September 2019

Take Advantage of Tech

By Amirah Bohler
Without question, our role as school counselors requires, at a minimum, three essential skills for survival: flexibility, creativity and an open mind. So often I heard early in my career, “Make a list of what you want to accomplish for the day, and if you get to cross one thing off that list, that’s a win!” I laughed, but before long life graciously taught me the truth of that statement. By the conclusion of year one, I became the queen of Post-Its, almost always wore sneakers and achieved more miles in one school day than on my Saturday morning runs. My brain was swarming with thoughts of what I accomplished and ideas about how to meet the vast and varying needs I was unable to address. 
 
Alongside student population growth came the growth of student needs. My school, a Title 1 school in central Virginia, educates upwards of 950 imaginative minds and employs about 100 committed educators. Considering my school’s ever-growing student population, checking off just one task a day wasn’t going to cut it. I know Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Beyoncé, but after one year and an estimated 650 miles on my sneakers, more needed to be done. I asked myself: How could I maintain a strong presence, deliver a comprehensive program and communicate important information to students to reinforce conversations and lessons I taught? 
 
What came to me was “Counselor’s Corner.” For our students, the tech generation, what better way to connect than meeting them where they are? I know my students are far more well versed in the internet than I – many have their own YouTube channels. They’re navigating their way around our digital world and our school’s firewall. So why not create something they can view and laugh at while getting a reinforcement of positive content from their school counselors? The idea was to create brief, efficient, five- to 10-minute videos each month on important topics for all students.
 
First, I pitched my idea to the other school counselor in my building, who was only one month into her first year at our school. Talk about convincing someone to be all in – and thankfully she was. We recognized that we would need to embrace the awkward and uncomfortable feelings that can come with seeing and hearing ourselves on video. Next, I ran my idea by my administrators. I have been very fortunate to have an administrative team that is open-minded and welcomes innovative ideas, and they were on board within seconds. 
 
Our third step was deciding on specific topics to cover in our videos. With our elementary students as the audience, knowing their interests was key when it came to creatively presenting each message. Our video content also had to be intelligible for all seven years of development at the elementary level. We referenced our annual calendar for topics to cover, and I began filming with a tool I already had: my cell phone. I edited the videos in iMovie, a program I found very user friendly with its drag-and-drop feature using uploaded media.
 
Once the first video was complete, presenting the idea to the staff was simple. But getting them to show the videos to their class ahead of lessons would be the obstacle we repeatedly encountered during the first year. From emailed reminders (with links included) and morning announcements, to creating a folder on Google Drive and encouraging students to remind their teachers, we still found ourselves having to take time from our lessons to show the videos. 
 
Planning for our second season included input from students, teachers and administrators. Reusing the previous year’s videos was not an option because information changes daily, and honestly, we were getting really good at being open-minded and silly on camera. To increase viewing, I changed the access to the videos during the second year. Creating Google Classrooms for third through fifth grades let students access the videos independently and as often as they needed on their ChromeBooks; teachers could simply add it to their students’ to-do list for the day. This was especially helpful for students who were new to our school; our population is quite transient with new students enrolling every day. Providing them with access to this small introduction to their school counselors and our school’s culture was helpful.
 
During year two, I tried some different tools for filming and editing. Our school’s technology integrator was excited to share to tools I was unaware I had access to. WeVideo is a video filming and editing program my district purchased that I found user friendly and very similar to iMovie. My principal had previously invested in a few GoPro cameras that are also easy to use with their point-and-shoot feature. With the filming and editing of each video, I found myself getting entranced with finding ways to creatively boost each message. 
 
View some of our videos on our YouTube channel.
 
We met our goal of delivering necessary information to students and that was what mattered most. It’s amazing how a little flexibility, creativity, and an open mind can be transformative. Although we encountered small roadblocks along the way, our students continuously look for, ask about and request features in the next episode of “Counselor's Corner.” To me, that is a true win. Stay tuned…season three of “Counselor’s Corner” is coming right up!
 
Below, students demonstrate in a video the “integrity” movement for remembering the school’s P.R.I.D.E. acronym.


Amirah Bohler is entering her fourth year as a school counselor at J.G. Hening Elementary School in Chesterfield County, Va. She also serves on the professional development team for the Virginia School Counselor Association. Stay connected and follow her adventures via Twitter @Queen_Bohler and Instagram @QueenBohler