Don’t skip calendaring! Calendaring is key to fully implementing a comprehensive school counseling program. A comprehensive school counseling program is one in which school counselors are spending 100% of their time in developing student career and college readiness, academic achievement, and socio-emotional development. It is the gold standard of effective school counseling programs. School counselors do this by providing systems support, counseling (one on one and group), individual planning, classroom guidance lessons, crisis management, and responsive services. To fully implement a comprehensive school counseling program, where 100% of time is spent on these tasks, school counselors need to be skilled in calendaring each day, month and school year.
Calendaring is the process of what tasks and events get put on paper, in the schedule, viewed by stakeholders, and gets put into action. I find the process of calendaring to be one of the most important tasks in the design of a school counseling program. First, it is a visual for you to see, organize, and manage your school counseling program. Second, it gives you an organized way to deliver guidance lessons, groups, and other interventions. It allows school counselors to gain more control over their time. Instead of doing tasks assigned by the principal or as seen fit in the moment, calendaring aids school counselors in carrying out a systematic, developmentally, data-driven, and proactive program. And an extra bonus for me is that it keeps me organized and therefore competent and sane.
Further, calendaring is imperative for advocacy in the school counseling program. We went from two school counselors to two and half to three full time school counselors in my building because we were able to show how we were using our time. This is no joke. I literally submitted a snapshot of my weekly calendar to show how much we were needing an additional school counselor. And as a side note- I do not do bus duty nor am I in charge of any assessments. Nope, because my calendar shows I am developing kids and I don’t have any time for that.
Because of these benefits I love calendaring! In this blog post, I will share with you my best methods for calendaring on a yearly and weekly basis.
Yearly calendaring is simply mapping out programs and events for the entire school year. Prior to the start of the school year, my counseling team sits down and maps out what content and activities should be provided to our students at each grade level. Last year, we even asked and were granted a work day offsite to accomplish this grand task. Collectively, we love this process!
We start by first looking at the district and building calendar to determine which dates are locked. This includes holidays, professional development days, assessment days, special assemblies, early release days, and any other programs planned by other staff members. Don’t set yourself up for failure by planning your college night on Dr. King’s celebratory weekend.
We then list all of the programs and classroom guidance lessons that we would like to repeat for the upcoming school year. This means that the program met the needs of our students and would be considered having an effect on kids. For us, this includes Signs of Suicide, Anti-Bullying Program, Career Day, High School and Beyond Plan Series, needs assessments, basic needs clothing, seed of hope holiday help, College Bound Scholarship, Girls on the Run, transition to high school and middle school events, as well as registration activities. Further, it includes the number of groups that will be ran at each grade level. All of these activities get placed on the calendar.
After we schedule out our repeat programs, we determine which programs we would like to add to our school counseling program. This year, we wanted to plan a College Night, a lifelong dream event for all of us. Further, we also decided that we would like to run a 10-week series for students and families called strengthening families. Before adding these programs and events, we looked at each one and determined if (1) it aligned with district and school goals and (2) whether it would be worth our time. School counseling events that align with the district and school goals will help your program become a part of the total instructional program. A program that is worth your time is one that has a high effect on student college and career, personal-social, and academic development but has little cost to your time. The last thing you want is to start planning something that is not attainable or it is attainable but doesn’t actually impact kids. Now that is a waste of time. We try and avoid programs that are strenuous to plan and has little benefit to student wellbeing and academic attainment. As a team, we decided what we can handle and then placed the appropriate events on the calendar.
Further, we added to our calendar weekly teams meetings that will occur routinely throughout the year including our weekly counselor team meeting, our monthly counseling stakeholder meeting, as well as our weekly student guidance/intervention team meeting.
As a final task, we send out the calendar to all administrators and key stakeholders of the school counseling program. Don’t skip this part. It is imperative to get buy in from key stakeholders and give them the opportunity to offer feedback. Without their approval and support, your school counseling calendar can crumble in an instant. A meeting with your administrators to discuss this calendar is ideal. It gives you the opportunity to discuss expectations of the school year and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Monthly or Grade Period Calendaring
I do all of my monthly, weekly, and daily calendaring in outlook. It is attached to my e-mail and is the system that my school uses for communication. Further, it connects directly to OneNote and OneDrive, two programs I use religiously. Plus, I am pretty much a paperless school counselor- which probably could be another blog post in itself.
Given that my school operates on trimesters, prior to each trimester I make time to map out program components for my grade level including classroom guidance lessons, small groups, individual planning, and potential 504 meetings. At the beginning of the school year, I give each student a needs assessment. It is this data that I use to create my trimester calendar and drive the programming. For example, this school year I ran Lego Lunch Social Skills for Boys and Friendship Group for Girls first trimester because there were many students who indicated needing helping making and keeping friends. Second trimester, which is current, I am running a grief groups called Cognitive Behavioral Interventions for Schools (CBITS) due to the high number of students who reported that they lost lost a loved one to death in the past year and still have symptoms of trauma. I also found that there was a large amount of students experiencing stress and anxiety. I therefore knew that classroom guidance lessons on mindfulness techniques and anxiety-reducing techniques were a must need at my grade level. I also take the time to review all 504’s and determine which ones are needing reevaluation or annual review. Further I add any clubs or extracurricular activities I may lead or participate in. This year (3rd year!) I am co-advisor of our LGBTQIQ after school club as well as coach for girls soccer club and Girls on the Run. And finally, I add my lunch-time visits.
All of the interventions and events get placed on the calendar and the appropriate people involved are invited. It is important to remember that just because you put it on the calendar doesn’t mean it has to happen! Our counseling team views our calendar as a fluid document. While we aim for everything to happen we understand when we just can’t. Things come up. Things get in the way. It is ok!
Items that are placed on my calendar on a weekly basis include meetings and student interventions. For example, a parent or teacher may request a parent teacher conference. After coordinating the time and date, I will put this on my calendar and invite the teachers involved. All internal meetings about a student or with another specialist is also included on the calendar.
I also add students to my calendar that I may need to call-in to my office for a check-in. Common times I would put a check-in on my calendar include meeting with students prior to or after a parent-teacher conference, to review establish safety plans, to carry our or to follow up and debrief restorative meeting, or to follow up about a bullying/harassment situation in which a plan was already in place.
Each morning, while sipping on my tea, I take a few minutes to review my calendar and determine my priorities for the day. I analyze my commitments and review my to do list, and then make decisions about how I will spend my time that day. The thought always running through my head is, “what will make me most effective today?”
By following this process, when my administrators, teachers, or students ask me for help or to do other tasks, I have a timeline in mind of when I will be able to get to them. This is helpful for a lot of my students and colleagues. Waiting and not knowing when they will get support by me is often anxiety inducing. When a teacher e-mails about a students, I can say “Yes. Id be happy to help but my the looks of things this will need to happen tomorrow” or “Of course, melting down… Im on my way!”
I know some school counselors who add in their calendar everything that occurs after the fact. For some, this is a great way to track how you spend your time and what you do. I find that it is challenging and difficult for me to carry this out. Thus, I do not add my responsive work or collaboration to my calendar. Instead, I track my responsive work requested by teachers or parents through the use of OneNote. More on that another time. For students, they sign up to see me through a referral card. I keep these cards to track who I am meeting with. Again, more on those processes in a future post.
Color Coded Calendaring
Ok! So here is a fun one. Everyone always comments on my color coding-calendar. Any time I have a future school counselor observe me they love the color coded calendar. And it is so simple. Each time you add an event, program, group, meeting etc… to your calendar you can color-code it by category. You label the categories and define the color in outlook. For example, my classroom guidance lessons are orange, groups on yellow, parent teacher conferences are green, internal meetings are blue, “important” is red, extracurricular is green and so on. By color-coding it will allow you to easily see your tasks and accomplishments of the week.
Overall, I cannot stress the importance of calendaring to the school counseling profession and the importance of calendaring to your own organization and wellbeing. I love my calendar. I cherish it and honor it. It is my main tool to being effective and successful as a school counselor. And if you need help in this category please get help now! Im always available for a pick me up too!