A recount of the first year of working with an advisory team – the benefits and pitfalls…

I recently wrapped up my first year of having an advisory council or team. After getting through the college application season in the fall and coming into a new position with basically no counseling program in place – I wanted to get things rolling the right direction. With a goal set reaching a RAMP award in the next 5 – 7 years, I wanted to begin the process of gather data, tracking my time, and developing the partnerships with all the different stakeholders in our school and community. To give you a sense of timeline for getting from square one to at least something that is heading in the right direction – I began the process mid January of this year. I also decided to call it the Counseling Advisory Team (CAT for short…feel free to steal the name – I am sure I probably did).

Step One: Research

One of the first things I needed to do when thinking of starting the CAT was to research successful and unsuccessful advisory teams. What did an advisory team do? Who sat on the team? What are some key goals and purposes that we should work towards? Some resources that I utilized when gathering my research on Advisory Councils (all credit to original authors):

School Counselor Program Handbook for Advisory Councils (.pdf)

ASAI Redesigning School Counseling – Advisory Meetings (whole meeting agendas and handouts)


I decided to not go from no advisory team to a full-on 100% functioning team in my first shot. My goals were to gather interested parties, have a group of stakeholders I can bounce ideas off of (especially useful in a counseling department of 1), share data/results with said stakeholders, and to get feedback on things that the my program is doing.

Step Two: Gather Interested Team Members

My CAT was made up of an average of 5-7 people at each meeting. I had a hard time asking for strict commitment since many of the interested folks had many other things going on. I told them that I was okay with a “transient” group, but wanted to make sure that there was a few people to meet with me once a month. I selected about 20 contacts that I thought may be interested in being a part of the CAT and had about 15 responses – 10 of whom were actually able to attend a few meetings. In my email, I had drafted a brief description of what a CAT was, what time/resource requirements it would take from them, and how it will affect them/their students. Members included parents, teachers, a student or two (by far the hardest to recruit), an administrator, a board member, and a fellow counselor colleague/parent.

Step Three: Setup an Initial Meeting

The next step required pulling all of these stakeholders together. One simple tool that helped me coordinate everyone’s busy schedule is ScheduleOnce – you can see my previous blog post on integrating ScheduleOnce by clicking here. I suggest you thinking about a month or more ahead of time and getting a date set that the most people will be able to meet. Anything less than a month out and you may miss out on lots of folks who have very busy schedules.
I also included a call to action for a response in my initial email of days of the week that work best and tried to schedule using that information as well. I set my meeting to an hour time limit and tried very hard to not exceed that as to honor all attendees time. Gauge your audience or ask if they are okay with an hour and how flexible they are. Remember – they are here to help you!

Step Four: The Meeting

My first meeting was very much an introduction. Introducing myself, the other team members since many (even in our very small town/school) did not know each other, and introducing the counseling program. Some of the agenda points we discussed were what is a counseling advisory team, what am I looking to get from them, how they can support the counseling department, brief overview of RAMP/ASCA/National Model, overview of previous accomplishments, and review of my time analysis from EZAnalyze TimeTracker. I created a sweet, easily decyphered infograpic via infogr.am – a free, easily customizable, infogram maker. It won’t let you go too nuts, but is great for presenting data in a new way.

The Good:

  • By establishing the CAT, I was able to get input that I would have missed out on otherwise. It is important to know that you get plenty of good along with any bad. Typically the best information was neither the good or the bad, since you usually hear about those regularly – but the information about mundane or mediocre was very helpful in improving my offerings.
  • The meetings are very encouraging. All members are very supportive, looking for ways to help you and the program improve, and are typically committed to making a difference. Teachers on the team go out of their way to let me into their classrooms for lessons, parents help connect other parents to resources, and board members speak highly of counseling at the ever important board meetings.
  • New ideas are constantly being presented by all different parties. I like to think my thoughts are pretty brilliant, but others may not think similarly. Getting that feedback helps keep you grounded and remind you who we are serving (hint: not us!).
  • Helps you work towards becoming RAMP ready! Even if RAMP is nowhere on your radar, it is still hugely beneficial.
  • You have to start somewhere and now is better than later. My CAT is not perfect, but I now have a foundation to build on. I will add components next year and the year after…

The Bad:

  • A good advisory council or team takes a lot of pre-planning. You have to prep for meetings, produce handouts, notes, data, videos, etc. You have to coordinate the calendars of different people and manage to handle your own at the same time. Many would say “bah – this sucks” and move on. Just like working out (which is still difficult…) the beginning is the hardest part. Once you get in a routine and it becomes a discipline — for both you and your participants — more quality work will happen.
  • Attendance is hit or miss. I am not sure if you should require regular attendance or not. Perhaps if you have a larger pool to fish from – that may be a reality, but for my stakeholder size I felt that I would be most successful with a “come as you are able” standpoint. We may change that in future years, but now I have people to bounce that off of.
  • Sometimes you have to be thick skinned. You will hear about some things that you think are awesome and others think are horrible. That is okay. Evaluate your program, take reflections from others, and determine if it is effective. Try not to take it personally.
I hope that this post and reflection from my experience of getting the beginning stages of an advisory counsel up and running was helpful. I will try to update or post a follow up at a later date with info about how the next year goes. If you have questions or have experience with an advisory council (either running or sitting on), I would love to hear it. Please share in the comments or shoot me an email at [email protected] – thanks for reading!

The blog author, Jeffrey Ream M.S, PPS, writes for The Counseling Geek. Connect with Jeff via email, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

ADDITIONAL READING:  The Road to Naviance - Part 2: Getting the ball rolling

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Counseling Advisory Team: My Experience in the First Year

by Jeff Ream time to read: 6 min
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