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Strategy

Virtual Counseling: Keep Students Engaged, Aligned &On Track

College and career readiness won't work without virtual counseling. Here's how to maintain continuity of services during distance and blended learning.

Katie Fang
Katie Fang

Jun 30, 2020

All across the country teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, and even students are hoping that schools are open - buildings are open - this coming fall. While it’s wonderful to hope, everyone should be preparing for some level of virtual instruction - and virtual counseling - next fall, and it’s important to be prepared and equipped with strategies for success. It is incumbent on those involved in college and career readiness, specifically, to begin formulating a plan for success that involves executing a virtual counseling curriculum. This will be no small feat.

Counselors need to consider how to:  

  • Further student exploration

  • Deepen student learning

  • Crystalize student planning

In the areas of:

  • Self

  • Career

  • Postsecondary pathway

  • Graduation pathway

While:

  • Being engaging

  • Individualizing guidance

  • Holding students accountable for district graduation requirements and state accountability measures

  • Continuing to deepen personal relationships and nurture trust

While we never anticipated the current world of distance and blended learning brought on by COVID-19, SchooLinks was designed to empower, excite, and engage students to take ownership of their own postsecondary journey - wherever they are. It’s not that the SchooLinks platform can simply accommodate virtual counseling, it is intentionally designed to help counselors and students thrive and not miss a beat in a virtual setting. Below are some overarching strategies to be of maximum effectiveness as a counselor in a virtual setting, and some specific ways that SchooLinks supports the process.

1. Easily create, communicate, and facilitate your counseling framework and counseling activities

One of the biggest challenges for all virtual learning is communicating specific assignments, tasks, and objectives to different cohorts of students while being confident that messages are received and everyone is on the same page. For college and career readiness counseling in particular, students must see the framework and sequence of what they’re being asked to do so it doesn’t seem like they’re simply completing a bunch of disparate, unconnected tasks. Students need to see how the exploration, learning, and preparatory activities that we ask them to do are connected to a larger plan designed to set them on an individualized and optimized pathway for future success.

Accountability System Indicators on SchooLinks provides the structure through which you can lay out the scope, sequence, and framework of your counseling program. All of the 80 unique student experiences available on SchooLinks - not to mention the limitless customizable activities you can create for students on the platform - are categorized as Indicators, and you can configure these indicators to be relevant for different grades and cohorts of students at different times throughout the year.

Additionally, you can “set it and forget it” - you never have to remind students of upcoming tasks and you don’t need to populate individual tasks for students to see. Once your scope and sequence is set, when an indicator is coming up for a student, it is automatically surfaced as a “to do” on their dashboard. So, students know exactly what they’re supposed to do at all times - the system tells them, and then the system guides them exactly where they need to go. Whether it’s completing a career interest inventory, completing a learning module, exploring career clusters, or even completing the FAFSA, Accountability System Indicators on SchooLinks is the easy way to frame the scope and sequence of your program and be confident that students always know what they’re supposed to be doing.

2. Foster trust during asynchronous learning, exploration, and planning 

For virtual counseling to be effective, students need to own the process and own the outcome. It’s our job to ensure they have access to resources at all times. Additionally, putting together lessons and content that can help students discover all post-secondary options is key to help students navigate the complicated college and career planning process. If our goal is to get students to take agency and be enthusiastic to learn about themselves and plan for their future, we can’t let access to resources and tools be a barrier.

As long as students have internet access (and we understand that this is an issue that still needs attention) they can learn, explore, and plan on SchooLinks.

Learning Plan and Financial Literacy

SchooLinks features a self-paced learning plan designed to offer guidance and provide college and career planning knowledge. With media-rich learning modules that students can access any time, it is perfect for a virtual setting. Counselors can set a scope and sequence, but students can always access all modules so there’s nothing slowing them down.

Additionally, in these uncertain economic times it’s more important than ever to expose students to financial literacy. SchooLinks offers a fun, interactive component called “Game of Life” where students can map out simulations of pathways and life decisions to visually see if a particular life scenario makes financial sense. It’s an engaging experience that also really gets students thinking about financial considerations for their immediate and long term life plans.

Post-secondary Exploration

There are few topics more inherently exciting and hopeful than high school students exploring different possibilities for their future while genuinely believing that hard work and high character can absolutely lead them to success. One of our most solemn obligations is to continue to help students explore and dream - regardless of where the learning is taking place.

SchooLinks engages students in exploration - whether personal, college, or career - from the comfort of their own home. The platform offers: 

  • Five student inventories to guide career and pathway exploration

  • Career exploration with career mentor Q&A (students can ask questions and many Covid related questions covered … get real answers from real mentors)

  • Virtual reality college campus tours

  • Watch videos from real students about their experiences

Planning

 

It is important for students to take agency in four year course planning, compiling a portfolio and resume, planning for graduation, and even applying to colleges no matter where they are. In a virtual setting where counselors can’t physically sit down with students 1:1, it’s important to have a support platform that guides students through processes and surfaces errors.

SchooLinks offers an intuitive, AI guided course planning experience for students featuring your precise course catalog and graduation plans. Let that sink in and take a deep breath - counselors no longer need to be present when students do their course planning … and if there’s errors, SchooLinks lets kids know (aka you don’t have to!). We’ve been thrilled with seeing the thousands of students across the country complete four year course planning on SchooLinks this spring while students were entirely remote.  

A note about trust

There will never be a technology platform that replaces a dedicated, human mentor (aka: counselor), and there will always be the need to meet with students face to face and one on one in a virtual setting. So while all planning activities can be accomplished through SchooLinks, make sure you’re still setting those one on one meetings and check-ins. But even that isn’t enough when it comes to building trust - we need to go further and create space to have more casual interactions as well. For this reason, we highly recommend you try to institute office hours and informal “lunch bunch” whenever possible.

 

Encourage students to “drop in” and just chat … there can be no agenda whatsoever, and just see where the conversation goes. As we all know, sometimes the most impactful and memorable interactions with students come when we least expect it. Since we can’t fist-pound in the hallway, chuckle at an inside joke, or talk about the story behind that fishing picture in your office (we all have the conversation-starting photo) during virtual learning, we have to do our best to create spaces to have informal and authentic interactions with students.

3. Establish a “central hub” for all things related to college & career readiness

 

One of the biggest challenges around remote learning is establishing a central hub of communication and information. When it comes to college and career readiness, SchooLinks is that hub. All stakeholders (students, school staff, guardians) have access and visibility to critical information such as, upcoming assignments, deadlines, milestones, events, etc. - so everyone is on the same page.

When learning goes virtual, there can be no confusion as to where assignments are posted, what needs to be done, and where to look for announcements. SchooLinks can be your central hub of information for all things related to college and career readiness.

4. Facilitate Stakeholder Visibility in  ILP Development and Postsecondary Planning

Empowering students to take agency over their college and career readiness planning is crucially important, but it is also important to keep other stakeholders in the loop and involved in the process. Especially when it comes to “big picture” roadmaps such as ILPs and four year course plans - which often require a guardian signature - projects should not be completed in a vacuum. SchooLinks injects transparency and visibility into these processes and allows for e-signature to streamline approval processes. Students, guardians, and counselors can track changes and collaborate on these plans together - even in a virtual setting.

 

Additionally, when it comes to setting goals it is important to keep those goals visible so we don’t accidentally move the goalposts. Whether it’s a poster in a student’s room, a google document shared with guardians and counselors, or a desktop image on a student’s computer, we must encourage students to set goals, strive toward success, and periodically evaluate their progress. SchooLinks features a goal setting feature that guides students through the process of setting big picture, postsecondary goals and also provides the ability to set smaller, SMART goals that are then visible to all stakeholders on the platform.

5. Use Robust Analytics, Actionable Data &  Predictive Modeling 

As counselors and school administrators, it is tricky to keep track of student progress (on both micro and macro levels) in the best of times, and it becomes even more critical in a virtual setting. When counselors are able to check-in with students while already having a basis of knowledge for where a student is in their planning process, it helps students feel supported and keeps them accountable. On a macro level, analytics are essential to evaluate the health of your program and how students are progressing through your counseling program.

SchooLinks provides real-time data on every imaginable angle of student progress from individual indicator completion to course planning, to ILP completion, etc. Support staff have the ability to filter data in myriad ways to produce reports and lists of students who have or haven’t met certain sets of criteria. Support staff can then immediately message groups of students (and copy their guardians!). This way, you can pull up a list of students who haven’t completed a particular indicator and then message them with the next steps they must accomplish. In this way, the data produced is actionable - it provides information and allows you to easily take proactive steps based on that information. 

The COVID 19 pandemic will undoubtedly have long lasting effects - and accelerate lasting changes - in our education system broadly and in how we prepare students for college and career readiness specifically. We are in the midst of an opportunity to reconsider how we deliver our counseling programs to our students in the hopes of not merely being as effective, but being more effective than ever before. Technology platforms don’t reinvent counseling curriculums by any stretch of the imagination - they are a collection of tools and resources that help us deliver the best content, at the best time, in the best fashion to our students. With the right strategies and the right tools at your disposal next fall, you can ensure that your students are supported and receiving the benefit of a comprehensive counseling program to help them prepare for their futures.

Katie Fang

Katie Fang is the Founder and CEO of SchooLinks. She's an entrepreneur, world traveler, and Pop-A-Shot champion. She will happily demo SchooLinks for you personally.