Throughout the course of my professional counseling program, I have learned a great deal about the importance of accountability in a school counseling program (and education overall). Famous questions from my program like "what does the desegregated data look like?" and "what does the data tell you?" have been engrained into how I approach my practice as school counselor intern. Yet, in my experience, I see a lot of resistance and fear in the current field of school counseling when the words "accountability" and "data" are spoken. It is my goal to try to shift this perception of data so more experienced school counselors and educators have a sense of the benefits of using data to guide and evaluate our practices.
Here's a little what I am hearing from some professionals in the field:
"I am worried about collected pre- and post-test data. Administrators and school board members are just going to look at what the students do not know, and they will wonder what I am not doing."
"I just know that what I am doing is working."
Ready, Set, Reframe!
Yes, collecting data on school counseling jobs will show gaps. However, I am confident that any data you collect will also show the value of your programming efforts. The school counseling program is an integral part of the school system and plays a key role in the holistic development of all students. As school counselors, we know this and we see our positive impact in our school's climate and in the students we have the pleasure of working with daily. With data collection, we can show stakeholders the impact what we do as school counselors. Using data to guide us in how we spend out time and where we focus our efforts will make our job a lot easier. We do not have to do it all and stretch ourselves so thin that we barely scratch the surface of an issue; instead, we can use student data to focus more of our time on what is most important to our school and our students. Try sending out a needs assessment survey to parents, teachers, and students to get a sense of the specific needs of your school. I found an excellent example of a needs assessment geared toward teachers that might be helpful.
In addition to using school data to support how your time is spent, gathering pre- and post-test data, and especially results-based school data, will let you know how effective your programs are in addressing specific school need and reducing student gaps. As school counselors, it is our role to help all students to succeed in school and beyond. In order to achieve this goal, I believe we must be willing and eager to take a hard look at ourselves, our programs, and our approaches. Like our students, we are a continuously a work in progress, and I believe it is important to reframe our school counseling program in this way.
I know all about the sting of putting a lot of time into a program, classroom lesson, or small group counseling group only to find that the data indicates little or no gains. Yet, at least I know that what I was doing didn't work, so know not to repeat the effort in the same way. And when your data indicates student gains, publish it! Post it on your school's website, write about it in your school's newsletter, present your findings to the school board, shout it from the rooftops! Let the world know that your school counseling program is working hard to help students succeed.
**I believe it is essential to note that data is just one piece of the puzzle and does not indicate, in itself, causation. It does not tell us the how or the why, rather it shows us what is happening. It is up to us as educators to figure out the why, the how, and the what now. Try to see accountability as an opportunity to increase your impact on your school and your students. Have fun with it and challenge yourself to make every school year the best year! :)