Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Road to RAMP: Paving It With More Than Good Intentions

This is the first in what will be a series of reflections on the RAMP process.

It is 4:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon.  School ended at 2:05, and I am knee deep in action plans, program goals, and annual agreements.  Where did I put the latest version of the Small-Group Action Plans?  I am writing out my 6th e-mail in 3 hours to our Student Information Assistant asking her to pull more data from the computer system to help better define our achievement gap goal.  Thankfully, she is a genius, and quickly sends me another Excel spreadsheet filled with numbers.

Our data-collection year has begun--RAMP is on!  Do I have enough coffee for this?

Judging by the buzz in school counseling circles, interest in RAMP (Recognized ASCA Model Program) is exploding.  Local and state workshops are filling to capacity, and all around the blogosphere and in the world of Twitter you will find people asking questions and seeking information and resources.  School counselors want to know how they, too, can receive national recognition for a comprehensive school counseling program.

Whoa, slow down there, partner.  First you will need to develop and implement your comprehensive school counseling program.

People will often ask me, "So, you're RAMPing this year?"  My answer is that we've actually been RAMPing for about four years, this is simply our data-collection year.  You see, RAMP is ideally not a one-year, one-time process.  As with many things in life, the end is not anywhere near as important as the journey you will take to get to that end.  RAMP really serves as a capstone, the cherry-on-top of a sundae that has many layers (preferably a few that involve chocolate) and that has taken time, effort, failure, and sometimes major philosophical shifts to build.  The most important part of this process is the transformation that takes place in you, your team, and your school community as a result of implementing data-driven practices and creating a program that works with, targets, and benefits all students.  We, as school counselors, know that change is often scary, and that it can take people a while to buy-in and get on board with things that are new.  This will extend to your own counseling team, as well as your entire building, depending on your current school climate.  If you have no or few components of a comprehensive program already in place and you try to suddenly complete a RAMP application in one year, you run the risk of meeting with a great deal of resistance.  Additionally, you may succeed and have a recognized program, but if no one else in your building or community has really bought into the comprehensive program or fully understands it, how far have you really come?

So, you're excited about RAMP and interested in taking on the transformation of your program.  Where exactly do you begin?

  • Get a model.  By model, I mean the ASCA National Model, 3rd Ed.  In this revision, they have really streamlined the information and turned much of it into more of a working document, filled with templates and worksheets to get you and your team thinking and working on specific elements, such as mission, beliefs, and achievement gap programming.  Becoming familiar with the model will help you to begin wrapping your mind around what a comprehensive, data-driven program looks like.  One of the additional benefits of the new model is that there is both a print edition and a digital edition.  Both come with access to templates and worksheets, but the digital edition also has video clips and links to additional resources to further explain and enhance content.
  • Educate yourself on the RAMP process and seek out resources.  ASCA has many, many resources to include articles and examples of other RAMP applications so that you are able to see what the expectations are.  One article serves as a checklist to see just how far along in the process your program is and whether you are yet ready to apply for RAMP.  Additionally, there is a link to a monthly checklist for those entering their data-collection year.  Even if you are not there yet, it can give you an idea of what sorts of components need to be in place for a strong application.  Additionally, for those who would like professional development, there is an archived webinar through ASCA about the RAMP process, a podcast about developing a comprehensive program, multiple discussion threads on ASCA Scene, and if there is enough interest in your area, you can schedule an in-person training.  In fact, some of these trainings have already occurred in Maryland, Georgia, and Texas--keep your eyes and ears open for one that may be close to you.
  • Take a deep breath...or five.  If you have done the two steps above and a lot of the information was unfamiliar, you might be feeling overwhelmed.  Remember, transformation is a process and it takes time.  You should not expect to have all these things done overnight.  We'll talk more about where you start in a bit.
  • Seek mentoring.  If you are fortunate, you are in an area where other schools have RAMPed or you have a district that is working to implement comprehensive school counseling programs across the board.  If this is the case, you probably have support and mentors close to home.  However, what do you do if you if you're in a rural district or in a place which has not yet even heard the whispers of the ASCA National Model?  First, I would recommend looking to local and state school counseling organizations.  There may not be anyone locally to turn to, but there is more than likely someone at the state level who can help to connect you to another practitioner who can give you thoughts and feedback.  Even if this person is not local, use technology like Skype and FaceTime to chat face-to-face over the internet.  Additionally, there is support from online communities such as Twitter through the monthly #scchats that occur.  In fact, Dr. Erin Mason will be moderating a chat on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 at 8 p.m. ET specifically about the RAMP process.  People are out there to help, whether close-by or across the country.
  • Build relationships.  This may seem an odd step, but really, you cannot possibly create a comprehensive program or go through the RAMP process without buy-in from stakeholders.  If you are part of a counseling team, you will need to have the support of your whole team in order to move forward, and oftentimes team members are at very different places with regards to a data-driven program.  If you are the lone counselor in your building, you will need the support of your administration, teachers, and other support staff in your building to make this happen.  Collaborative team meetings with your counseling colleagues combined with advisory council meetings that engage parents, students, teachers, administrators, and community members are vital to beginning to educate people about why comprehensive programs are important and the impact they can have on student outcomes.  The ASCA Model is a great place to start with ways to engage stakeholders and begin to tackle the foundation upon which you will build your program.
  • Speaking of which...where do you begin?  Everyone has to start somewhere, and I must state again that trying to do all of this at once is probably not the best choice for long-term, sustained transformation with community support.  You will know your own situation and school culture best, but the place to begin is with the foundation--Mission, Vision, and Beliefs.  These three things will really help to define and determine the rest of your program, as everything you do, from programs to closing achievement gaps to developing small groups will need to somehow resonate back to these three components.  Next, if you have never collected data before, pick a program or two to really focus on, gathering data before and after the intervention and sharing that information with stakeholders to show the impact of that intervention.  Start small so that it is not overwhelming, but even if you only get information on one or two lessons or groups, by quantifying what you have done and reflecting upon it and what it means for the future, you will have truly begun to examine the effectiveness of what you do.  It may be that as a result of this, you realize that something you have done for years does not have the impact you thought it did, so maybe you should instead focus more of your time elsewhere.  Likewise, it may be that a program turns out to have a strong effect beyond what was ancitipated, in which case it might be time to expand or invest more resources.  This information can be so powerful, especially if the data is tied directly to student achievement (grades, test scores, graduation rates)!  Beyond this, the annual agreement is a great document to really connect what you do with your administration and can serve as a launching-off point to demonstrate where your time really goes versus what may be more effective or ideal.  You can use this document to perhaps negotiate removing some non-counseling duties in favor of tasks that have you working directly with and/or for students.  Finally, doing a targeted needs assessment of students, teachers, or parents can give you some data to help point you in the direction of where you should go next.  For example, if you are trying to determine what groups you are going to run this year, pick a random sample of students (and parents, depending on the age) and poll them to see what the needs might be.  You might be surprised to find that something that you perceived as a huge need is not even on the radar, whereas something else might rise to the top that you hadn't really considered.
By starting small, building key relationships, and making a plan over the long-term that slowly adds components of a RAMP program over time, you will find yourself in your own data-collection year before you know it.