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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Celebrating School Counselors

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Among the most underappreciated of education professionals may be school counselors. These certified or licensed professionals (depending on state requirements) work with teachers, parents, social workers, and many others to address the academic, the career, and the personal and social development needs of all students. And research consistently shows that their efforts are critically important to student success, both in school and in life.

But in too many places, unfortunately, school counselors are considered a luxury. While the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends ratios of one school counselor per 250 students, the national average is nearly twice that amount of students. The Office of Civil Rights U.S. Department of Education has also found that, nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.

Recent Recognition

However, a new light is shining on the school counseling profession. With the call to graduate all students so they are college and career ready, the role of the school counselor is being celebrated in a way that it hasn't before in my lifetime, particularly at the federal level.

It is clear that the current administration recognizes the vital role of school counselors. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is encouraging support and resources for school counselors, and there was a key emphasis on the profession in First Lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative.

Additionally, the Obama administration held a summit which included ways that students can receive more assistance to pursue postsecondary education, while the upcoming School Counselor of the Year ceremony will be held for the first time at the White House.

Looking Beyond Test Scores and College Enrollment

As this light is shining on the school counselors, we should take care to recognize all the contributions they make in the lives of students and in the school community.

Counselors often lead a school's work in conflict resolution, and can play an important role in substance abuse education. They refer students and families to community agencies that can help them meet their food, housing, and legal needs, as well as address other challenges they may be facing.

They can play a huge role in building the culture and climate of a school. They also often lead a school's work in "soft skills," such as grit, motivation, and self-regulation, conducting lessons directly with students and training other staff in how to develop these skills in students. And they do much, much more to remove barriers to learning and help students succeed.

An Exemplar

Consider, for example, Mindy Willard, the counselor at Sunset Ridge Elementary School, in Arizona, and the 2013 School Counselor of the Year. She has created a counseling program that serves all 650 of her school's students through a range of activities and interventions. In addition to small group sessions and individual counseling as needed, her program focuses on guidance lessons.

The sessions and lessons Willard offers to students are a top priority. She says they are the only way she can ensure that all 650 students are impacted by the counseling program. And because she believes strongly in prevention, she visits each classroom twice a month, designing age-appropriate lessons based on grade-level data, and using evidence-based counseling curriculum when possible.

In addition, Willard addresses school-level challenges as they arise. Faced with changing demographics and increased transiency due to economic issues, she researched best practices for welcoming and transitioning new students, and she developed several activities.

These activities include a quarterly "Breakfast with the Counselor" for new students, student surveys on their transition, and a welcoming committee of National Junior Honor Society students that meet new families and give school tours. It's important to her that new students feel cared for and welcomed.

Also, to meet the needs of the increased number of students without school supplies or appropriate clothing, Willard works with the student council and National Junior Honor Society to host school supply drives, clothing drives, and canned food drives. She also refers families to community agencies that can better assist them when they have a need she is unable to fulfill through her own resources.

Willard's program is certainly an exemplar. In addition to her being named the School Counselor of Year, her program has received designation as a Recognized ASCA Model Program, an honor reserved for comprehensive data-driven school counseling programs. But across the country, counselors like her are engaging in important work every day, and we should do more to support and recognize that.

National School Counseling Week

One great opportunity for us to celebrate counselors: National School Counseling Week, which will be celebrated the week of February 2 (it's always celebrated the first full week in February). The goal is to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors and highlight the tremendous impact of these professionals on students. ASCA has a number of ideas to help counselors and others celebrate. Here are a couple of those ideas:

  • Present a certificate of appreciation, not only to a school counselor but to the faculty members, parents, and other stakeholders who help promote the school counseling program throughout the year.
  • Create a press release, which can be customized with information about what your school or district is doing to celebrate National School Counseling Week.

Of course, one of the best ways to show appreciation is to just say thank you. So during National School Counseling Week -- and throughout the year -- be sure to let the counselor or counselors at your school know how much you appreciate what they do.

What are your thoughts and ideas on this post? Please share in the comments section below.

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TODD SENTELL's picture
TODD SENTELL
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

DIVINE THIS

All the counselors started talking about all the things they do and all the things they say when a kid mopes into their office. One of them said she sort of gets mad that they don't have enough time to resolve the issue or just calm them down. She said that she apologizes for sometimes sending them back to us madder and more freaked out than when the whole business started.

Honey, I'm thinking, we don't have much time either to get stuff fixed. Maybe if each class lasted...three months.

One counselor said there ain't no magic words sometimes...that all they can do is provide a comfortable and soothing place to hang out and talk if they want to and if they don't want to talk that's okay, too. Remember, we've assembled a sand box in our counselor's room and they can play in there!

I thought I'd offer up some humanity, so I raised my hand and thanked the ladies for being available and for all they do. It does feel good to see them hunkered down with a kid being crushed under the tremendous emotions caused by four algebra problems for homework.

Then, all of a sudden, the old gal of the counseling staff, Morgana, jumped up and said she'd like to show us all something that's really been working for her and the kids she sees. I hoped Morgana was talking about how she and the other ladies had discovered the secret to eliminating the most dreaded threat to world happiness: teenage defiance. I instantly sat up in my chair and adopted a note-taking posture, just like the finest teacher's pet. Then I looked around the conference room to see if Headmistress Lynyrd Skynyrd had us some doughnuts and some coffee and orange juice. I looked around a little harder. I started chewing on my pencil eraser.

Morgana pulled out of her satchel parts of two coat hangers she had cut into what look like "Ls." She had slipped some drinking straws on the handle of both coat hangers. Morgana said these two things may look like old-timey divining rods, but they're not used for finding water...I use them with the kids to show them how much energy they produce.

Don't need magic for that. I looked around the room. I was the only teacher or school administrator not making a goofy face.

Morgana asked Coach Hank to stand up and move away from her about ten feet. Morgana pointed the energy things at Coach Hank...and they moved.

I about dropped an egg.

The energy things ended up pointing way starboard and way port. I looked around the room again. My colleagues were struck dumb. I mean that in a couple of ways.

Morgana asked Coach Hank to walk toward her slowly...and for everybody to watch what happens.

The end of Morgana's energy things started coming back together.

I really just about dropped an egg. An ostrich egg. The biggest bird egg there is.

Morgana said see how Coach Hank's energy is like a bubble and how as you get closer to somebody you can feel their energy get all around your own energy space!

I didn't know whether to walk out or phone in my credit card number. Maybe magic Morgana could conjure us up some coffee and some dang doughnuts.

RB's picture

Todd Sentell, I find your comment very offensive to school counselors who go to work every day and go above and beyond for their students, the same way teachers do.

We are all there to support and motivate and guide our young friends, so why would you insult a profession you obviously know little about? How would you feel if someone made such negative comments about teachers?

Those who are uneducated on the job of a school counselor often assume that what we do is "fluff" and that we have no purpose or place. We get tons of negative feedback and hurtful comments such as this all the time, when we are just trying to do our best and make a difference as well.

Your ignorant comments about sand trays and how it's okay if children "don't want to talk" confirm the point that you are uninformed on the job of a school counselor. The job is different than that of teaching, but through play is how children learn. And if you push a child to talk who isn't ready, it can cause more damage than good. In my career as a counselor, I have found that taking time to build rapport is the key and when rapport is built, the child will open up and from there, goals can be set.

I find your post very rude and disrespectful. Just because someone has a different job than yours, and one that you obviously don't respect or value, doesn't mean you should go around making fun of others and their job.

In my experience, most teachers either won't, or can't, take the time to build close relationships with their students because they are swamped in a sea of 20+ other children. Without counselors, those kids who need extra support and motivation would slip through the cracks. They need someone that can give them attention and connect with them.

I truly hope that someday you get a chance to walk a mile in a school counselor's shoes. I believe you would learn a thing or two and then you would not be so quick to make fun of school counselors.

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