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Any counselor that works in an educational setting—elementary, middle, or high, private or public—and has worked for more than one day knows that a schedule should be written in pencil. There will be interruptions. There will be unexpected crises. The one constant is that the day’s scheduled events will change. Many days our door seems to be revolving with a variety of student needs. “My boyfriend broke up with me between classes!” “She invited all the other girls to her birthday party, but she didn’t invite me.” “Every time I take a test, I feel like I’m going to throw up!” And then there are the BIG DEAL issues that come through the door as often as those that might appear trivial. “My dad threatened to kill my mom last night.” “My friend showed me her arms, and she has cuts on them.” “My mom left us last night.” “I want to run away from home.”
There have been days when I have provided counseling services, large and small, to no fewer than a dozen students. These are exhausting days, with a pizza delivered to my home and a long hot bath in my future that night.
When it is time to document all of these contacts in a quick, effective, way, I use COUNSELING NOTES. LuAnne, another Square Peg, developed this format using Microsoft’s Excel Pivot Tables. She designed it, and I have implemented its use for the past four years by keeping my counseling notes using this terrific program. You get to decide how simple you want it to be based on the amount of detail you put in the “Comments” section. Best of all, it tracks the number of contacts you have by date AND by student. I print it out at the end of each year both ways, alphabetically and chronologically. I can quickly see that I saw “John Doe” 11 times when referring to the alphabetical printout. I can easily find that I counseled 47 students during September when I arrange it chronologically. And, there’s MORE! At the end of the year (or whenever desired), pivot tables allow me to see how many students I have seen by counseling category (family problems, anger management, social skills instruction, grief, etc.), the school or grade level with the greatest need for my support that particular year, and how many consultations I provided. Separate graphs and charts quickly show this information in such a way that I see my counseling services during the school year. It is much more than a spreadsheet!
In a nutshell, this tool allows me to keep sole-possession counseling notes in a quick, simple manner AND is excellent documentation of my time…proving time and time again that I am a needed member of my school community. It is not unusual for me to have 400+ student contacts across an academic year. Using COUNSELING NOTES keeps my counseling notes organized in a way I have never previously been able to accomplish. I am NOT, by nature, an organized person (ask anyone who works or lives with me!), and this is simply the best tool for counselors I have ever personally used. Want to prove your worth in a statistical, data-driven way? Use COUNSELING NOTES.
Remember, there are legal and ethical guidelines when keeping counseling notes as they relate to student records. See my post STUDENT RECORDS: Yours, Mine or Ours?
I work daily with a great team of seven guidance counselors and four school psychologists. Each is highly skilled. It is not unusual for us to discuss, or even debate, a variety of counseling issues. One that resurfaces on a fairly routine basis is the issue of student records, particularly concerning our COUNSELING NOTES. I’d like to take a minute to quickly review what the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends regarding our records on students:
- First and foremost, make sure you are keeping educational records that are required by your school board policies, as well as state and federal laws/regulations. This extends beyond counseling notes and refers to all student records. Be familiar with FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, 1974) and how this impacts educational records.
- Keep your counseling notes, referred to by ASCA as sole-possession records, separate from educational records, per state laws on this issue.
- Remember that sole-possession records are designed to be a way for you, the counselor, to remember your sessions with students (e.g., what the topic of discussion was, what strategies for coping may have been taught, what the student’s reason for seeking support was, what day you saw the student, etc.). Here are potential limitations to sole-possession counseling notes:
- Even though they are not typically part of the student’s educational records, they could become so if shared with others or if they are available to others in written or verbal form. So, keep your counseling notes private, period.
- Sole-possession records could also become part of a student’s educational records if they include information beyond your professional opinion or personal observations.
- Likewise, be advised that individual student notes can possibly be subpoenaed. What you are required to disclose may depend on your state laws, your credentials, and the situation-at-hand so it is advisable to consult with your school board’s attorney if subpoenaed.
Bottom line, your sole-possession counseling notes are for YOUR EYES ONLY. Keeping these notes in a confidential, secure location and keeping them only for your individual reference in order to document student contacts by date, name, and reason, is paramount in protecting your counseling notes from becoming public. My rule of thumb is that I create these notes with the expectation that they will stay private but with the knowledge that they COULD become public. Thus, I only put information in my counseling notes that I am comfortable having someone else know should that happen.
Following are two excellent articles by ASCA that further discuss counseling notes:
The American School Counselor Association’s Code of Ethics is found at:
So often when a student does not act the way we think s/he should act, we immediately discipline the child. Sometimes that works. Other times it just frustrates us. When I was in graduate school at University of Kentucky working on a master’s degree in Emotional Behavioral Disorders, my professor, C. Michael Nelson shared a flow chart with us. It was an AH-HA moment for me. I’d like to share it with you.
Look at the chart below or print out a copy as I explain it here…. The teacher gives the student a direction/task/etc. If the students complies, praise the student (Easy, right?!)
If the teacher gives a direction but the student does not comply, figure out if you know with absolute certainty the student has the ability to complete the direction/task/etc. Often we assume the student knows or should know and we get frustrated when the child does not. If the child has the ability to complete the task, motivate him. Elementary teachers do a great job motivating students. As students get older, less emphasis is placed on motivation. I’m not sure why that is…I know I work much better when I am motivated. Motivation in middle and high school doesn’t mean pass out stickers. It may be a simple as a pat on the back, or extra social time at the end of class, etc. If the child does NOT know how to do the task or if you are not sure if the child has the skill, TEACH the skill/expectation.
If the child does NOT complete the task after you have tried motivating or teaching the skill, then you discipline.
Once there was a high school student who had the opportunity to earn extra credit by writing a paragraph about the daily political cartoon in the daily newspaper but failed to make any effort to do so. The teacher was frustrated that she “wasn’t even trying to pass the class”. I wondered if the student even knew what a political cartoon was and if she had access to a newspaper. Remember she had never demonstrated she had the ability to do this. So I took her into the school library. The librarian showed her where day old newspapers were kept so she could cut out the cartoon. I showed her where the political cartoon was in the newspaper. She was thankful. After learning this new skill, she never missed a day of cutting out the cartoon and writing a paragraph!
So think about this flow chart the next time you get frustrated when a student doesn’t comply.
Welcome back! Did you try the Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment? Remember, discovering the function of the student’s behavior is essential to resolving the inappropriate behavior. Now let’s look at what to do with what you learned about your student.
- Health/Physical Concerns
- Reinforcement strategies
- Replacement skills
- New adaptive skills
- Safety/emergency plan
A majority of the Quick & Easy Behavior Intervention Plan is positive, proactive and instructional! I love Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline’s quote: “If you can predict it, you can plan for it. If you can plan for it, you can prevent it.” Whew! That’s puts a big burden on us, but that’s ok. We are the professional and have the tools to meet student needs.
Many behavior plans are punitive. The message tends to be “do this or you’ll be punished”. This type of plan does not address environmental factors or student needs.
I had a student (I’ll call him Joe) who was physically and verbally disruptive. As we analyzed the Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Analysis, we noticed Joe rarely received any positive comments from his family and teachers. One piece of the Quick & Easy Behavior Intervention Plan was to structure times of the day for school staff to have positive interactions with him. When he got off the bus in the morning, the staff person supervising this area looked for Joe and happily greeted him. Joe then walked to the cafeteria for breakfast and was greeted by any staff member in the hallway (all staff were included in this plan). As Joe went through the food line, each cafeteria worker greeted and chatted with him. The teacher on breakfast duty always visited with Joe and wished him a good day as he headed to class. Joe may have had a tough morning at home but by the time class started, Joe received 6 to 7 positive interactions each morning. We were overtly setting him up to start every day on a positive note. Now wouldn’t you want to start your day in such a positive manner?
This Quick & Easy Behavior Intervention Plan is designed to meet the child’s needs, teach the child acceptable behavior, and develop consequences for continued misbehavior. A sample plan and detailed directions are included with the Quick & Easy Behavior Intervention Plan.
Next time, I’ll talk about when to discipline and when to teach by showing you a Behavior Flow Chart. See you soon,