I am not cutout to do the work of a secondary school counselor - or should I say - I'm not cutout to work with that age group. The elementary school student is the perfect fit for me. That being said, for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to incorporate something that secondary school counselors do every year - meet with every student on his/her caseload. It just didn't seem to be a possibility for me over the years for a number of reasons. The first stumbling block was my elementary caseload ranging anywhere from 650:1 to 800:1. The second stumbling block was the fact that I'm an urban educator with extremely unpredictable days and a vast amount of student daily needs. The third stumbling block was time. How in the world would I find the time to do something as extensive as this? Finally, the sheer thought of it all (handling everyday items and meeting with every student) seemed so completely overwhelming. Hence, year after year the idea was always put on the back burner.
Then, last school year I came across Danielle's post on School Counselor Blog describing her Minute Meetings she conducted at the middle school level. Her post helped me to conceptualize how something like this could be/would be do-able for an urban elementary school counselor.
Why do I think meeting with every student is useful and important?
- I would have the opportunity to speak to every K-5 kiddo. Each meeting would be another opportunity to make a meaningful connection with each student.
- The meetings would be, in essence, a school-wide screening tool to help me address student needs.
- The meeting results would help me assess the school counseling program and curriculum (and other social emotional learning initiatives) in order to make necessary changes and/or upgrades.
- The meetings would be an academic, career, and personal-social check-in.
- I would be assisting students in planning for life beyond high school -- to become college and career ready.
- Through this tool, I would be giving every student another opportunity to express concerns, needs, or to ask for help.
Student Interview Questions
Every student has one of the above sheets (copied on the front and back - to use over multiple years). I am housing these student sheets in alphabetical order in 3-ring binders - sorted by teacher and grade level. I have binders for K and 1, 2 and 3, 4 and 5. Next year, I will sort the student data sheets into their new classes and grade levels.
I printed 3 of these sheets out on cardstock and laminated them. I keep one sheet in each of the above mentioned binders.
I named my meetings with every student, Mini-Meetings. I planned on each student meeting to take roughly 2 minutes. After I developed the questions and rating scales, I secured my administrator's blessing to implement the idea. I decided to implement the Mini-Meetings now (in December) as a precursor to starting small support groups in January. Next, I emailed all of the classroom teachers explaining the Mini-Meetings and asked each of them for a time of day that would work best. I asked for an hour time slot in which I could pull students individually into the hallway. I obtained the most recent classroom roster lists from the office so I could accurately fill in student information for each class prior to arriving for the Mini-Meetings.
Conducting the Mini-Meetings
I am currently working my way through the school, class-by-class, conducting the Mini-Meetings. When I arrive to a classroom, I explain to the entire class that it is an exciting day for me - that I am going to have the pleasure of meeting with each student for a Mini-2-Minute Meeting. I explain that I have 11 questions to ask them. Then, I tell them the procedures - after each student is finished with me, I will tell him/her to quietly and quickly go tap the shoulder of the next student. I explain that they cannot dilly-dally - we need to keep moving. I express that I expect them to answer honestly because I want to get to know each of them better.
In the hallway I have, my clipboard with all of the student sheets, one laminated rating scale, a timer, 2 pens (in case one runs out), some water for myself :), 2 chairs and a desk. I have been experimenting with setting the timer for 2 minutes or not at all.
When the student sits down, I have him/her refer to the rating scale. For the first two questions, students will be looking at the first row of faces. I actually point to each of the faces and read some of the face descriptors in the small boxes. The students make their choices and their answers are recorded on the student data sheet. I move on to the remainder of the questions and refer back to the faces for the question about how he/she is doing/feeling.
My logistical learnings so far....
- Most classes are taking roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes to get through.
- The older kiddos have been taking longer because they are struggling in the career section. Unfortunately, they are having difficulty identifying what they want to be when they grow up.
- It is also taking me longer to get through the older kiddos' classrooms because they are not as quick with the transition between students.
- If I keep moving with the questions, there is no need to set the timer and there is even some time to have students expand on some of their answers.
- Fill out all the sheets with student names and teacher names prior to the Mini-Meeting date and time. Then, all that needs to be done for each meeting is to fill in the date of the actual Mini-Meeting. Any student who does not have a date filled in was absent or did not speak with me for whatever reason. It makes it easier to go back and do make-ups.
My learnings for the academic section so far....
- I tell them that I am looking for an honest answer on how they are feeling in both of these areas. If students have indicated that they hate school or they don't like school, I ask them to clarify their answers. When students choose either of these two responses, I think "hmmm." If they choose the so-so, I am also thinking "hmmm."
My learnings for the career section so far...
- Older students are struggling to identify what they want to be when they grow up or what career they want to have. For the younger students I have elaborated on the questions asking "Where do you want to work?" or "What job do you want to have?"
- Overall, students are having difficulty identifying what they need to be good at to have their identified career.
- Overall, students are having difficulty identifying what education and training they would need for that career. So, I have been prompting the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students with the education/training options of: high school diploma, technical school, on the job training, college degree, or advanced degree. Even then, they are having difficulty. In my mind I'm thinking... this was taught to all 3rd grade students, reviewed in 4th, and reviewed in 5th.
- For the younger students (and some of the older ones) for the education/training question, I have been rewording the item to ask, "Where would you learn how to do that career/job?"
- This career category has been an "a-ha" moment for me.
My learnings for the personal/social section so far...
- Many students are asking if I want to know how they are feeling "today." I have been responding, "yes."
- I'm getting some outrageous numbers for the "number of friends" item. With this age group, it seems that the more friends the better (like it is a contest or something). To me, 0 is a red flag, I'm listening closely to their tone of voice when they answer the question, and otherwise, I am learning that I need to follow-up about meaningful/true friendships.
- For the first bullying question, I have been saying and will change the written question to..."What will you do if you are bullied, worried, scared, or if someone is hurting you in some way?" I've been asking them to identify the adult if they say "tell an adult."
- For the second bullying question, I have been saying and will change the written question to..."What will you do if you see/hear someone being bullied or if someone tells you that he/she is worried, scared or being hurt in some way?" I've been asking them to identify the adult if they say "tell an adult."
My learnings for the "other" section...
- I have been saying, "Do you have anything you want to ask me? or Do you have any worries or something that I can help you with?"
- Most responses have been NO, but there have been some that have identified concerns....I have written these down and will follow-up.
- I have also gotten some adorable questions regarding things they wanted to know about me! So fun!
Keep following Entirely Elementary...School Counseling for a future post highlighting other Mini-Meeting learnings. Although a lot of work -- I am having a great time with these Mini-Meetings!!