Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The School Counselor's Website: FAQ

The School Counselor’s Website:
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
        More than just a delivery system for information, today's websites are online tools and systems which can help us to collaborate, communicate, process data, and even deliver interventions. An effective website can help the school counselor to better connect with students, teachers, community members, and other stake holders at anytime and from anywhere.
        The technical side of a building a website has all but become a non-issue due to the powerful and user-friendly software and web-based services now available to all of us. Indeed, the hard part is getting the ideas right -- making sure that the words and pictures on your website represent the best of what your counseling program offers. In addition to providing information, creating a counseling website may also help you to provide students and others with important tools. For instance, one online GPA Calculator provided by the University of Maryland ( allows a student to calculate a list of possibilities for reaching their desired GPA given their current GPA and number of credits.  Another site ( allows secondary students to request a copy of various scholarships by completing an online form. This same site which was created by Mr. Bob Turba, counselor at Stanton College Preparatory School located in Duval County, Jacksonville, Florida, has many other tools and ideas for infusing technology into your school counseling program (Sabella, 2003).
Where Do I Start?
Before constructing your website, you should definitely spend some time planning. Before you even touch a computer, ask yourself the following questions:
  1. What is your school's acceptable use policy? Your site must follow the guidelines set forth by your school district. An acceptable use policy (AUP) governs the responsibilities of the school administration, students, teachers and parents regarding software, the use of the Internet and adherence to copyright laws. For instance, your school may have a policy which stipulates that information that is part of any official school business can only be posted on the school’s official website. Other schools or districts may allow you to build a website outside of the school’s servers and simply link to it from the school’s site.
  1. Who will help create the site? Even the best of webmasters have an advisory group to assist in making important decisions concerning their site. For those who are just getting started, it is highly advisable to delegate webauthoring responsibilities among an established team or committee. Members of your web development team can write content and assemble photos for the various sections of the site. Luckily, many schools have computer courses and labs where, as part of their assignment, students can help design and maintain various parts of your site. You might also include talented parents and nearby college students who would like to provide a community service. In this instance, you might take the role of editor: the person who guides others into developing appropriate and fitting material, makes any needed changes, and integrates the material with the total body of information in a way that is logical and easy to follow. If possible, avoid having to be the one who actually becomes the “webmaster.”
  1. How much time will I need to effectively maintain my site? Develop a schedule for site updates. Perhaps twice per month, you might allow yourself a couple of hours to make pertinent changes. To the contrary, you can spend too much time by making minor changes more frequently. Keep a file of any edits that need to be made (by you, or hopefully, others), and then make them all at once during your scheduled time.
  1. What will the site's directory structure look like? Outline the various sections of your website and what would most appropriately be placed within those sections (i.e., content, writing style, length, etc.). Many people find it most efficient to develop this scheme in the form of a flowchart although a simple outline works well too. Even if you have little or no content for a section (e.g., News and Events), it will be easier to proceed and create the section if you anticipate future content. You might review already established school counseling websites (see a list at the end) to get some good ideas while you are in the planning stages.
Master of Your Domain (Name)
What will consumers type into the address bar of their web browser to get to your site? That is, what will be you domain name? There are three basic options here to think about:
Your School as Webhost
        When you use your school's server to put your website up, the school becomes your webhost. In this case, the school counseling website address is a variation of the school’s main address. For example, the address for Jefferson County Schools in Dandridge, TN is The address for the school counseling part of the site is
Free Web-Based Services
        Some counselors who are allowed to host their website on external servers are using free web-based services. For example:
Google Sites ( is a free and easy way to create and share webpages. Also see Google Apps for Educators (
SchoolNotes ( complements school websites by allowing educators to post school information on the world-wide-web without worrying about HTML or FTP because there is no programming required! And best of all, is a free community service!
TeacherWeb® ( is easily customized to suit any teacher's individual needs - extra pages can be added and renamed accordingly. Graphics can be changed as desired by uploading your own or selecting from our extensive graphics library.
In addition to being free, other advantages of these services include that they are quite easy to use, come with many “themes,” and many support multiple log-ins (i.e., more than one person can work on the site at the same time).
Other counselors are finding that a simple blog does the trick for their purpose. Creating a blog is simple and free. It only takes a few minutes by entering your name, e-mail address and a few other pieces of (usually personal) information. You select "the look" (template) for your blog from a set of standard options, click a few buttons, and you are ready to go. Once the blog is set up, you can post text, links, audio, video, and more within minutes. From your computer or cell phone, you can say or show anything and everything. With a bit of know-how, you can even syndicate to other blogs and web sites. Syndication is a process by which the latest content from a blog, or from any other web page, can be made available for re-publication in another website or in some other application. And millions of people (including children) are doing it (Sabella and Stanley, 2008).
As compared to dynamic web sites, blogs feature several unique characteristics (Brain, 2009) such as:
  • A typical blog has a main page and nothing else. On the main page, there is a set of entries. Each entry is a little text blurb that may contain embedded links out to other sites, news stories, etc. When the author adds a new entry, it goes at the top, pushing all the older entries down. This blog also has a right sidebar that contains additional permanent links to other sites and stories. The author might update the sidebar weekly or monthly.
  • A blog is normally a single page of entries. There may be archives of older entries, but the "main page" displays all the recent content.
  • A blog is organized in reverse-chronological order, from most recent entry to least recent.
  • A blog is normally public, the whole world can see it, although it can be set to private.
  • The entries in a blog usually come from a single author although can be set up for a writing team.
  • The entries in a blog are usually stream-of-consciousness. There is no particular order to them. For example, the blogger sees a good link, he or she can throw it in his or her blog. The tools that most bloggers use make it incredibly easy to add entries to a blog any time they feel like it.
The technology that allows individuals to write one's own blog is so relatively simple and inexpensive that it is no surprise that blogs have proliferated the Web as fast as they have. Any educator or person can create a basic blog for free, and most of these toolsets have additional features available for a price. Here are just a few of the services available that would be most appropriate for educators seeking more effective collaboration:
        Some school counselors have both a website a blog. The website contains categorized sections of information, tools, and resources and also has a link to a blog which is used for more casual announcements and fleeting pieces of information. 
Low Cost Options
        Yet other counselors are purchasing more sophisticated packages that include your own domain name (e.g., or and easy “drag and drop” web site building tools (e.g., easyCGI; With these services, if you can use Microsoft Word, you can build a website – the types of buttons and procedures are the same. And, the prices have never been lower. For example, for $10 a year, you can sign up for a Google Apps account which comes with your own registered domain name, website builder, and a host of other productivity tools including calendar, email, RSS reader, spreadsheet, multimedia presentation, and more (see There are literally hundreds of these type web hosting services for little money. Visit for a list of professional web hosting services under $10 a month; all webhosting plans include at least one free domain name registration and 30 day money back guarantee.
You may wonder, “What is the difference between a free web host and a low cost web host? The main differences are that low cost webhosts (a) allow you to register your own domain name as part of the account purchase; (b) provide free and low cost addin modules such as polls, email list managers, database, blogging tools, shopping carts, etc.; and (c) they usually provide a minimal level of phone and email support.
What Should I Put on My Site?
        The first and most important task is to consider your website audience. Who will be accessing it? What will they be looking for? What kind of specific format might appeal to them? Many different people will access your site for many different reasons. You might want to create a general introduction, description about you and your program, and different links for parents, community members, students, faculty and people from other schools that will lead them to information of special interest to them. For instance, consider the following lists of web content for each (Sabella, 2003):
General Info
  1. Most people know the school as a building and a place they walk into each day. There are many ways to represent the school building, and especially your office, on your website: with a photograph; with a diagram or map; with a drawing by a student or with a written description of the architecture. On the site, show your office up-close-and-personal by using a photo and include students (with permission) in the picture so the school appears as a live space.
  1. A profile of you and your background.
  1. Description of comprehensive school counseling programs with a link to the Executive Summary of the ASCA National Model™ (
  1. Special features of your counseling program (e.g., photos and descriptions of peer helper projects). Use photos and frequently-updated stories to let people know what students are accomplishing and performing outside of the academic program.
  1. Introduction to the members of your school counseling program Advisory Committee.
  1. This year’s guidance and counseling goals and objectives.
  1. Accountability data that allows others to recognize the positive impact your work is having on students and others.
  1. You might publish a “Wish List.” Do you need magazines for an upcoming small group counseling unit that calls for a collage? Could you use more computers? Are you in need of new books for your own professional development? These are just a few of the hundreds of items that might be posted on your Counselor Wish List. If you ask for a few things of reasonable value you are likely to be successful in receiving donations. Don’t forget to let people know how to respond to you, update your list frequently, and include a list of thank-you’s as well. One quick way to do this is to start a Wish List at and link to it. Amazon.con now supports Universal Wish List which allows you to add products from any website to your Amazon Wish List with one simple click (
  1. You could include a text based, or if you want to get fancy, a streaming video message from your principal or superintendent that supports your work and program. One simple way to do this is to upload your video to and then embed it directly into your website (see for directions).
  1. Clear contact information that makes it simple for others, especially parents, to communicate with you and other counselors.
  1. Any honors or awards that you or your program have received (don’t forget to include any photos).
  1. A list of important dates and events and how to prepare for them.
  1. A way to collect data either by creating surveys yourself or using a free or almost free company (e.g.,
  1. Tips for parent involvement in your school which might include a list of projects and “how to help.”
  1. Various educational “brochures” about parenting topics (original content or links to other places where they can get them).
  1. Upcoming parent opportunities for training and development, perhaps sponsored with the PTA.
  1. School and district resources for parents and respective contact numbers.
  1. Pertinent aspects of your schedule such as times for parent conferences. You may even embed an interactive calendar where parents can request an appointment (e.g., see I recommend Google Calendars (
Community Members 
  1. Tips for community involvement in your school which might include a list of projects and “how to help.”
  1. Profiles of community members whom have participated in special guidance and counseling projects (e.g., tutoring, mentoring, or activity sponsorship).
  1. Examples of how your work serves the interests of the community (e.g., school-to-work or career development activities).
  1. Information about adult education services.
  1. Various educational “brochures” about student success topics such as homework help, time management, conflict resolution, and school adjustment to name a very few.
  1. Information relevant to school success ranging from studying, making friends, choosing a college or career, to calculating your GPA.
  1. Information for alumni to stay in contact.
  1. Interactive guidance units.
  1. Curriculum for use within a teacher-as-advisor program.
  1. Various educational “brochures” about teaching topics such as classroom management, discipline options, working effectively with ADHD children, and team building to name a few.
  1. Opportunities for teacher consultation. For instance, you might describe the opportunity of having you consult with a teacher for approximately four meetings to discuss ways to enhance student growth and development known to support academic achievement.
How Do I Get My Site to Become Popular?
        Although creating a website can be fun, we need to know that it is serving its purpose, that it is useful to others and beneficial to the school counseling program.  So how can counselors help others to make use of their site? Several tips follow:
  1. Make your site valuable. If the information is useful and valuable, people will stream to your site to get it. If it is information they need and want, and if it is not available elsewhere, you can be assured that your intended audience will be connecting regularly. On the other hand, if there is nothing on the site that is not already published somewhere else, or if the information is old, or if it is information that no one really needs, then you cannot expect to see many visitors.
  1. Make your site timely. One reason to use the Internet rather than the printed material is the ability to reflect last-minute changes. For most schools, daily or weekly updates of information will allow the website to provide things that are available nowhere else. Regular changes will keep people coming back. Reasonably frequent updates make a site much more useful to its audience. You can also include information that automatically gets updated via feeds and widgets (for instance, see for a Google search).
  1. Make your site user-friendly. If the material on the site is easy to find and easy to read, it will be used more. A clear writing style allows people to read quickly and to find the ideas they need. Accurate labels and titles and subheadings also make it easier for the user to find content for which he or she is looking. Do not be afraid to divide an article into short sections with subheadings.
  1. Help students to be involved. Many schools find that students are the chief users of the school website. Students have a big stake in their school. They are familiar with the new technologies, and they love to see their own works published on the Web. The more you call on students to develop and update different parts of your site, the more they will encourage use of the Website among their friends. You may find, as many schools have, that students are quite willing and prepared to locate and type the daily and weekly updates of information that are essential to a well-used site. Also, to get students using the site early on, consider a contest of some sort. Provide clues on your site that change each day; students who collect all the clues might win a school sweatshirt or other valuable prize.
  1. Help parents and the community to be involved. Use every means possible to let the parents and community know your site is up and ready. Send notices home with students. Put a notice in the school newspaper and in the local paper. Involve parents in authoring parts of your site, perhaps a parenting support section.
  1. Help everyone remember your site. Take every opportunity to let people know that you have a Website. Include your site’s URL on your school stationery and on your business card. Include it in the school newspaper and at the bottom of all relevant announcements that go from school to home. Post it in the front hall, and on the sign in front of the school. Make a big banner of the URL, and hang it over your office. This will let everyone in the school community know that the school counselor is publishing on the Web.
What are Some Examples
of Some Pretty Cool School Counselor Websites?
Boise School District Guidance & Counseling
Davis Senior High School
Hilliard Weaver Middle School
Hugh Bish Elementary School
Julia V. Taylor
Liberty Middle School
Los Gatos High School
Middle Creek High School
Oak Park High School
Pattie Elementary
Robinson Arteaga
Waggener Traditional High School
Brain, Marshall (Retrieved October 20, 2009). How blogs work. Available online:
Sabella, R. A. (2003). A friendly and practical guide to the World Wide Web. (2nd edition) Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media Corporation.
Sabella, R. A. & Stanley, T. (2008). School counseling and technology: An overview. In Allen, J.M. (Title to be determined). Austin, TX: ProEd, Inc.
In addition to the one already mentioned in this article, the following online resources should help in developing your school counseling website:
Domain Name Lookup
Dynamic Drive: free, original DHTML & Javascripts to enhance your web site!
Feed 101
FeedBurner provides custom RSS feeds and management tools to bloggers, podcasters, and other web-based content publishers.
Free web site backgrounds & blog backgrounds
Google translate: Translate text or your website to other languages.
Google Gadgets For Your Webpage
Matt's Script Archive
Micropoll. Create Your Web Poll - Free
Open Source Web Design is a site to download free web design templates and share yours with others. We help make the internet a prettier place.
Twitter widgets let you display Twitter updates on your website or social network page
Dr. Russell A. Sabella is currently a Professor of Counseling in the College of Education, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, FL and President of Sabella & Associates. Russ is author of numerous articles published in journals, magazines, and newsletters. He is co-author of two books entitled   Confronting Sexual Harassment: Learning Activities for Teens (Educational Media; 1995) and  Counseling in the 21st Century: Using Technology to Improve Practice (American Counseling Association; 2004). He is also author of the popular A Friendly and Practical Guide to the World Wide Web (2nd edition; Educational Media; 2003), A Practical Guide to Keeping Kids Out of High-Tech Trouble (2008, Educational Media Corporation) and well-known for his Technology Boot Camp for Counselor and various other workshops conducted throughout the country. Dr. Sabella is past President (2003-2004) of the of the American School Counselor Association.
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