Have you ever walked through the exhibit hall at a conference looking at all the products available for student support services? Your heart beats faster with excitement and as you stroll through the aisles. Your mind races as you think about how each product could help you better serve your students or consider how how much fun they could have with it!
You visit each table to get more information, and your smile conveys “our district must have this” as you fill your conference tote with wonderful giveaways and information. You might even get a stamp on a bingo card — your chance to win many wonderful prizes!
The reality sets in the next day, after the conference, when you are back to your regular routine. You don’t remember where you put the bag or what products you absolutely loved. So, you give up and settle back into your day-to-day schedule.
How can you reconnect with the interesting products you see at a conference, in a mailing, or on social media? How can you make smart decisions about where to spend your limited time and money? Here are a few tips to think through your actual need and how it relates to your current tasks:
- Need: Before researching or considering a specific product, assess your goals. If you’re a school counselor, use the school counseling audit process to begin identifying the need. For example, a department may establish that it needs a tool to support the implementation of a comprehensive school counseling model.
- Purpose: As you look at a product, be specific about the intention or objective this product can support. If the need is a tool to implement the comprehensive model, then what components of the model does this tool serve? Go back to the audit, prioritize the items to be worked on, and select the one(s) that align with the purpose of the product. If you and your colleagues are going to focus on one model component each year, determine whether you’re looking for one tool or many.
- Integration: No matter how great a new product is, it will need to work alongside other products in your office or school. If it’s dependent on data from other systems, or if it will provide data to other systems, think about how that will happen. If your school is like any I’ve worked in, everyone is busy — so ideally you’ll want to automate the process of getting data in and out. Beyond just adding and consuming data from your new product, though, think about how it will integrate into the daily work in your office or school and how it can support existing initiatives.
- Results: Have others seen good results in schools or organizations like yours? How will you measure success? Before you implement a new program, set clear goals that you can use to assess whether the investment you’re making is worth it. Recognize that new initiatives need time — sometimes multiple school years — to take hold and mature, so be sure the window for measuring those results is reasonable..
- Budget: Tools can be expensive, but that’s only part of the story. Anything you implement will take staff time, which is also expensive and finite. Consider the total cost of buying the product, training your staff, using the product as intended, and assessing outcomes. Consider also any on-going costs. Project those costs over the length of time you believe is necessary to show results and be sure that you have a reasonable likelihood of securing the necessary budget to support the program, not just to make the initial purchase.
It’s easy to get emotionally attached to an idea or a belief that a new product can make a difference. If you follow these easy steps you can channel that enthusiasm into a constructive, organized initiative that’s more likely to have a long term impact.