Student Goal Setting

Bryan continued to make progress, but he had no real goals. He was making progress because of a lot of involvement by his parents, teachers and his counselor and he enjoyed the attention and encouragement. His development and growth was being guided by others and I needed to help him start to take ownership. It would have been helpful if he had some sort of career goal, but he didn’t. If he did, we could talk about how he needed to prepare for that career. If he was motivated to prepare for something specific, we could use this as a powerful source and help direct what he needed to do.

What we decided to do was to go to a basic plan that would help him organize what he did on a daily basis: listen and think about what teachers are telling you they want completed; how to use his agenda to record those specific requirements; how to organize his schedule so he could get everything completed; and review what was done to determine what was completed and at what level. I specifically discussed each of these plans with him and asked him to check with his teachers and his parents to check on how they thought things were going and to ask if they had any suggestions to make things work better.

It sounds pretty straight forward to suggest that he listen and think about what teachers are telling him they want completed. However, I had to keep in mind that he had not had a lot of experience or success in doing this. Most teachers at the middle school level will write assignments, dates of quizzes, tests and projects on the board and they probably have an on-line teacher web site, but if you are not in the habit of paying attention to this, you may not see the importance of taking immediate action. Teachers often ask their students to specifically write this information in an agenda or use a phone to record it. I am not going to go into planning for short term and long term projects at this point because I first want to make sure that all of the basic information is being recorded.

As information is initially recorded, I want it written in an agenda so that I can easily discuss what was done and how well it was done. I want a student to share it with their parent(s) and I want the student to be able to show me what homework was assigned and when quizzes, tests and projects are due. If they don’t have it written down (because it is stored in their phone), it makes it more difficult to access the information and discuss it. Students that already do well probably prefer to use their phones and it can work very well. The use of a written agenda with dates and times also makes it easier for me to help them manage information and start breaking long term assignments into shorter goals with specific time frames. I can specifically discuss when they do their homework, when they are going to study for quizzes and tests, when they will start working on projects and discuss what else needs to be completed.

The above actions lead to the question about how well did they perform and what the student thinks they need to work on right now. I am not actually checking on what they did or how well they did, but rather, what they think. I want the student to talk about the process and what they think they need to change or do differently. This process requires them to organize and manage their time and the information that is given to them. I want to talk to them about things they have learned about this process of recording information and how successful they feel they have been. I also want to have them tell me what they need to change or do differently to make the process improve.  With that being said, I then have to check what was actually completed and at what level.

Most schools now have on-line grade books that list assignments, quizzes, tests, projects and the grades that were achieved. I always suggest that students ask to go on-line and review this information with their parent(s). The more the family is involved on a regular basis, the easier it is to make changes and ensure on-going success. I try to meet with students that are having performance issues every two weeks, but usually meet after one week when I start working on a performance issue. I look at the agenda first and discuss what was written and ask questions when I see missing information. My goal is to have the student tell me why something wasn’t completed and what they are going to do to improve. As I see the individual grades, I am first looking for assignments that were not completed and we talk about why they weren’t completed. Then we talk about their plan to change that.

I am looking at quiz and test grades to determine if there is improvement, but I specifically ask what they need to do to make some improvement. There are usually skill issues and they probably have not learned how to successfully study for quizzes and tests, so I direct their attention to how the teacher presents the information in class, how teachers schedule homework. I am trying to get the student to discuss what they are uncertain about and when they realized  that they didn’t understand what was being discussed. I want them to start keeping track of things that are important and specifically what they need to work on and how to keep track of this information. Going to a math teacher and asking for help on math is not as effective as going to the math teacher and asking for help on decimals or fractions or how to multiply negative numbers.

Once they start to keep track of specific skills that need assistance, they have to set goals that include when they will go for help and how they can schedule time to practice theses skills. the more my students keep track of what they are required to do, organize their time so they complete the required work and get help on specific skills or concepts that are necessary to perform at a higher level, the more success they will see. I want them to reflect on the successful habits that they are developing and think about changes that they need to make to move their performance to the next level. We generally know what we know, but not specifically what we don’t know. That is why it is so important to develop mentors (parents, teachers, counselors and other students) who will help us set realistic goals and give us honest feedback on the level of our performance. The encouragement and honesty of these mentors fosters an environment that challenges and encourages positive improvements that help children that are struggling. Failing grades didn’t develop instantly and won’t change instantly. It is a process that has to nurtured and may take years to change. Parents need to be ready to sign on for the long haul if they want to see positive changes.

Next: Performance That Doesn’t Improve




Making Adjustments and Encouragement

Bryan did bring his signed print out to me and I did meet with him after two weeks to determine how much progress he had made, but it wasn’t a complete turn around and he was still failing his major subjects. To help him become able to make progress in the future I needed to make adjustments in his expectations. Specifically, he needed to know we weren’t looking at the actual grades at this point. We were looking at what he was able to change.

His agenda had some assignments listed, but there wasn’t a drastic improvement. Moving his homeroom to his math teacher’s homeroom did make a difference. He saw her at the beginning of every day and had to show her what he completed so he became more motivated to complete his math homework. His skills were still in need of improvement and he was still not sure how to identify the actual skills he needed to work on, but he started to make some notes on his homework so he and his teacher could work on some of the skills he needed to improve. This is the start of my encouragement. He was starting to pay attention to specific items on his homework to ask his math teacher for more help. He was starting to complete his math homework and his homework grade was improving.

Skills on the other hand are not that easily improved. In most cases, there are a number of skills that should have been developed in previous years that weren’t. I needed to help Bryan see the need to identify not only the new material that he needed to work on, but also the skills that he was expected to know. I needed to encourage him to start paying attention to the sample problems presented in class and identify the specific parts of the problems that he was having difficulties understanding. Then, continue to pay attention to the specifics as he did his homework and ask for help in class and during homeroom. This is not easy for a student that has failed to start doing. I needed him to focus on the process, not the actual grades. If he just focused on the individual grades, he would only see that he was still failing. I tried to explain that we had three more marking periods to bring his grades to a passing level.

Obviously, his stepmother was doing her part and making sure that he did his homework and encouraged him to do the best that he could. She also responded to Bryan’s teachers through e-mail to remind him of things that he needed to complete and dates of quizzes and tests. He was still very sensitive about how much she could push him, but the teachers and I encouraged her by telling her that she was doing a great job and that Bryan was making progress. There are a lot of situations where the support at home is not really there and it limits the amount of progress that can be made.

Progress, as expected was slow, but Bryan was starting to trust that we were more concerned about the progress he was making than his actual grade grades on quizzes and tests. Since this was middle school (Jr. HS), teachers allowed students to make test corrections to improve their grades. Bryan started to meet with his other teachers during homeroom and during actual class time and he started making progress in most of his classes.

Reading was a problem. He didn’t like to read and was not doing well with assignments that required him to read at home. When we talked about his assignments that required independent reading, he was quite clear that he didn’t like to read. I asked him if his mind wanders when he reads and he told me that it was difficult to pay attention to what he was reading and didn’t remember what he was reading. Basically, he was just reading words and often didn’t finish passages.

I convinced him to make reading the first thing that he completed when he was doing his homework because everything else would be easier and more enjoyable. I asked him to start keeping track of the who, what, where, when and how of his passages. I asked him about the type of questions his teachers asked him and the type of questions that were on quizzes and tests and he started to agree that those items were what he needed to keep track of when he read. The problem is that people that do not like to read do not change that fact easily, and you don’t learn to read effectively, unless you read everything that is assigned. This was going to require a lot of work and a lot of encouragement. I suggested to his stepmother that reading with him and to him may have a positive benefit, if he would accept that.

I could detail a lot more, but I wanted to use this as an example of a student that had the ability to make changes and start to become successful, but was not a student in need of special education. He wasn’t able to be successful because his behavior at home, in school and in his previous community didn’t have the structure, support and encouragement to cause him to make changes. Moving to a new community with more financial support at his grandmother’s house and a school that is very good at making parents and students aware of specific expectations can produce amazing results.

Bryan continued to make progress and his grades did go up, but he had no real goals. He was making progress because of a lot of involvement by his parents, teachers, counselor and hard work on his part and he enjoyed the attention and encouragement. If he was really going to become able to move to the next level, he need to start making goals.

Next time I am going to talk about the value of goal setting.









Public School Performance Issues

It often starts with a teacher contacting the guidance counselor about a student in her class. “I know it is only the very beginning of the year, but I have a student from out-of-district that already seems to be struggling to keep up in my regular ed class. I was wondering if you could check into his background since we don’t seem to have any test scores, grades or other information from his past school listed in our student information system. I have him sitting front and center, but he needs to be reminded to do what I am doing with the rest of the class.  I am guessing that he may have some attention issues because he tends to look off into space. Could you see what the other school’s records say about him?”
In this case, the parent enrolled him in our school just before the beginning of our school year with the minimum of documentation. We requested records from the previous school, but we haven’t received anything so we try to obtain this information as quickly as possible, but we are at their mercy and sometimes it doesn’t come to us very quickly. We contact the parent, but the cell number we have has a voice mail that is full. I call the student to my office to meet with him to review his current grades and and try to get some background information.
He isn’t sure why I called him to my office and I try to make him feel comfortable by explaining that I meet with all my students so that I can get to know them, review their grades, talk about their previous year in school, discuss their activities, current goals for this year and ask them about their career plans. He is very guarded about what he tells me and seems somewhat disinterested in his grades which are all in need of improvement. I do manage to get him to tell me where he lived in Florida and that he,  his stepmother, dad and his little brother are living with his dad’s mother. He finally tells me that he failed 7th grade last year and I print his assignments, quiz and test grades and ask him to take the information home and share this information with his parents. I put my name, telephone number and e-mail information on the print out.
Before he leaves, I explain that I will be working with him and his teachers to help him become successful. I also ask him again to share the print out with his parents and ask him to have them contact me. I reassure him that we are going to find a way to help him with his grades and come up with a plan that he will be a part of. Now I need to try and get his records and hope a parent contacts me ASAP. If the parents don’t contact me, I do have other ways to make contact.
It didn’t take long for his step mother to reach out to me. She called within two days and I received the signed print out that same day from the student, who I will call Bryan. I also received am e-mail from his math teacher who asked that Bryan be moved to her home room. This would make it easy for Bryan to get help from his math teacher and work on his most difficult subject. Things don’t usually happen this quickly or with this ease. Usually, I follow up with the student and they don;t have the print out and I don’t get a call from the parent. It is usually the teachers and possibly an Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS) team that has to develop all of the strategies and work very hard to get the student and family on board. That is the major reason it is so hard to able students that have a history of not doing well in school.
Bryan’s step mother provided a lot of back ground information about Bryan, his acting out behaviors and struggles in school. It didn’t seem like Bryan and his parents were uninterested in making changes and improving his performance, but they were having a difficult time figuring out how to start and how to maintain progress. I get it. Developing good study habits, changing attitudes about Bryan’s abilities and creating a specific plan for success is not easy.
When I met with Bryan, I made it clear that he needed to commit to some changes, but I also reassured him that I would meet with him on a regular basis to provide suggestions and encouragement. When we discussed goals, we discussed specific goals that would allow him to start becoming successful right away. He missed a lot of assignments so his first goal was to reduce the number of missing assignments. We discussed using his agenda to write down his assignments or to use his phone to take a screen shot.  The second goal was to specifically set a time that he would do his homework and work on projects. Third, Bryan needed start paying attention to anything that he didn’t understand and develop a method to write it down or keep track of it. Fourth, he needed to have a plan to meet with each of his teachers to get clarification and assistance. Fifth, he and I were going to meet within two weeks to discuss his progress.
Next: Making Adjustments and Encouragement.

A Parent’s Plan for Productive Children

I retired from my position as a Middle School Guidance Counselor effective 1/1/19, but I have been off for Christmas Holiday since 12/21/18. I took a long break from my blog to travel, reassess what I wanted to do during my retirement and to enjoy a new life style. With more than 20 years in education and more than 25 years of Executive Human Resources experience, I have been providing advice and counsel from the board room with the CEO, COO, corporate attorneys and other executives to a small conference room with confused and anxious parents.

My approach will be to provide some examples of situations (no identities revealed) that I have been personally or professionally involved with and my thoughts on methods and ideas to assist parents that have similar concerns. Not all situations are the same and an approach needs to be specific to that situation. With that said, there are a lot of differences in how effective parents approach helping their children make productive  social, educational, career and financial  decisions.

As an extreme example, my conversations with the great grandparents of a middle school student that is having educational and social issues is much different than my conversation with affluent and well educated parents that have lived with their children since birth. The former may have just had their four great grandchildren placed in their care because no one else in the family wanted that responsibility. Their financial resources, knowledge of technology and their values may be extremely different than the other family. There may be a big difference in the skill levels and level of confidence in the two students. In both cases the interventions need to be a product of a meeting that brings together all of the parties that have responsibility for that child’s performance.

From that first meeting, there needs to be agreement on who is responsible for what interventions. This needs to be clearly communicated and there needs to be specific dates that performance is evaluated. This may seem very controlled and analytic, but if we don’t actually establish a base line of facts, it is very difficult to develop meaningful interventions or to determine the amount of progress that was made. We also need to understand that we don’t just fix this by installing a new part. This is a process and will take time. The problem usually didn’t just start, but has been a gradual decline to the point that everyone wants something done right now.

My next blog will examine a specific problem and some thoughts on how to develop a plan. I would love to hear any thoughts or questions that anyone wants to present.

Plans for this blog

I haven’t posted anything for a while because I have been getting things finalized at school and start my retirement on 12/21/18. I have also been working on a house that is almost ready to be put on the market for sale. While I was doing both of these things, I was developing a plan to organize this blog so that it is not as random as it has been.

It is possible that I will post before I retire, but I would like to have a more organized approach that lends itself to a thoughtful flow of information and a more specific long term plan for the blog. Looking back on e-mails, reports and things that I have written, I realize that writing about disabilities and focusing on how to to able, not disable a person is not a straight line activity. Even the best of plans that were developed by a group of professionals does not always have the intended effect. When some are focused on how the person will feel and some are focused on specific directed activities, confusion about our approach may make it difficult to implement plans.

As an example, a student that has experienced a lot of failures in their home and school lives may have an IEP (individual education plan) that tries to build up their self esteem, skills and level of performance. The accommodations and modifications may be very successful in making them feel better about themselves (based on grades that are posted), and parents may be very happy that their child is now on the honor roll, but what is the actual effect on skill development? What is the actual value of that A or B when it is evaluated by a “high stakes” state test or compared to the scope and complexity in a regular classroom? At the end of their high school education, how competitive are they when they apply for a program or a job?




Are IEP’s Different at Different Schools?

You might think that IEP’s (Individual Educational Plan) are standardized and would easily transfer from school to school, but each school can be a little different and the plans for one school may not work in another. The IEP is written by a case manager or member of the CST (Child Study Team) with input from teachers and parents. If those that are writing the new annual plan (in the same school district) really don’t understand how the new school works, they write the plan based on how their school works.

When the student moves up from the elementary school to the middle school, students sometimes have difficulties because the expectations are different and the culture is different. Middle school has more freedoms and students have more teachers. The ability to share information by walking across the hall to talk to another teacher that has that student is no longer an option. In middle school and high school, there is a good possibility that the student’s teachers have no opportunity to discuss that student. The focus seems to be on curriculum and test scores and the goal seems to be how to prepare students for college. The focus can also vary from school to school.

There is also the element of independence. Middle school teachers want students to be more independent than elementary school teachers and the level of independence goes up again in high school. Middle and high school teachers teach a subject or subjects to different groups of students and may see more than a hundred students a day. If your child has an IEP, and is scheduled to be in a classroom with a regular education curriculum with the focus on preparing students for college, what should be included in that IEP? It depends on the focus of the school’s CST, the teacher’s approach, the culture of the school and its administration and how well a parent advocates for their child.

If the parent believes their child needs to go to college, then it becomes a process of developing accommodations to help make the child competitive. My question is about careers and the abilities of the student to be competitive when they apply for a job. Have the accommodations helped them become competitive in the actual job market or have the accommodations allowed them to get good grades while they are in school? A lot of parents want to create accommodations that will reduce what needs to be completed, add additional time to complete assignments and allow the student to make test corrections or have a different test to ensure that they will get a good grade. Is doing less a good plan to make someone more able?

Below the regular education inclusion classes that have students with IEP’s and accommodations, are more restrictive programs. Although the classes might have different titles, they are smaller groups of students with an adjusted pace and curriculum to provide more opportunities to individualize the instruction. The goal to have students learn to do more as a result of the ability to provide more individualized instruction. My goal is to look at how we help individuals at all levels become more able. With students that have an IEP, I believe that we need to motivate toward doing as much as they can, rather than creating accommodations to allow them to do less. I also believe that we help our children and student best when we talk about their interests and help them develop plans to pursue their goals.



Making the IEP Work

I have attended hundreds of IEP meetings. The range of abilities varies within each classification and also in the manner of how the IEP is implemented. Sometimes the school does not have the resources to make the plan help the student maximize their unique abilities. Sometimes the teachers can’t navigate the constraints of their resources or the philosophy of the administration and their Child Study Team (the team that evaluates students to see if they need an IEP and creates the IEP that defines the services and accommodations that the child receives). With that said, what can the parent and student do?

The programs that I am familiar with allow students that are 14 or older to participate in the planning of their IEP. Before age 14, the child has very little input, except their ability to influence their parents that the classes are too hard or too easy or to help shape the parent’s view of the teacher or the school. If the parents believe that their child needs more assistance, more support and a reduction in what they have to do, the result is that the student is not trying to exceed the requirements that have been set, but are trying to do less than is expected. When a student on this path completes their education, are they able to compete for jobs?

I have been a guidance counselor in a public school for more than 20 years and I have approximately 25 years of progressively more senior experience in human resources with major corporations as well as over 25 years of competitive coaching experience. These experiences have helped me develop a clear view of what traits produce successful teams and individuals. A desire to be the best that you can be. The ability to continue working on goals, even when things get difficult. Having a support network that includes a mentor to help keep you focused on continued progress and etc.

My point is that we help able our students, our children, our employees, our team mates and co-workers by helping them able themselves, not limit themselves. I don’t want to tell someone that they can’t, but a degree of reality keeps all of us focused on realistic goals. Is there someone in your life that needs a mentor? What is stopping you from being a mentor? All the best to each of us that are trying to make our lives and the lives of our neighbors better.