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Monday, February 20, 2017

Counselor Connection Email and Staff Shout Outs

In mid-September, I started to feel like I was just being annoying sending out emails. I would send emails for teachers to sign up for class lessons once per week. Then I would send out a weekly email asking teachers to sign up students for groups using a Google Form I created. When teachers didn't sign up for lessons or groups, I'd send out more emails the following week. Then there would be special events I had planned, like for Unity Day. I would send out emails on instructions for what I needed from teachers. Teachers probably felt overwhelmed with all of the emails I sent out and I felt annoying. My principal sends out a weekly email on Sundays, Mondays, or Tuesdays depending on holiday breaks. It has all the important announcements and dates teachers need to know in one document. I thought about sending a weekly email of my own and pitched the idea to her as a weekly "Counselor Connection" email. She gave me her blessing. Ever since, I've sent out my weekly Counselor Connection emails each Thursday, so staff don't feel overwhelmed getting it the same day as our principal sends out her weekly email.

Each week I put a few paragraphs about important information and dates that I need to share with staff.
  • Counseling Services: As the first official counselor specifically designated to my building, I noticed that staff didn't really understand what I do. Teachers rarely referred students to me for individual counseling. I felt like all I was doing was groups and class lessons. Only my kindergarten team came to me to discuss behavior concerns. I decided after a few weeks of sending out my Counselor Connection emails that I would include a paragraph at the top explaining the services I provide. I reminded staff that I don't just run groups and do class lessons, I'm here to discuss behavior concerns and to provide individual counseling on a short-term basis. I reminded them that they all have "I need to see my counselor" forms in their classrooms. The last week in January, I put about 20 of these forms in the mailbox outside of my office with a pencil so that if a student comes to see me and I'm not there, they can fill out a form. During School Counseling Week, I also gave a brochure to each staff member, put a link to it in my Counselor Connection email, and posted it on my website. I really wanted to make sure that staff understood what I do. 
  • Staff Shout-Outs: I started this during School Counseling Week as well. Since staff have not been utilizing my services, I wanted to recognize staff that do by giving them a shout out in my weekly emails. I create a separate shout-out document with a few sentences about what the staff member did to utilize my services and thank them for being a "friend" to the school counseling program. One teacher told me that it made her snow day. We give positive reinforcement to students to get them to do more of a desired behavior. Why not do the same for staff? I hope it will encourage more staff to come see me with student concerns. 
  • Class Lesson Sign-Ups: I have been doing lessons mostly on a bi-monthly basis. I just don't have the time to do them every month since I am only part-time. About 2 weeks before I start class lessons for the next month, I include a paragraph on the lessons I plan to offer. I state what each grade's lesson will be about. I remind teachers to have a back up  plan in case a crisis arises and I cannot be at the scheduled lesson. I include a link to a Google Sheet allowing teachers to pick a time slot that works for them. Times are along the left side, dates are along the top, and I grey out areas that I am unavailable for lessons due to groups or meetings. 
  • Class Lesson Winners: After implementing the whole-class lesson rewards for the class in each grade that is most respectful and participates the best during my lesson, I started to include a section in my Counselor Connection email that announces the winners for each grade for that month. I congratulate the teachers and students for being respectful and participating and encourage them to keep up the good work. 
  • Group Sign-Ups: I explain what round of groups I am planning to offer in the next few weeks and provide links to the Google Forms I created for each grade level to sign students up. In this paragraph, I provide the title and what skills I plan to teach students in the group. 
  • Special Events: I make announcements for special events in their own paragraphs. These special events include things like Unity Day, College Day, and National School Counseling Week. I share what will be happening on that day and let staff know what I need from them. For Unity Day, I asked teachers to have students write "Be _____" on an orange strip to make school chains that were displayed in the cafeteria. For College Day, staff were asked to fill out a Google Spreadsheet with their name and the colleges/universities they attended. Then I gave them a graduation cap die cut to decorate and put it on a poster. For National School Counseling week, I listed the times that I had available for "staff lunch with the counselor."
  • Surveys: Sometimes I try to get feedback from staff about how things are going. Between being a first-year counselor and the first counselor designated to my building, I want to know what I can improve on and how others perceive things to be going. I feel like looking for feedback has not worked out the way I had hoped. 
  • Current Group Days and Times: I list the current group days and times in case teachers forget and need a reminder when I will be taking their students. 
  • Important Dates to Remember: I list the due dates for signing students up for groups, the due dates for signing up for class lessons, when I plan to send permission slips for groups out to parents, when permission slips are due back to me, the dates of special events (i.e., Unity Day, College Day, National School Counselor Week), etc. 
I put the date of the Counselor Connection Email at the top with a picture on either side. The pictures relate to the season, holidays, or special events (like School Counseling Week). I have the information about counseling services underneath in paragraph form. Underneath, everything else is divided into two columns to look like a newsletter or newspaper. Each paragraph begins with a bold title to draw attention to it, making it easier to skim over for busy staff. I sign each edition saying "Have a Wonderful Week! Miss Davies" in a fancy font.

I enjoy sending this weekly email out. I feel like it has all the information for sign ups, due dates, etc. that staff would need from me all in one place. I feel like it has cut down on the amount of emails I have to send out. I feel less annoying and I think teachers appreciate getting less emails from me. Not everyone may like the weekly email; however, many of the Kindergarten teachers say they love the Counselor Connection emails. You can't please everyone, but this is something I'm glad I take the time to do each week. It can be used as an accountability measure. I'm letting all staff know what the school counselor is doing. I can also use it to advocate for my role by showing all the great stuff I have planned.

Leader in Me Inspiration
Many of the habits connect to sending out my weekly Counselor Connection emails.
  • Habit 1- Be Proactive: I'm taking charge of getting information out to teachers that they need to know. 
  • Habit 2- Begin with the End in Mind: I know my goals and I have a plan to achieve them. My goal is to share information with all of my staff. I want them to know what I'm doing each week. I want them to know the services I provide and how to contact me if they need me. I want my principal to see how beneficial it is to have a school counselor in the building. I'm only part-time, but I want a full-time position. If I can demonstrate that I'm doing a bunch of great things for staff and students, maybe it will increase my chances of getting a full-time position. That is why I want to be transparent about what I do as a school counselor and why I send out this weekly email. Everyone gets the information they need, but I'm indirectly advocating for my role and holding myself accountable, making this a Win-Win (Habit 4). 
  • Habit 3- Put First Things First: I'm planning my time. There are lots of things a school counselor has to do each day. I send out this email so teachers can sign up for lessons and sign students up for group. The rest of my day is planned around the class lessons and meetings in my calendar. These are the big rocks. All the behind-the-scenes stuff like lesson and group planning (small rocks) has to happen between the big rocks.
  • Habit 4- Think Win-Win: I want teachers to know about important information and events and I want my principal to know all the great stuff I'm doing. Teachers are busy, they want to be able to do stuff on their own terms when it's convenient to them. I send a once per week email that gets out the information I want to staff that is less overwhelming to them. Most importantly I am holding myself accountable and advocating for my role. 
  • Habit 5- Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood: Like I said, teachers and all school staff are really busy. They get tons of emails each day from parents, co-workers, the principal, etc. They always have to take work home to complete. Daily emails from me are just more straw on the camel's back. If I send out one weekly email that they've come to expect, they may be less overwhelmed. If I cut down on the emails they get from me, they're more likely to skim over that one email than they would be to look over the five I was sending before. 
  • Habit 6- Synergize: It may be a stretch, but I'm synergizing with the teachers by providing them with the links to sign students up for groups and class lessons. I do my part by sending out the sign up sheets and forms and they fill it out when they have the chance. 
  • Habit 7- Sharpen the Saw: Also a stretch, but after all the planning I do upfront, hopefully there's a little time left over for me to take time for myself and recharge my batteries.
* If you liked how I connected the 7 Habits to my Counselor Connection emails, look for a post in the future about how school counselors use the 7 Habits every day. 

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