Recently I read a blog post or article about the shift from using the terminology "classroom guidance" or "large group guidance" lessons to the "school counseling core curriculum." Sorry whoever wrote it -- can't remember who you were or where I read it!! I was wondering how I missed this key terminology change when I read the newest ASCA National Model. It makes sense - real sense to me to start using this sort of terminology to describe school counseling services to large groups of students. It is amazing to me how just a name change of the same services can suddenly make the service sound so much more important and official.
In an urban school, it is very easy to spend most of my direct service time putting out fires. While certainly there are many days where I find myself reacting and responding all day long, I had to make the difficult transition to ensuring that all students are benefiting from the school counseling services I provide - not just the "few" who are self-referring, having a crisis, or experiencing conflict. Many years ago, I felt I was continuing to spin my wheels with no identifiable progress being made. It was then that I decided to make a conscious shift to focus on prevention - prevention using classroom guidance lessons (now the school counseling core curriculum) and a hefty number of small support groups.
This sort of shift takes strong organizational skills and the ability to manage effectively. Early on in my career, while I had my list of what I hoped to accomplish during the day, quickly my attention was given to what everyone else wanted me to accomplish during those same 8 hours. For example, if a parent came into the office, I was expected to, and I would, drop everything to meet with him/her. If a student is crying, heck with the students I was currently working with - the tears were a priority. I was beginning to realize that everyone else was deciding on what was important for a school counselor to be doing and what types of situations were important enough to drop everything to address. Others were defining my job and my work with students.
So, I changed my mindset. I decided on a system that would work for me and scheduled grade level lessons (30 minutes in length) - lots of them. I scheduled small support groups - lots of them. I scheduled programs/events that matched my curriculum. While difficult to implement at first, that parent who dropped in unannounced to meet with me would have to wait a few minutes until my lesson was over. Those parents could see that I was out working with students, not sitting in my office waiting for the next problem/situation to pop-up. The student who is teary can wait a few moments, until I finish my small support group, so I can give him/her my undivided attention.
This school year, the school counseling core curriculum I implemented in the K-5 classrooms included 8-10 classroom lessons (the number of lessons varied by grade level) on a variety of topics. Many of the topics were requirements from our district K-12 Comprehensive School Counseling Program, but some topics were based on student/school need or areas that need more attention.
What does my yearly core curriculum schedule look like? I visit all K-5 classrooms the first two weeks of school to do an introductory lesson. Then, in the fall (between September-before the holidays in December) I visit the classrooms to do a series of lessons. I take a break from classroom lessons between January - February so that I can facilitate all the small support groups. After most of those are finished, I continue my school counseling core curriculum in the spring by re-visiting all classrooms to do another series of classroom lessons. For the special needs classrooms, I facilitate our therapy dog's visits and each visit is tied to a specific theme to focus on with the students.
This year I implemented school-wide mini-meetings (most were finished in December before small groups began) that will now be a regular staple in my core curriculum. These meetings gave me a chance to spend a few moments with each kiddo to check-in and discuss their feelings and future goals. I loved this opportunity. They also served as a school-wide screening tool....to make sure I'm serving the neediest students in my small groups and to make sure we are intervening appropriately for those who need it.
There will always be crises; there will always be fires to put out; there will always be issues that need immediate attention; there will always be days when everything is cancelled, nothing on your "to-do" list is crossed off, and you are running around the place like crazy. However, I can say from experience, that switching my mindset from "serving a few" to "serving all students" has really made a difference in the number of fires, crisis, and immediate attention issues that come up. I'm putting the time and attention into kiddos on the front-end - loading them up with attention, prevention activities, and relationship building opportunities (with their school counselor) in the hopes of preventing the more serious issues. It is all worth it!
Consider taking the summer to focus on your school counseling core curriculum!