Margaret was asked by the WACAC Communications Committee to share her thoughts, experiences, and advice on working from home during these uncertain times. Margaret is the Lead Academic Counselor at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose, CA and also serves on the WACAC Executive Board as the Chair of the Public School Counselors Ad Hoc Committee.
High School Counseling during a pandemic and tech tools that we can’t live without!
I write this post from my kitchen table, or my new home office. In thinking about what I wanted to share with the WACAC community, I decided to share my experience with the closures, and how we have all turned a profession that relies on face to face contact into running entirely remotely. All this while managing a caseload of over 450 anxious students. I work at a large, public Title I high school in Northern California, and am lucky enough to have four other (amazing) counselors on my team. Our student to counselor ratio is about 450:1. As soon as our county closed schools on March 13, our district proved to be a leader when it came to the health, safety and essential needs of both our students and staff members. We are a K-12 district with over 30,000 students. The district chose to prioritize daily food availability and has been providing meals to thousands of district and non-district families in our community each day since the closure. They took the time to ensure that students in need of devices were provided a safe way to receive them and staff members a safe way to distribute them. The remote learning opportunities that have been assigned to students have been both engaging and unique. We wanted our school counseling program to continue to be dynamic in a time when we knew our students needed us most.
Our counseling team has been working remotely (and non-stop) since the day of the closure and is continuing to support students the best that we can given the circumstances. Each of us has been communicating with families and students using all tools possible. What I would like to share today are some of the ones that have made our work lives much more manageable. I know that a majority of our membership is made up of public high school counselors, so I will be discussing apps that come at no cost.
Remind: This is a two way messaging tool that we use often. Remind implemented limits on class sizes recently, but my team members each created an account for every grade level on our campus. This is something that we had set up prior to the closure, but if you have access to student phone numbers you can add them through the app. This is a great tool to quickly communicate information, share resources, or do individual check-ins.
Canva: This app is mind blowing! The possibilities are truly endless and so professional looking. We have used it to create fliers, social media posts, invitations, Google classroom banners, newsletters, and so much more! The great thing about Canva is that it is so simple to use, anyone can become a design pro with the click of a few buttons. We have also included our Bitmojis on messaging to make it more personal. The free version is fantastic but they have an amazing opportunity to get an upgrade to PRO for educators here. They also recently released a desktop app!
Google Classroom: Many of you are probably familiar with Google Classroom. I know I was, but up until this past month I had never actually used it in my own practice. This is an amazing tool that allows us to provide resources and information to students that we would otherwise have to manually send. In our “classrooms”. We include college and career resources, links to updates, webinars, mental health resources, college essay support and more. We can assign activities or Google Forms that we want students to complete in order to collect data. Counselors can schedule recurring office hours via Google Meet. We created a classroom for each grade level and have found it to be the most equitable way to share resources with students and families.
Quicktime: I had no idea what a powerful and professional screen-casting tool Quicktime was until a colleague sent me a video recently. I thought she used a fancy tool, but no, she used the free Mac software, Quicktime. I also found this how to video on recording a voice-over screen-cast that includes your webcam while recording your screen. If you do not have Quicktime, you can use Screencastify or check out another great video from The Counseling Geek on Screen Casting here. You can use these types of videos to show students how to complete a task and post it on your Google Classrooms.
Calendly: This is another free tool that I have recently started using. It is an appointment scheduler that syncs with your calendar and provides blocks of availability to allow students and families to schedule time with you. No more back and forth emails and wasted time! It even sends reminder emails so that you can ensure that your appointment is on time. I think the upgraded version will pay for itself in the long run. They also integrate web meeting apps such as Zoom or Google Meet which makes it even easier! Check out another great video from The Counseling Geek on Calendly and how he uses it here. They offer a 25% discount for educators if you contact them.
Webex: My district happens to use Webex, but really this is in reference to online meeting platforms of any kind, there are so many out there. Zoom and Google Meet are free options right now. These tools have been invaluable to the work that we are doing every day. In addition to traditional phone calls, we have been utilizing online meeting platforms to get in contact with students and families, holding virtual office hours, community college application workshops and we plan to use Webex for a Seniors Awards Night later this month. I know we are not used to doing our work this way, but for the time being, this has been working for us.
I know this has been a difficult adjustment for many of us and I hope that some of the tools I shared are helpful to you. I am glad to share more information or hear what tools have worked for you and your team. Stay safe, and thank you to all the educators for the work that you do supporting your students each day!