives on educational topics relevant to them including student-to-counselor ratios, funding, conservation efforts, and college and career readiness.

Representative Tedd Gassman
Calling out Senator Dick Dearden

Senator Dick Dearden
Miss Iowa

 Following the Visit the Hill event, students invited the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, Dr. Ryan Wise, to Findley Elementary School. Dr. Wise’s visit included a tour of the school and a meeting with the six students who lobbied at the State Capitol. The meeting with Dr. Wise allowed the students to reflect on their experience as well as open a discussion for their opinions on important educational topics. 
Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise visiting Findley Elementary
No longer was I standing alone, as the school counselor, speaking on the behalf of my students and colleagues. Instead, I stood tall and proud as I observed my students “fishing” on their own; using their own voice to advocate for what they believed to be impactful on their education. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

ISCA Visit the Hill Day Highlights - March 7, 2016

The Iowa ACAC and ISCA Visit the Hill Day was another complete success!  Folks from all over the state came to Des Moines to learn more about advocacy skills in the morning session.  In the afternoon, we headed to the capital to visit with senators and representatives!  We had school counselors, grad students, teachers, college admissions folks, retired educators, AEA representatives and a lot of students attend this year!  It was very exciting and educational for the students and adults.   

ISCA would like to thank Iowa ACAC for their generous support and invitation to participate in Visit the Hill Day.  We are very fortunate to collaborate and partner with this group of professional and dedicated college admissions folks!   

The day started with a keynote address by Dr. Pradeep Kotamraju.  Dr. Kotamraju is the Bureau Chief of the Career and Technical Education and Division of Community Colleges from the Iowa Department of Education. We were excited to hear the updates and recommendations from the Career and Technical Education committee.  Dr. Kotamraju's opening address was very informative, and it started the day with great information to use when advocating for our students!  Thank you, Dr. Kotamraju!  We appreciate your time and support for Iowa students, school counselors, and college admissions counselors. 

Dr, Pradeep Kotamraju, Iowa Department of Education

CTE Committee District Plan

Pradeep with Findley Elementary students and School Counselor Jaclyn Dehner.

Cedar Falls Junior High School Counselor Becky Lins and UNI grad students attended VTH for the first time!
School Counselors from Cedar Falls High School and Peet Junior High.
Erin Gardner, Susan Langan, and Becky Lins
It is always good to see school counselors friends from across the state attend VTH day.
Erin Garder, Aaron Cretin, Susan Langan

The agenda for the morning was spectacular. Thanks to all of our presenters.  

  • Early FAFSA & Prior-Prior Year by Erick Danielson, Iowa College Access Network
  • Speaking Up With Authority: Making Students the Key Issue in School Counselor Advocacy Efforts by Susan Langan, Cedar Falls High School
  • Condition of Higher Education in Iowa byHeather Doe, Iowa College Student Aid Commission
  •     Advocacy Training by Jos Linn, RESULTS, Inc. 
  • Build Your Advocacy Toolkit: Learning from ASCA’s School Counselor of the Year Finalists by Matthew J. Beck, Doctoral Student, University of Iowa andErin Lane, Doctoral Student, University of Iowa 
  •  Career & College Planning by Erick Danielson, Iowa College Access Network
  • Why Should You Get Involved? High School Student Advocacy Makes a Difference! by Cedar Falls High School Students

The best part is always the visit to the beautiful Iowa Capital.  We had a gorgeous day, so our group ended up walking.  It was one of the best VTH Days ever! 

As we were going upstairs, one of our students, Michael Flanscha saw Governor Branstad, eating lunch in the cafeteria.  Being the great student advocate that he is, he approached him, and we got a picture together! 

Michael Flanscha, Alex Mong, Tyler Campbell, Governor Terry Branstad, Olivia Habinck, Justin Gray, Rita Tewolde

Visit the Hill Day is has been much more meaningful and impactful because of The Capital Group, ISCA's Lobbyist group.  Thank you to Jim Obradovich, Pete McRoberts, and Bob Mulqueen for giving us guidance on advocating for our students!

Visiting the legislators is always the highlight of Visit the Hill Day.  Our senators and representatives got to visit with and hear our stories, and we made a difference!  We want to make a special shout out to Des Moines School Counselors, Jaclyn Dehner and Nyla Mowery for bringing their elementary students.  We look forward to a blog post from Jaclyn sharing her insights from the day!

Senator Jeff Danielson and representatives from Cedar Falls Community Schools.

Representative Ruth Gaines and the Findley Elementary students.

Findley Elementary students are sharing their stories with Senator Dick Dearden.

It was a FANTASTIC day!  We learned a lot, we talked and advocated a lot, and we also had a lot of FUN!  We can't wait until next year!!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Walking a Thin Line: From Eating Disorder Survivor to School Counselor

DM Register article.jpg
The word "advocacy" has always intimidated me a little bit.  And if you put it in the same sentence as "legislation," I would typically run the other way.  Well, I have recently come to realize the importance of both as they relate to me personally, as well as to our profession as school counselors.

You see, Senate File 2204 (SF 2204) was recently introduced by Iowa Senator Matt McCoy.  This legislation relates to insurance coverage for the assessment and treatment of eating disorders.  On the federal level, the Anna Westin Act (HR 2515) is a piece of bipartisan eating disorders legislation, currently in the US Senate, that would not only help improve insurance coverage for eating disorders but also seeks to provide early identification of eating disorders through training for school personnel and health professionals.  The Educating to Prevent Eating Disorders Act (HR 4153) would establish a middle school early intervention program.  This is perfect timing given that February 21-27 was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

What does that have to do with me, a school counselor who has, until now, cringed at the thought of becoming involved in anything even semi-political?  Well, I am an eating disorder survivor.  Anorexia and bulimia nearly took my life, just like they have for an estimated 20% of individuals suffering.  Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females ages 15-24.  There is no doubt in my mind that I would have died from my eating disorder had I not received inpatient treatment when I did, at the age of 16.  And I wouldn't have received this treatment had my mom's employer not threatened to pull their entire insurance contract after the insurance company's initial denial of services.  My parents, a self-employed auto mechanic and school custodian, never would have been able to pay the $1000+ daily cost of inpatient treatment required to save my life.  
After staying strong in recovery for several years, I joined a group of people with a similar passion for eating disorders awareness and prevention.  We founded the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa, which became a non-profit organization in 2010.  At the same time, I was told by family and close friends that this passion of mine was clearly my purpose, and I began my master's program in school counseling.  What better way to educate others and prevent eating disorders than to encourage body positivity, teach mindfulness, and promote media literacy in schools?  With 42% of 1st-3rd-grade girls wanting to be thinner, 81% of 10-year-olds afraid of being fat, and the harm being caused by weighing and measuring kids at school, we as school counselors can make an incredible impact by educating our students and identifying eating disorders in the early stages.  This webinar, provided by ISCA, EDCI, and the Iowa College Access Network (ICAN) offers information and resources relating to eating disorders and body image in schools.  Also, last fall I sent out a survey on behalf of EDCI to you to help identify the needs of your schools and districts.  My goal, and the goal of EDCI is to offer tangible resources to meet these needs and to serve as your primary contact for classroom, assembly, or professional development presentations, or other outreach and education opportunities.

So there's the advocacy I'm talking about.  Who knew it would be so easy?  But what about the legislation.  We always hear "Contact your legislators!"  But can I do that?  I mean, how do I get their contact information?  Aren't they busy?  And what do I even write?

Interestingly enough, when you have a passion and a purpose, it is quite simple.  Last night, I gathered the contact information for all of the state legislators and organized them into this neat spreadsheet. (See, you have one less thing to do!)  Then I wrote a very convincing email, requesting their support for SF 2204.  Sharing a few facts about eating disorders and some of my personal narrative, the words came easier than I expected.  Unbelievably, I received my first response within an hour!  (Hmm, maybe they aren't as busy as I thought!)  That is when I learned that this advocacy and legislature thing wasn't as bad as it seemed.  In fact, I am fueled by the excitement of receiving responses that validate my cause, support this legislation, and reinforce why I chose this rewarding profession.  This is truly what it means to make a difference--systemic change!

Votes will be taken on SF 2204 within the next 5-7 days.  And the Anna Westin Act will be moving to the Senate very soon.  HR 4153 was recently referred to the US Subcommittee on Health.  Now that you know you can do this too, I hope you will.  I am even giving you the contact information for our Washington leaders.  I would love to know that your first act of legislative advocacy included promoting these important, life-saving bills.  In doing so, you are not only effecting change for our students but for our profession and for me, your colleague and friend.       

Write and tell me about your first experience with legislative advocacy!  You can find me on social media too!  
Ann Christiansen, MSEd
K-8 School Counselor
St. Theresa Catholic School, Des Moines
"You are valuable just because you exist.  Not because of what you do, or what you have done, but simply because you are."  ~Max Lucado

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Accountability and Advocacy: A Dependent Duo

This fall, I was interviewed by a school counseling graduate student. He asked me what shift I saw as most likely to occur over the course of the next five to ten years in school counseling. I replied, without hesitation, “accountability and advocacy.”

As school counselors, we do a great job of sharing what we are doing with each other, yet we fail to share that same information with key stakeholders. I often hear from counselors that they do not want to appear to be bragging (Nice Counselor Syndrome) or more often, that they don’t know what data to share. As in all other professions, knowing what data to present and then letting the data do the talking takes some analysis and effort, but it is manageable and will prove to be a powerful agent in the arenas of accountability and advocacy.

This year, our district (Ames Community Schools) revamped our school counseling curriculum when we formally adopted the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success. With this shift came a groundbreaking opportunity for us to promote through instruction and embed the use of grit and a growth mindset within our building culture. Introduced last year briefly, I was able to educate PLCs about the research behind and advocate for the potential of increasing motivation and productivity through teaching the use a growth mindset, using both Carol Dweck and John Hattie’s work. From there, I partnered with our instructional coach and a few of the PLCs to assess and analyze students’ attitudes, skills and knowledge about their own mindsets. We were able to refine our instruction to meet those needs and enrich understanding. (All grade levels were assessed.) Formative data was gathered at the end of lessons to ensure that before deepening the instruction, students were understanding the content. Lessons were tailored to meet the needs of students and drive them forward in their thinking. Small groups were held to support students who needed additional instruction. We became so invested in our purpose that we developed what we termed Mindset Metacognition, a concept and skill challenging students to think about their thinking to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Teachers emailed me often, sharing evidence how students were thinking about their mindsets, as well as challenging themselves and others to change from fixed to growth. I contacted our Director of School, Community and Media Relations, who is a graphics guru, and she created a visually appealing, educational infographic for families. The infographic included suggestions and questions they could ask, encouraging a shift in the language used about goal setting, achievement and motivation. Now, our community and building have come together while using a common language to promote grit and a growth mindset. This past week, I analyzed the most recent data collected (through post-assessments and artifacts produced) and the results were quite impressive.

What do I do with it? What do I share? I have so much data; it’s almost overwhelming. If you collect data, have you had these thoughts before? I assure you that I have them often, but what has changed is now I get very excited about the possibility of ALL I can do with the data. Coincidentally, my building had a SINA review meeting this week. Key stakeholders of our district were to be present, including our District Superintendent, Associate Superintendent, Director of Student Services, Director of Special Education, Data and Assessment Coordinator, and school board members. Staff were also invited to attend the meeting. My building administrator asked me to share about our work on grit and growth mindset development, including the goal setting process that we implemented last year for Iowa Assessments. (Our test results improved!) I agreed, and then went data hunting. What do I want to share? My results report was almost complete, but I knew that I had a unique opportunity to advocate with process, perception and results data holistically. I modified the results report and reached out to teachers, and recognized the difficulty to connect school-wide counseling curriculum to individual student’s grades, so I had planned to use Iowa Assessments for gathering results data. Those assessments aren’t until February and the results won’t arrive until spring, so that is to be determined. Perception data (pre-/post-tests, artifacts, etc.) is helpful to share, but this group would be looking for direct ties to student learning and achievement.

Now, before continuing, here are a few thoughts on a related topic: our accountability system. As we move from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I think we can all agree that a progressive accountability system would and should align state accountability to student-centered learning to provide achievement for all students. NCLB measured student proficiency using one single assessment- one snapshot in time. This does not work in terms of student-centered learning or growth. Using multiple measures throughout the year to support growth, drive instruction and guide decision making is essential for our students. For as much as NCLB attempted to focus on equity by breaking down total scores into subgroups, one assessment is not enough. Accountability systems should celebrate improvement, examine how the achievement gap is being closed, identify what individuals or subgroups of students need interventions, and provide resources for all of the above. ESSA will allow states to design accountability systems that do just that. For now, though, the accountability system is the Iowa Assessments so that is what we work with, knowing that restructuring will occur and with it will come more opportunities to examine student growth and, therefore, be accountable to student needs in real time.

Reviewing my data, I recalled the emails that were flooding my inbox about kids “sticking with it” and “challenging their mindsets.” I decided to go straight to the source, directly to the front lines. I asked teachers to provide specific, anecdotal evidence of students using grit and a growth mindset while they were learning and working. The testimonials that came in were exactly what we had been missing from the results report. I added those and presented our results report, complete with testimonials about students from teachers, to the SINA review committee. They took time to read through the report, and I took time to explain it. The outcomes are impressive; we have been working on them all year and those are not the only outcomes, but what I chose to include in that specific report. I did talk about what I was teaching and modeling for students, but also included how teamwork and community support rallied together to push this forward for our students. Questions were asked and questions were answered, not only by me, but also by my colleagues, who could speak knowledgeably about the work and the results.

When we examine our actions, and how students are different as a result of our actions, I think there can be a number of success indicators. I believe the success indicator changes dependent upon the setting. In this setting, one success indicator was language used by educators to talk about reform and progress. Although I was the professional asked to speak on behalf of grit and growth mindset development occurring within our building, the words “grit” and “growth mindset” came up multiple times throughout the entire meeting. As educators spoke about their instruction and assessment, they used those words in powerfully accurate ways. At the end of our meeting, our Superintendent shared that he saw a building using exactly what we were teaching our students→ grit. If I was evaluating that meeting, I would not only see that the data reflects how our instruction has positively influenced students, but has also had a similar effect on teachers.

In the four years that I have been working as a professional school counselor, I’ve learned so many things, but one of my foundational beliefs is that we can teach our students in our 30-minute time block once a week or once every two weeks. I see the influence that occurs when teachers are present and invested in the work we are doing. There is a vast amount of learning and teaching that can be carried over into the classroom teacher’s own instruction, thus increasing the potency. This starts with building relationships with teachers (like we do with kids) and again, letting the data do the talking. I researched my way to the inside of Carol Dweck’s mind and John Hattie’s frontal lobe before I presented my action plan to PLCs. We have to have evidence of effectiveness to back up our goals if we want others to jump on board.

Up next, we are actively working to help students set short and long term goals for the Iowa Assessments, an action step we believe produced desired outcomes last year. I know that, again, I can sit with mountains of data and relish every moment of examining it on my own, or I can share it with stakeholders, partner with colleagues and let the data talk for me.

Accountability and advocacy are integral parts of school counselors’ working lives, but one without the other is not enough. They are not mutually exclusive but instead depend on one another for survival. School counselors are tasked with being change agents and while we may very well be influencing change with the best of intentions, if we aren’t collecting, examining and disseminating pertinent data in a timely and appropriate way, we are leaving much to be desired. Challenge yourselves to self-reflect. What are you missing? What do you need? What realistic/idealistic steps can you take forward to improve your own accountability AND advocacy efforts? We need you.

Yours in accountability and advocacy,

Riley Drake
School and Family Counselor
Sawyer Elementary
Ames Community Schools

2015-2016 Sawyer Elementary Grit and Growth Mindset Development Results Report:

For more information on Ames school counseling programming:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

School Counseling at a Crossroads: The Road Ahead for Iowa’s School Counselors

David Ford is Postsecondary Success Lead for Mississippi Bend AEA in Bettendorf, Iowa.  Dave is also part of a statewide collaborative known as the Iowa College and Career Readiness Roadmap Team, which has been leading the charge in Iowa to ensure that ALL Iowa students will be able to #ReachHigher and have postsecondary success. In this blog, he shares the work that is being done and how it will impact the role of school counselors.  Check out this interesting and exciting account of school counselor advocacy at the highest level!

Exactly one year ago, I sat in the audience at the ISCA Conference and listened as Trish Hatch asked us to make a personal commitment to improve college and career readiness outcomes for students.  I committed to “provide targeted professional development for school counselors and training for graduate students aligned with proven strategies to increase postsecondary outcomes for students” (yes, I had to go back in my twitter feed for that one).  I am not exactly sure how I did, but I do know that I honored the intent of that commitment.  In fact, so much that it has become my professional identity - quite literally (if you need further evidence, my twitter handle is @TheCCRAdvocate)!

Throughout the last year, I traveled around the state engaging in conversations with a wide variety of stakeholders, organizations, and education and business leaders.  Using those good old-fashioned counseling skills of listening, reflecting, and paraphrasing, I learned a lot about what others think of school counseling, specifically as it relates to college and career readiness.  It has taken its toll on me - I had to face some harsh realities that the perception we hold of ourselves is often quite different from the perceptions others hold of us.  Let me share some of the comments I heard, often from very influential individuals in high-ranking positions:
  • “Counselors don’t want to provide career guidance to students”
  • “Counselors aren’t interested in helping students with postsecondary planning”
  • “Counselors lack the training to support students career development and college planning”
  • “Counselors say they are too busy with mental health issues to take on college advising”

My initial reaction (in my head) was, “Which counselors?  I’ll call them!”  But the reality is there may be a degree of truth to these statements.  As Dr. Hatch mentioned last year, we are “a marginalized profession advocating for marginalized students.”  School Counselors must engage in important advocacy efforts to change this perception. Now is the time to get in the game and refuse to sit idly by while others define the role of School Counselors in Iowa.  

Now is the time to take a stand and BE BOLD!

Unfortunately, I will not be attending the ISCA Conference this year.  Instead, I will be representing ISCA, along with Meredith Dohmen, ISCA’s VP for Counseling Directors and the Student Supports Coordinator at Des Moines Public Schools, at the White House Convening on Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising.  We will be attending along with seven other leaders strongly committed to this cause.  Even more exciting are the names and positions of the others who will join us and thus have accepted the call to strengthen school counseling and college advising in Iowa:

  • Nancy Ankeny-Hunt, Consultant, Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Learner Strategies and Supports
  • Rob Denson, President, Des Moines Area Community College
  • Jeff Herzberg, Chief Administrator, Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency
  • Wade Leuwerke, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Drake University, School of Education, Department of Leadership and Counseling
  • Duane (D.T.) Magee, Executive Director, Iowa Board of Educational Examiners
  • Rachel Scott, Division Administrator - Outreach, Iowa College Student Aid Commission
  • Amy Vybiral, Consultant, Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Career and Technical Education

These individuals represent agencies which have a vested interest in supporting school counseling to achieve Future Ready Iowa’s goal - 70% of Iowans in the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025.  The outcomes of their respective organizations and professions are tightly connected to the idea that strong school counseling and college advising is necessary.  

Specifically, the White House Convening will address state policies and metrics associated with six areas, all of which were identified in 2014 during the first White House Convening on this topic:

  1. Designing or revising school counselor preparation at higher education to ensure adequate standards for school counselors in College and Career Readiness (CCR)

  1. Developing, improving, and sustaining partnerships between university training programs and K-12 school districts to ensure field site placements and activities during fieldwork and training for site supervisors and administrators align with new requirements in CCR

  1. Writing and implementing minimum credentialing/certificate standards for all who participate in CCR activities (university training programs, K-12 school districts, college access staff, and not-for-profit/non-profit college access groups)

  1. Supporting professional development in districts for school counselors and CCR service providers ensuring a collaborative scaffolding of agreed upon roles and services

  1. Creating policies, practices, and procedures that support hiring, supervision, and placement of appropriately trained/certificated/licensed CCR service providers ensuring responsibilities are tied to training (job descriptions, evaluation tools, etc.)

  1. Providing opportunities to develop strategic partnerships with donors, funders, and researchers interested in evaluating or supporting any or all of this work, promoting new systemic change models, and discovering evidence based practices to support school counselors and the students they serve

The Convening will bring together state leaders and national experts to create state-specific action plans and address policies and practices most likely to leverage an impact toward creating a Future Ready Iowa and support President Obama’s College Opportunity Agenda and the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative.  Hosted by the National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success, the end goal is to “increase the number of traditionally underserved students prepared for, entering, and succeeding in postsecondary education by focusing on ways to strengthen, align, and expand the college-going pipeline locally, and concomitantly, at the state and national levels.”

To continue the question Trish Hatch posed to us all at last year’s ISCA Conference, what will your commitment be to improve college and career readiness outcomes for all students?  Earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted, “School Counselors are truly the deciding factor in whether our young people attend college” - what other inspiration do we need?  Now is the time.  Be BOLD.

David has been a school counselor in New York and Iowa and has worked in the elementary, middle and high school levels. His previous position before working for the Mississippi Bend AEA was the District At-Risk/Counseling Coordinator at Southeast Polk CSD.   

David Ford

Postsecondary Success Lead & General Education Consultant
Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency
729 21st Street
Bettendorf, IA 52722