Annual and weekly calendars are important parts of building a comprehensive school counseling program. The annual calendar can also serve as a key element in communicating a school counseling department’s activity to support student growth in the three domains: academic, career and social/emotional development. (See pages 68–71 in the ASCA National Model; calendars are in the “Management” section of the ASCA diamond as part of program planning. For those schools pursuing RAMP recognition, calendars are section 6 of the application.)
Begin with the annual calendar planning session. This will be the simplest one to develop and it leads to important conversations about alignment with the department’s program goals. In advance, collect the dates for school-wide and district events from your administrator. It will be important to plan around open house/back-to-school nights, key sports activities such as homecoming, graduation/promotion ceremonies and standardized testing windows. The other critical element is the department’s Annual Student Outcome Goals. Some annual events may not directly support these goals, but most should align with the primary direction of the department to enhance student growth and development.
One strategy for developing the annual calendar may feel a bit old fashioned, but it works. Post six sheets of chart paper around a room, divide each sheet into two parts, then label each part with the month of the school year. In one color marker list all the static school events and their dates within the corresponding month. Using a different color marker, list the school counseling activities that support the Annual Student Outcome Goals. Write them in the months when they will occur and include specific dates if available. Finally, in a third color, list the routine events that occur annually even if they do not link to the outcome goals (such as course registration for high schools). Add in your school day events such as classroom lessons, small group sessions and one-time events, and include any evening presentations. Indicate whether any event includes a virtual component; some districts host virtual events for parents/guardians, community groups, etc. This may also be an option for the school counseling department.
This brainstorm session lets thoughts and ideas flow freely. An idea for one month might lead to an idea for another month. School counselors won’t be restricted to a sequential view of the year during this planning phase.
Once the brainstorm session concludes, transfer the information to the ASCA-provided template. This will help categorize activities into direct and indirect student services, program planning, and school support. The template is required for RAMP applications but is useful regardless of RAMP aspirations. It helps school counselors visualize where their time is spent and can form the cornerstone for messaging the department’s services. Bottom line: Share your annual calendar! Put it on the school/department’s webpage, post it in a prominent location in department offices and ask about posting it in the school’s main office. This is an easy form of advocacy work for the school counseling department.
Weekly calendars can be a bit more challenging than the annual calendar because a school counselor’s day can be upended with little or no notice. You can download an Outlook calendar, and Excel-based system can support tabulating the amount of time spent within the delivery model categories. Use a format that best fits the needs of the individual counselor or the school counseling team. Regardless of the format, make certain that weekly calendars are very detailed, including references to the intended audience, individual counseling sessions (not names, but a de-identified indicator of who was counseled), delivery type (individual, small-group, large-group/classroom), and the time and duration of the event.
As in planning the annual calendar, plan activities related to Annual Student Outcome Goals first (classroom/group presentations, small-group sessions, closing-the-gap activities, etc.). Next, add in program planning and school support activities. Finally, add those noncounseling activities that still get assigned to the school counseling department, but continue advocating for reassignment of those responsibilities if possible. Color-code everything, establish a scheme (e.g., direct service in blue, indirect in green, etc.), and include a legend.
Adjust and Advocate
Sometimes students, or life, have ideas other than what is on the weekly calendar and the school counselor must address an urgent situation. When that happens, backward map what really occurred, meaning take time at the end of the day and record the who, what, when, where and duration of the unexpected event. A school counselor’s primary concern must be support of the students, not adhering to a calendar.
Sharing these calendars is advocacy work. As previously mentioned, display your annual calendar in highly visible locations and on the school website, and add it to newsletters. It’s not ideal to share weekly calendars due to potential confidentiality issues, but consider developing a tracking system that displays the number of programs delivered, number of students served, and in what domain area. For example, one week may have included three classroom presentations, five individual counseling sessions, and two small-group sessions, that supported 90 students with college/career planning, 10 students with social/emotional development, and five students with academic performance. Do not include any student names with this display; this should be high-level summary information. Post this somewhere prominent and update it weekly. When speaking with administrators, teachers or other stakeholders, make connections between your calendared activities, your program goals and how the work supports student success for the school.
Calendars provide a structure to ensure that key activities take place within a school year and within individual weeks. Taking the time to intentionally plan when these activities will occur will enhance the likelihood of success for the Annual Student Outcome Goals, and for advocating for the importance of school counseling programs.
Contact Meri Kock, Ed.D., ACT Coordinator for Metro Nashville Public Schools in Nashville, Tenn., at firstname.lastname@example.org.