Connecting: How are my students doing? What do they need?
How do you keep in touch with your large caseload? We are hearing that in some school districts, that involves phone calling to each home, sometimes once, sometimes every week. While an initial phone call is possible it does not seem sustainable to use phone calls to stay connected with 200-350 or more students.
If you are calling students, consider using google voice rather than your personal phone number.
PHONE CALLING STUDENTS/PARENTS (from Massachusetts School Counselor Association (MASCA)
Google Voice - allows you to create a free phone number that you can use to contact students and families. If you do the personal version (by downloading the app on your phone) there is no charge. To create a number through a business (like your school), there is a charge of $20 a month for unlimited numbers - this might be a wise investment for your school so teachers, counselors, etc. can contact parents/students without giving out their personal numbers or having to create individual accounts on their own. **When giving this out it is suggested that you create a "time" window for which you are available for calls - i.e. Monday - Friday 7:30am - 2:30pm (depending on the hours you are expected to be available per your school).
Talking Points - allows you to communicate with families in their home language. Talking Points is a translation app specifically designed for educators to communicate with underserved and multilingual families. The educator can send a message in English, the app translates that message to the recipient's home language, and then the recipient can respond back in their home language. It's an excellent way to reach parents and families that are often neglected by school systems where home communication is only done in English. It also strengthens the relationships between educators and parents, a significant influencer on student outcomes. The app is free for both parents and educators.
SCHEDULING VIRTUAL MEETINGS
Calendly - allows your students, parents, or staff to schedule a meeting around your availability, without all the emails back-and-forth. Instead of email chains and phone tag, Calendly allows you to send your availability out with one link. Your invitees can then select a time slot that works for them, ensuring the best time for both parties. The tool comes in three versions: Free, $8/month Premium, and $12/month Pro. In all versions you can schedule an unlimited number of events. Check out this tutorial for how to set up the account and use its features.
What to Survey:
To assess student status, survey forms may be helpful to identify the students who have urgent needs or are in crisis. Some students or families may not respond, but this gives you the opportunity to focus your phone calls on non-responders, those who indicate need on the survey form, and those you already have concerns for.
Think about how you can create several categories of forms that address the different aspects of your outreach.
Technology/Academic Issues – focus on whether students have reliable access to technology hardware and bandwidth, do they have to share these resources, do they have access to space to complete schoolwork, are they experiencing issues with their virtual schooling?
Once you have collected this information what items require action or sharing with the assigned staff member who may be coordinating support and resources in these areas?
Parent Resources – You may want to provide certain key information to all parents so they do not have to self-identify their needs in these areas. Many families who did not qualify for free-reduced lunch for their children may now qualify. Provide links to information on the qualification rules and how to sign up. Also provide general information about sources of food in your community. Where are there food banks, church resources, snap farm benefits, etc. that they can access if needed?
In the section of your survey that is asking questions, find out how parents are doing with on-line schooling of their children. Parents are speaking out across the country about how difficult it is to support their children. Ask them how much time their children are spending online and offline to complete work. Look at your aggregate results and compare it to recommended times such as those suggested by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Ensure your school is not placing additional stress on students and families with extraordinary schooling demands. If there appears to be discrepancies, work within your school to address this.
Social Emotional Issues- This form is one you will want to have students do on a regular basis – perhaps even once a week. This form will allow you to identify student self-reported needs and concerns. These may be students who need more of your time or assistance or require parental notification and support. When checking in repeatedly you are essentially doing a pre-test and then multiple post-tests. To monitor change, you will need to keep a number of the questions consistent so that you can catch when a student begins to change their ratings and is showing evidence of new or deepening struggles.
For students who are not competent readers, provide instructions for parents to read the survey to them. This also offers an opportunity for parents to hear how their child is faring. You may want to add a question at the end directed to the parent about their child’s functioning.
Two of the easiest means of conducting surveys are Google forms and Microsoft forms. Survey Monkey is another platform, however due to limitations on how many surveys you can use on the free account we do not include instructions on that here.
Google forms offer the advantage of tabulating the results so that you can see the aggregate results and also allow you to drill down via a downloadable spreadsheet into individual student results. The aggregate results may be usefully shared with administrators and teachers. Individual data on technology/school needs can be shared with staff tasked with addressing those needs.
Microsoft forms- How to create a Microsoft form
Question Bank- To assist school counselors in creating their forms we have a list of possible questions by each of the above categories. These are suggestions to use or to get you thinking as you develop your forms. (Developed by UMass Amherst School Counseling Graduate Students in Practicum Course)
Developing a Survey Instrument
Quick reminders about good survey questions. When asking a question, what is it you really want to know? Will this question provide me that information?
Use language that is age appropriate.
Make your questions clear and easy to understand.
Use mainly fixed questions rather than open-ended questions. Fixed questions are ones where you provide the answer responses they select from. Open-ended questions are ones where the respondent can respond with any response. Fixed questions are much easier to analyze, report, and compare over pre-post test administrations.
Be careful not to:
Ask double barreled questions (when you are asking two things at once, example: Are you having trouble with your computer and internet?)
Ask the question in such a way that they know how you would like them to answer. Do you like this online resource? Versus How useful is this online resource (Not very useful, not useful, useful, very useful).
Use a double negative. Example: Do you not like not being in school?
Make the survey too long. Responses will lose reliability as we lose our students attention and interest.
Helps Others - Share Your Resources
And lastly – many thousands of school counselors will be using some type of survey form to check in on these topics. If you think you have a great form that others may find useful click here to upload. Be sure to make a copy if it is a Google Form before sharing. We will review the forms submitted and post a selection of forms. Please indicate if we can use your name to give you authorship credit or if you would prefer for it to be an anonymous submission.
Sample surveys created by University of Massachusetts, Amherst School Counseling Students in EDUC 605:
Other Ways to Reach Students
You may want to share some of these resources with your students. An easy way to not inundate them with emails and links in emails that are later hard to find – is to create your own website. Google has a website maker that will take you only 8 minutes to learn how to use. In an hour you could have a basic website with several attached resources for your students. Learn how here.
Example: Holyoke High School, Holyoke, MA
Another way to offer resources and connect with students is to create your own virtual classroom. Using Google Slides, you can create a Bitmoji (virtual you) online classroom that houses information for students based on grade level, mental health, graduation requirements, scheduling, and so on! The video below is a great tutorial for how to set up your own virtual classroom. This can be shared via Google Classroom or on your school counseling website or wherever you think it will reach your students most effectively.
Video Group Meetings:
Zoom meetings have become more and more prevalent as we've moved to remote learning and remote work for many. In addition to the individual meetings you may have with students, families and staff, Zoom (and other remote meeting tools like Google Hangouts) can also be a great place for purely social meetings so that your students can have much needed interaction with each other. Hosting themed "meet ups" is a fun and easy way to connect and destress with your students. You may want to play a movie and have everyone discuss their favorite scenes afterward, or host a virtual game night with Kahoot! or "would you rather". Providing a space for multiple students to come together helps break the isolation that many children are feeling at home.
Engaging, eye catching visuals are extremely important when working remotely to obtain and maintain attention. There are free resources that can help you channel your inner graphic designer to draw greater attention to your message. Websites like Canva and PiktoChart offer excellent templates for posters, social media messages, and postcards that can help you communicate with parents, students, and staff.