I was thinking about how I spend my working time. At this point in my practice and in this school year, I would estimate that about 70% of my time goes to working on my own, and about 30% goes to working with others—mostly students, although often it’s in meetings with parent groups, school-based counselors, college-based counselors or other colleagues who specialize in working with teens. Obviously, that balance will shift as fall draws closer.
This phase is largely one of researching and preparing materials; sometimes this job feels purely like information curation. I read, I watch, I visit, and I attend, sponging up all the details I can possibly keep track of, and then I filter and synthesize that information in conversations, written materials, and slideshows. I’ve been trying to come up with the right metaphor for it. The closest so far: it’s like growing out a garden over hundreds of acres, taking on an endless
variety of new plants while trying to tend to what’s already planted. Maintenance required from here to infinity.
April and May have a number of workshops on the calendar. Some are solo presentations I’ve been doing for years now, on subjects like applying to visual and performing arts schools and the impact that a student’s digital footprint can have on admissions and life after college. Some are brand new and are collaborative workshops that I’ll be co-hosting with other educational professionals who have private practices. New is always more interesting, and actually getting to work alongside someone (as opposed to perpetually working by myself in the little vacuum that is my home office) is such a relief, although quite a challenge at first while developing a shared vocabulary and falling into a shared working groove.
But what feels most refreshing about this experience is the chance to look at the college preparation process through a new lens. I’m doing one of these presentations with a marriage and family therapist who specializes in teen issues—she mostly helps kids through anxiety issues and incidents of family trauma. Suddenly our dialogue swings into underlying emotional needs, parent-teenager relationship dynamics, and the various stages of cognitive development as a backdrop to discussing how and when and in what language and under what conditions the college conversation might begin. Not something I got through my UCLA Extension courses. Why not?
Another presentation is with an academic life coach. It’s like taking a magnifying glass to the summer before senior year. His approach zeroes in on conditional (“If I raise my score, then I can get into Harvard”) versus intrinsic motivation (doing something because the experience itself is the reward, as in learning for learning’s sake); the qualities of WDAs (Well Designed Actions) and how they could save a busy senior during fall; and the tendencies of a fixed (versus growth) mindset to project a student’s fate and all future success to depend on admission to the Ivies.
What I’m realizing is that it’s not so much the WHAT of the information I’m currently processing —very little, if any, of what we’ve been discussing is entirely new to me—but rather it’s in HOW it’s communicated. There’s only so much information my mediocre little memory can hang onto. But how we curate it? Therein lies the counseling. (Amiright?)
By Nick Soper