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In-school college and career prep helps the students who need it most—here’s why school counselors play a pivotal role

4 ways school counselors can use tech to support students

In-school college and career prep helps the students who need it most—here’s why school counselors play a pivotal role

Between my years as a high school counselor and current role as a school counselor specialist for the Arizona Department of Education, I’ve become familiar with the changes and challenges that school counselors across the U.S. are facing.

The 2018 Condition of College & Career Readiness found that college readiness levels remained dismal for underserved learners. This indicates a gap that we need to bridge. It’s imperative that schools provide students with resources and support for future readiness.

Related content: Inspiring students for career and college

According to former Jobs for the Future program manager Tobie Baker Wright, “good career exploration today is working to develop things in young people — the ability to work as part of a team, the ability to communicate effectively, personal responsibility — that help them have agency in making decisions about careers.”

I agree – when it comes to career exploration, the earlier the better. Unfortunately, a national shortage of school counselors has made it difficult to ensure that students have full support, and has resulted in unequal access for districts with a high student-to-counselor ratio.

Ideally, every school would be able to meet the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommendation of 250 students per school counselor. Until then, technology offers a way to support school counselors in their roles.

I’ve experienced the benefits that technology can bring to college and career readiness. Here are four ways that school counselors can use tech to provide in-school support to every student:

1. Help students own their decisions

In 2008, the Arizona State Legislature passed a mandate that requires each student in grades 9-12 to have an Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP). The ECAP reflects a student’s current plan of coursework, career aspirations, and learning opportunities to better develop their academic and career goals.

Prior to the ECAP regulation, many districts were already following a comprehensive planning process for students, but we weren’t necessarily housing it anywhere. Post-ECAP, we realized that we’d need an effective way to store student information, making it easy to transfer information if they moved to a different city or school.

We used technology to streamline the process. The Arizona Career Information System (AZCIS) is an online portal where students can develop an online portfolio to track their ECAP progress. This tool opened our eyes to the value and support that effective systems can offer, and led to our interest in Xello, a future readiness platform for students in grades K-12.

As educators, our job is to inspire and inform our students. The more information they have, the more likely they are to make decisions that lead to success. Offering specific digital solutions for students has a better result than sending them to do random Google searches for college and career information.

2. Meet a new generation of expectations

There is a caveat to the rapid evolution of technology. Millennials are viewed as digital pioneers, and Generation Z students are digital natives. Our current generation of students has high expectations when it comes to technology. If a platform is clunky, it’s inevitable that students will notice and may lose focus. When tech is outdated, it can become a distraction. I’ve found that when technology isn’t serving the purpose its intended for, it becomes a hindrance.

To avoid that issue, I recommend that districts spend at least one year before implementing a new program. During that time, it’s important to conduct thorough research and conduct due diligence about the tool or service that’s being considered. How well is it working in other districts? What data protection precautions are being taken? Who will oversee the implementation process?

Once you’re ready to invest in a new resource, it’s a good idea to form a committee that will support the initial rollout of a program, and create a comprehensive implementation plan. These are two ways to ensure that everybody is on the same page before a solution is rolled out. I also recommend that a faculty member at each school is selected to be a specialist in whatever is being implemented – this way, questions from staff, students, and parents can be easily answered.

3. Make career planning student-centered

I strongly believe that college and career readiness should be built on throughout a student’s K-12 journey. What we talk about with students is going to vary in elementary, middle, and high school, and each part is critical in a well-rounded future readiness program.

For example, in grades K-8, the focus isn’t going to be about picking a lifelong career. Instead, it’s about self-exploration and allowing students to get to know their likes and dislikes. From there, we can transfer their interests into career clusters.

When you consider the way the economy and workforce have changed, such as the rise of the gig economy, Millennials and Generation Zs aren’t as likely to feel the same attachment to stick with one job as previous generations. Newer generations are more focused on finding a role that aligns with their interests and offers the right benefits. Given the career flexibility that students are likely to have, it becomes even more important to teach them how to search for jobs that are the right fit, and to know how to apply their knowledge to a variety of roles.

4. Equip students with academic and life skills

I’m excited about how we’re progressing in Arizona in ensuring that every student graduates with the right mix of skills to navigate college, career, and life. Together, Arizona business, industry, and educational leaders defined skills needed in our state’s workplace. To support educators in exposing students to these skills, our department has compiled a list of Professional Skills standards, rubrics and resources.

I also like to share the American School Counselor Association (ASCA)’s Career Conversation Starters guide with teachers, parents, and students. This free, research-based resource is broken down by grade and addresses the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for student success. Each section provides questions to help prepare students for the future.

Future readiness needs to be a constant practice. That’s what makes a combination of in-school career and technical education programs, like Xello and AVID, and at-home resources, such as the above guides, so valuable.

We know that students need more than academic skills to be successful. Financial literacy, and social emotional skills are just as critical to a bright future. Many of Arizona’s high schools offer a financial literacy course that’s equivalent to a student’s fourth year of math. The class covers everything from mortgages and loans to tax preparation and how to save. We also have some financial literacy topics built into economics curriculum, which all seniors are required to take. Arizona schools can also partner with EverFi, a nonprofit that offers free online financial literacy courses. It’s become a supplement for our students inside and outside of the classroom.

In past generations, it was easy to say “work and save” for a successful future; but with our current economy that’s just not a feasible option for every student. The best thing we can do is ensure that life skills are included in future readiness curriculum, and be confident that we’re giving students access to every available resource.

With evolving technology and new instructional strategies, the strides that we’ve been able to take in providing equitable college and career readiness is encouraging. I encourage every school administrator, teacher, school counselor, and parent to reflect on the importance of providing future readiness in-school, and the impact that it could have on a student.

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