2021: We Made It! Top 10 List of Guidance Department Best Practices

In 2020, Covid-19 dominated our lives.  It is still among us.  But, on a promising note, the vaccine has arrived to Canada.  So I thought, as a kick-off to 2021, I would start off this Counsellor’s Corner on a more hopeful, and hopefully, inspiring note.

Ever since I was a young girl, I have always been a fan of Top 10 lists. I love New Year’s Eve because on many sports, entertainment and news channels, the correspondents are always counting down top 10 lists – be it Top 10 Blunders, Top 10 Best Goals, Top 10 Greatest Hits, etc.  So, let’s have some fun with the Top 10 Guidance Department Best Practices list; a list that I have accumulated over the years but, I think, proves particularly relevant today.  As you read this, please feel free to edit, add, or erase any of these items. This list is something I have compiled and share with counsellors I work with in schools.  I invite you to read this list and possibly create a Top 10 Best Practices list with your department. Here we go:

10. GUIDANCE AS LIAISON:  As Guidance Counsellors, we have the ability, diplomacy and “know-how” to facilitate compassionate, meaningful dialogue between students and teachers; students and administrators and sometimes all three. In this role, always look for opportunities to build bridges in these relationships and help facilitate open dialogue and communication through emails, phone calls and classroom visits.

9. MAKE SOME TIME TO PLAY:  Remember to have fun with your team. A team that is cohesive and gets along can get a lot more accomplished than a team that is divided or fractured.  Take time to have lunch together, take a 15 minute walk outdoors as a team.  Plan some outings throughout the year for team building.  You don’t always have to bond over drinks.  Try something new, for example, a friendly game of volleyball in the school gym or a golf outing or curling.  Create some fun memories together.  Getting to know each other outside of the office will develop your relationship and understanding of each other inside the office.

8. BE A CHANGE AGENT:  Drive creativity and innovation within your department.  Inspire and encourage your department member’s ideas. Invite them to participate in brainstorming sessions within the department.  Change things up.  We don’t always need to follow the status quo for every task and/or initiative.  Part of this is fostering an environment where your team members feel safe to share and debate their opinions and ideas in a collegial manner to find the right solution.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who’s right and/or who’s idea it is.  What matters is that we arrive at the best ideas that will ultimately benefit our students.

7. COLLABORATION WITH DIFFERENT STAKEHOLDERS:  Collaboration is the art of working together not only with your department, but with your parent/school council, other teachers, and administration on various Guidance events and initiatives. Collaboration  brings you “outside the box” ideas that you may not have thought of with just your “guidance” hat on.  Working on a parent evening regarding youth mental health and inviting your Child and Youth Worker, your Social Worker and even your Biology and Phys-Ed teachers to be part of the planning committee will afford you expertise offered by other members of your school community and create a potentially outstanding event.

6. KEEP A CALENDAR: Update your shared calendar with your team.  Make sure to go through your calendar with your school board guidance team to get all of your semester and term dates. Contact administrators to record schoolwide events and assemblies (ie. Graduation, Remembrance Day ceremony), examination and reporting dates.  Once you have established those timelines, share your calendar with your guidance department to schedule in more specific and guidance-related dates, such as guidance assemblies, course registration, mid-term and final mark entry and any initiatives your department members are leading and implementing.  Finally, it is good practice to share that calendar with the department heads within your school to add in any final dates that are important such as culminating activities and specific department initiatives and events.

5. COMMUNICATION IS KEY:  As the hub of the school community, information from the school board, administration goes through guidance and is disseminated through various channels.  To that end, always try your best to communicate upcoming deadlines, changes in curriculum, various initiatives, and anything that might be pertinent for your school community to know (staff, students, administrators and parents).  I have found, in my own personal journey in Guidance, that people get frustrated quickly when they do not have a sense or an awareness of what is coming up, what is expected of them, or how to get to where they want to go.  Think of different ways to communicate to all the various groups and stakeholders within your school community.  You may decide to use Google Classroom for your students but your school’s twitter to communicate to parents and your board email to share information with your staff.  Whatever means of communication, keeping that dialogue open and transparent is definitely a best practice I have learned throughout the years.

4. COLLECT DATA TO INFORM YOUR PRACTICE:  Illicit data and feedback from your student and parent community, via Google Forms.  Create surveys to send out to various groups (i.e. Grade 11 student body; incoming Grade 9 parent community) to see what information they may require.  From there, you can use that data to create material, information sessions, classroom visits, parent events that pertain to the needs of that particular group.

3. WHO ARE YOUR GO-TO PEOPLE FOR ALL THINGS GUIDANCE-RELATED:  Use your Resources, within your school, school board and across boards within your province.  If you have a Guidance Subject Council, where guidance members from all the schools come together monthly to dialogue and ask questions, join that.  If you have a Guidance Counsellor organization within your province, become a member and try to attend their conferences or other opportunities of engagement.  In Ontario, we have OSCA (Ontario School Counsellor Association) of which I have been a member for many years.  They provide monthly resources, articles, presentations and conferences that support and encourage my learning so I can do the same for my team and students.

2. EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY:  The pen and paper still have a place in guidance and in counselling.  However, if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is essential that we continue to use the virtual platforms that we have all had to learn (quickly) and use (somewhat proficiently) this past year to communicate, collect and distill information to our students, staff and the community at large.  While the learning curve may have been steep for many counsellors in this area, we are all better for it.  As guidance counsellors, we are naturally adept at adapting and learning for the benefit of our students.

And this brings me to our Number 1 Best Practice in Guidance.  At the very top of our list, the #1 best practice is:

  1. REMEMBER WHO WE SERVE:  Remember why we are in this business:  the students!  The students we service should be first and foremost in our thoughts when we are making decisions.  Trust your knowledge, what you have learned in courses and in practice. Most importantly, trust your instincts.  When you are in a guidance appointment, your focus is on your relationship with your student who has come to you asking questions, possibly disclosing personal information, and/or looking for help.  As guidance counsellors we are held to the highest standard of professional ethics and work to guide those students to the best of our ability.  Students are our entire business.

So, there we have it.  These are my top 10 best practices that I have accumulated over the past 20 years.  However, I would love to get your feedback with regards to the practices you engage in as I am always looking to refine my list of best practices. Also, please feel free to reach out to me on my twitter handle to share any new article ideas.  Your feedback is always welcome and appreciated.  Twitter handle:  @msamacri   Until next time, keep well and stay safe.

By: Anna Marci