Putting Data & Technology to Work for School Counselors
by Laura Filtness, School Counselor (Knox County Schools), TSCA Social Media Chair, TCA Awards Chair
Recently I have been preparing for my evaluation by updating my binder of evidence which has really become a portfolio that shows just how extensive a comprehensive school counseling program can be. As I look back on the multitude of programming I do each year (small groups, classroom guidance, backpack food program, mentor program, and HABIT reading dog program among others) I can easily feel overwhelmed when asked for data to justify how important these programs are, especially when I instinctively know of their importance in my heart. It’s easy to understand why asking school counselors to gather, disaggregate, and analyze data to drive their programs can leave some saying “why, how and with what time?”
and turn them into one powerful tool. Here are a few tips I have for using technology to help gather data that will share your value with stakeholders and help your programs become more efficient.
First, start with one small goal for how you want to use technology to gather your data. You don’t need to go from zero data to mountains of data overnight. For me, stakeholder surveys were an easy first step. I created surveys with Survey Monkey and Google Forms for teachers, parents, and students asking them about current needs, what current programming they found most beneficial, and what areas they felt needed more support. The information I gathered really helped focus my program. It provided a good outline of classroom guidance lessons, parent workshops, and small groups. It also allowed me let of go of programs or lessons that were no longer relevant or valuable.
Second, pick a format that works for you. There isn’t a conference I have attended in the last few years where a presenter hasn’t asked us to pull out our phone to gather data. Websites and apps like PollEverywhere and EasyPolls are easy ways to get instant access to information, but only if you are comfortable with them and your stakeholders have access to technology. Google Forms has become second nature for me, so it is the one I use most frequently. I share survey links via email, my website, and social media. However, that doesn’t always mean I get great responses. If, for instance, I get low turnout from teachers, I might print out a hard copy of the survey and then input the data later myself. When considering what technology to use, consider what you and your audience have access to and what you and they are comfortable with.
Third, consider the implications of the technology when using it to gather data. I simply cannot say enough about my love for Kahoot! My students often come to class asking if we are going to “Kahoot” today. I turned my librarian onto it and now she is creating her own quizzes for students. Perhaps the one downside to Kahoot would have to be my competitive students. When you create a game (as a fun pre or post way of gathering perception data) it awards students points for quickness of response and correct answer. Often my more competitive students are quick to answer and respond without fully taking time to think about the correct answer. Recently I did a lesson on tattling vs. telling with 2nd grade. After reading Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal by Jeanie Franz Ransom we played squeal or no squeal either via Kahoot (if I could borrow the iPads from our librarian) or PowerPoint and giving the students paper exit tickets. I gave students a sample scenario and asked them if it was a case where they needed to squeal and tell a teacher or not squeal because they could solve it themselves. Only 64% of the students who used Kahoot got the answer correct, where classes that used the paper quiz averaged closer to 90% or higher correct. What does this imply? That my students are perfect examples of the students that would eat both marshmallows in the infamous marshmallow test and that I should probably follow this lesson up with a one on patience, taking your time, and fully reading directions.
Fourth, don’t go at it alone. I didn’t learn everything I know about technology overnight and there are still so many things I don’t understand yet. When I moved to Knoxville I was asked to be on our technology team and help other counselors use technology to improve their programming and gather data. After a small chuckle because I don’t think of myself as an expert, I was happy to oblige because in reality don’t we all learn best when we teach others? The technology team at school doesn’t laugh at me when I ask them questions and I love having a team to tackle things like updating our non-user friendly website together. My team isn’t limited to Knoxville though. I made some of my best friends at Discovery School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and even though I live hundreds of miles away now there isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t get a text or phone call about some new great idea. I have an amazing teacher librarian friend, Elizabeth Shepherd (who will no doubt proofread this article for me because she is my editor-in-chief and inspirational friend that has become my own human Google). She practices with me when I try new technology tools, introduces me to new things, and continues to help me find the courage to take on data and technology. One of my dearest friends, Sarah Svarda (another expert librarian), recently called to tell me that she had finally taken the dive and used Near Pod with a class for an observation. I have wanted to use Near Pod, an interactive presentation and assessment tool, for a while now so I was thrilled when she called. I was able to have someone walk me through it, brainstorm the best use, and learn from her experience in order to avoid potential pitfalls with my own students. Even though we as school counselors can often feel alone in our buildings, remember we are not. TSCA, your co-workers, and myself are all here for you as you tackle the “adventure” that is technology and data.
Fifth, don’t just stick your results in a drawer. We spend all of our days taking care of others, being silent superheroes in our building. It can feel uncomfortable to share our data because it can feel like you are bragging. However, sharing with students, parents, administration, and your school counseling advisory team allows you to gain buy-in, get feedback on how to focus your programs, and advocate for not just you but the role of school counselors everywhere. I share my process, perception, and outcome data at my school counseling advisory team meetings to help combat the reputation that I’m “never in my office or sitting in my office all day.” I present my data in bi-annual newsletters to keep stakeholders informed. This also helps me when I request funding help from our PTA and show my administration that there really is value in having dogs in our classrooms and it’s not just my crazy love of furry friends.
At SCALI this year Ken Williams asked us, “Are you a thermometer counselor or a thermostat counselor?” and inspired us to set the temperature in our buildings and not just react to it. No more excuses. It’s time to put data and technology to work for us. It’s data that helps you know what the current temperature in the building is, it’s data that helps us track the change in temperature, and it’s data that will help you know when you’ve become a thermostat counselor.