Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Road to RAMP: Putting It Together

This is the fifth in a series of reflections on the RAMP process.

It's April, and we are in full-fledged RAMP application mode.  Programs and groups are in the process of being completed, narratives are being written, data is being collected, and reflection is occurring at a frenzied pace.  Planning for the final component, the Program Evaluation, is underway.  Why now?  The month of May starts with AP testing, followed immediately by our state End-of-Course exams, and once June hits we are knee-deep in graduation.  For us, this next month is really the best opportunity we have to complete as much of the application as possible.

As we are in the throws of all of these tasks, I cannot get the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim's Putting it Together out of my mind.  I have decided that if I ever facilitate a presentation on this stage of the RAMP application, I will first play this video--in my head I've already designed a collaborative learning activity around it.  Take a listen to the whole song and you will understand why:

Bit by bit, putting it together.  
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art.  
But without the proper preparation having just a Vision's no solution, everything depends on execution.  
First of all you need a good foundation otherwise it's risky from the start.
Gathering supporters and adherents...

Sound familiar?  So much of this song encapsulates the RAMP experience.  This is not a do-all-of-it-in-one-year or one-sitting process.  Rather, it takes bits of work over time and then piecing that work into a whole for a successful application.  It is important to have a strong foundation--Mission, Vision, Beliefs--before you begin, as these will inform the rest of your program's components along the way.  However, just having this foundation is not enough--there is importance in how you implement and execute your programming based on these fundamentals, or else you are not going to be able to effect change.  Further, you cannot build a comprehensive school-counseling program in a vacuum--you have to build relationships with stakeholders in order to garner support for your work with students, families, and the school community.

As we have begun to write our narratives, I find that the "nerd" in me is really enjoying "putting it together."  The narratives are forcing us to go more deeply into the work that we have done.  We find ourselves looking back as to what the impetus and data were that compelled us to implement a certain program or set a specific goal.  We are looking at the format of the conversations and collaboration that have occurred, helping us to form a common set of Beliefs in our practice, determining how we use our time, deciding which team members would be responsible for certain programs, and why curriculum fits within certain ASCA standards.  Most important, it is helping us to make the connections between all of the different components of the application for ourselves.  I must admit that I am truly humbled as we are finalizing this process by the amount of work and dedication that our school counseling team has made as a result of this process.  Sometimes you get so caught up in the day-to-day that you forget to take a few moments to step back and see just how far you've come and appreciate how hard everyone has worked.

If you and/or your team are also in the process of "putting it together," here are some things to consider as you compile your data and write your narratives:

  • Follow the rubric:  Each component of the RAMP application has specific criteria that can be found in the grading rubric.  There is information about what the expectation is for the entire component, but also separate information that specifically states what the narrative is supposed to cover.  Further, look at the expectations for scores of "4" and "5," as they also contain information pertaining to how a strong narrative should read.
  • Gather your data, including longitudinal data:  Collecting the data on the programs and interventions you have currently been running is important, but I am also referring to past years of data, or longitudinal data.  How have your Beliefs, Mission, and Vision come about and been changed and reviewed over the last several years to get to its current incarnation?  What data from past years led you to the program and achievement gap goals in your application?  Were there experiences in previous years that helped you to determine the membership and focus of your advisory council or small-groups?  This would be a great time to also review past needs assessments, either of your entire program or from specific components.  The rubrics for the narratives are often asking for you to give the reviewer some past context for a specific component that is founded in data.
  • Do a final check to make sure everything ties back to the goals: This one was key for me.  I will admit to you out there in the blogosphere that I was stuck for the longest time on the curriculum lessons.  Our small-group that we were focusing on clearly supports one of our goals. Our goals, calendars, management agreements, etc. are all supported by our Mission and Vision statements.  However, I was somewhat baffled by how all of our curriculum lessons were going to be measured with outcome data, given that so many of the lessons at the high-school level are focused on post-secondary options and career planning, which is not something that can be easily measured until graduation.  It took two conversations with Super RAMP Mentors for it to suddenly lock--they needed to somehow be lessons that addressed the goals, all of which are mired in outcome data.  Two of our lessons already tied in nicely to two of the goals, and members of the team were able to easily construct a targeted lesson for the third that actually adds a stronger layer to our original program.  Moral of the story: keep asking questions based on the rubrics.  If something still doesn't seem to make sense, e-mail, call, or ask someone in person to make sure that you are on the right track.
  • Collaborate on and have someone review your narratives, preferably with the rubric in front of them:  One of my extra-duties this year is to help coordinate our RAMP application.  As such, I am responsible for a lot of the writing of the narratives, keeping us on schedule, and reviewing of materials.  However, for us this is a team process, and it cannot be done alone.  Last week I sat down with another team-member and worked on one of the narratives.  She sat with the rubric in front of her and as I was writing she was asking key questions about what I was including or not including and letting me know if what was clear in my mind was actually clear on paper.  As a result, the narrative is not only well-constructed and understandable, but it contains all of the nuances and components that are asked for in the rubric.  If you are responsible for writing all of them, have someone else look at them and offer comments--if they do not easily understand an idea, then a reviewer might not either, and it is probably worth another look and some revision.  If you are part of a team, have other team members who may have more knowledge of a particular component collaborate with you on the narrative so that it is as full and detailed as possible.  However, ultimately, you want all of the narratives to have the same feel and a similar voice, so it may be best for one person to go through at the end and edit them to make sure the style is cohesive and unified.
If you've been in your data collection year, as we have, you are coming to the end of your road.  While we often have a million things to do as we approach the summer, these narratives really offer us the opportunity to make the connections between our past, our present, and our future, as well as stop and reflect on the amazing transformations that have occurred within our programs, our personnel, and our communities.  By "putting it together," we are able to demonstrate how far we have come as a school and as a profession.  Good luck!

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