I’m a huge proponent of using a school counseling needs assessment. Any time you can get information to guide your program and make it more intentional is wonderful! A needs assessment shouldn’t just be something to check the box for, though. If you want it to be as helpful as can be, you’ll need to spend a little mental energy first. Here are six questions to ask yourself before administering a school counseling needs assessment:
What level of needs are you looking for?
You might want to learn about universal needs – needs of entire classes, grades, or even the school. Or, you could be wanting to assess more specific needs – the needs of specific families or individual students (*important note on this later). The level will impact things like whether or not people can answer anonymously. It also impacts the wording you use, such as “you/I” vs. “the class/we.”
What type of needs are you looking for?
“Needs assessment” is pretty broad and counselors (and districts) can interpret it differently. One common need counselors want data for is skills/topics to cover in their core curriculum lessons. Especially when there isn’t a district curriculum, a needs assessment can give helpful info for creating a curriculum map.
Some counselors use needs assessments to determine subsistence needs a family might have (food, clothes, etc.)
They can also be used for figuring out what services are needed so you can prioritize accordingly with your program. With limited time, you have to make tough calls about lessons vs. groups vs. workshops vs. consultation. This can be especially helpful data to have if you are trying to advocate for more/less time with different duties!
Needs assessments can also be a way to determine a need for group counseling by asking faculty to identify which group topics they would have referrals for.
Some counselors advocate for assessing needs around safety at home, anxious or depressive thoughts, etc. These would definitely be specific needs, and here’s where the asterisk above comes in. There can be some sticky ethical concerns and/or district policy issues here. Asking students certain questions sometimes requires telling caregivers ahead of time and giving an opt-out option. It’s worth some extra thought (and consulting with a colleague in your district) if you’re wanting to ask questions like “How often do you feel worried?” For tier 2 and tier 3 level needs, you might want to consider talking to your administrators and/or district supervisor about using a universal screener.
Am I able to meet the needs I want to assess?
Another question to consider for ethical purposes is whether or not you can feasibly meet the needs you’re asking about – either within our building or through reliable community partners. We wouldn’t want to ask someone if they need something and then not be able to provide it, either due to lack of resources or lack of time.
Who should I assess about these needs?
When the needs you are assessing are student needs, you could ask teachers and/or students and/or caregivers about them! There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s a balancing act of considering how kids present at home vs. school, the fact that children under 10 aren’t always reliable self-reporters, and wanting the investment of all stakeholders. I personally conduct my full needs assessment with teachers, ask my 3rd and 4th graders about class lesson topics, and ask caregivers about workshop topics.
What’s the method of assessment should I use?
Whole group or one on one? Paper and pencil or digital? Traditional needs assessment vs. minute meetings? It’s all about what is the best fit for your school and your program. For me, minute meetings would have meant one less lesson in each classroom and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that (especially because I was already doing lunch bunches with everyone). For some of my colleagues, minute meetings were really valuable in developing rapport with students.
When is the best time to administer it?
I’m not sure if this is a popular opinion, but I encourage waiting four to six weeks after the first day for your beginning of the year needs assessment. There is a honeymoon or transition period for everyone and you’ll get more accurate and useful results if you wait until students and faculty are settled in! This timeline also aligns with when universal screeners are recommended to be administered. In December or January, I administer a second needs assessment (that is also part program evaluation).
Ready to dive in with your school counseling needs assessment? This one will give you a huge head start!