When I first started as a school counselor, I had no experience teaching. Zero. I didn’t even have internship experience because most of my internships had been in school-based therapy positions and one I did while actually employed in my first position. Delivering classroom lessons was TERRIFYING and overwhelming. I saw so much value in it – the prevention/developmental side of the job was what lead me to make the switch from therapist to school counselor – but I wasn’t comfortable with it…yet. Now? It’s a major passion of mine. I’ve had the privilege of presenting on this twice now at a local conference. This post is the first of a series based off of my presentation – Effective and Engaging Curriculum Mapping and Lesson Planning (No More Worksheets!)
My first school counseling position was at a school that didn’t have much of an existing program, which meant there was no curriculum map and no lesson plans. I was starting from scratch. Awesome opportunity and major undertaking. There was a needs assessment done right before I got there (I started a couple months into the year) but the results were all over the map. When it came time to make a core curriculum plan for the year, I essentially did a combination of “this is important” paired with “google says I should be doing this.” Needless to say, my first year was a hodge podge of lessons. Not awful, not great.
I did some more googling and read a lot of blogs and the next two years I followed the model of curriculum mapping I found everywhere: each month has a theme (character trait or otherwise) and each grade level gets a differentiated lesson(s) on that theme. My teachers had no complaints. My students enjoyed our lessons together. It wasn’t bad – but again – it wasn’t great. I didn’t notice any real social/emotional/behavioral growth in the students. When I asked teachers if the students were applying what they learned, they responded with some version of “Well, we really like your lessons, they’re great!” and I’d repeat my question and they’d say “Well, no, not really. They don’t use the learning.” Ugh.
Look. I don’t have time to waste and my students don’t have time to waste. If my lessons aren’t resulting in student growth, they are a waste of time. This was a tough pill to swallow but we had to make a change. Thus came…the new vision. My co-counselor and I took time and plotted and planned and came up with the following as our approach to curriculum mapping.
1. ‘Must-Do Lessons’
Each year there would be some lessons that every class in the building needed to receive. For us, this meant at least 1 lesson on Kelso’s Choices (with an emphasis on ‘Talk it Out’) and 1 lesson on personal safety/sexual abuse prevention. This year everyone also received a lesson on classroom coping skills which functions as a training on our calm down boxes. Sometimes must-do lessons might be related to a training; in the future we hope to have a buddy bench or friend fence and this would be a must-do lesson as well.
2. Ongoing data collection about lesson effectiveness.
We did the occasional pre/post with students and I’d toyed around with some teacher surveys in the past, but nothing consistent or meaningful. A few years ago, my co-counselor and I committed to collecting perception data from the teachers about their students’ knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors as they pertained to our lessons. As elementary counselors, we spend a sizable chunk of time delivering core curriculum. We’ve got to make sure that time is being used effectively!
3. Grade Level Themes and Units
Do students learn multiplication in one lesson? Nope. Do they learn all their letter sounds in one lesson? Nope. They won’t learn how to be responsible after one lesson either, or how to be great conflict solvers, or how to regulate strong feelings. Instead of monthly themes, we decided that each grade would focus on a theme throughout the year and all their lessons (outside of the must-dos) would be aligned to this theme. At the time, we were only getting into the classrooms 10 times/year. Now that our caseloads have shrunk and we’re doing 18-20 lessons each year, we’ve moved from yearly themes to quarterly units; first quarter is the ‘must dos’ and the remaining three quarters each cover a 4-5 lesson unit. I have our first curriculum map (for free).
And here’s the thing about doing themes/units; it’s a much more evidence-based model! Take a look at the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning’s “SELect Programs” and you’ll find several that use themed units (4Rs, PATHS, Second Step, MindUP, The Incredible Years, Peace Works, and Positive Action to name a few).
We’re still working on 1st and 2nd grade for second semester (their needs assessments were definitely not clear cut!), but this is how 3rd and 4th shaped up for this school year:
This is our third year now with this new vision and we’re loving it. We definitely prefer depth to breadth when it comes to working with out students. If a classroom has a specific issue they need tackled (like stealing), we do a special one off lesson for that – and it works because it was specifically requested by the teacher – which then means it’s reinforced/encouraged/reviewed by the teacher.
I made a resource that might be helpful for you if you’re super pumped about school counseling curriculum mapping like I am, or if you just want to get your core curriculum plan more organized – it’s a set of editable curriculum maps (for different grade ranges and lesson frequencies) and a TON more themes and lesson ideas (lots of clickable links to resources or books). If that’s something that might help you with that part of your school counseling program, you can find it by clicking the picture below:
To pin for later: