Recently a very sweet colleague of mine and I were talking and she shared her frustration with the idea that a number of her co-workers expect school counselors to fix everything and that we aren’t doing enough. To be totally honest, I’m not surprised that many of our co-workers feel this way! If we had a nickel for every time someone asks what exactly it is that school counselors do we would probably have enough to pay for our masters program (another question we are frequently asked. Yes, we do need a masters degree 😉 ). Needless to say, people don’t understand exactly what it is that we do all day because they only see us when we are working directly with their students and we are often spread thin – 1 counselor to several hundred students. One aspect of our counseling program is advocacy, which means that we must be sharing this information with the staff at our school. This is so important, because if they don’t know the small groups that counselors [can] offer, how to refer students to a counselor for individual counseling, why they should refer their students to a counselor for individual counseling, etc. then our ability to make a difference at our school is severely stunted. There are a million and one ways for you to provide this information to the staff at your school (email, staff meetings, website, handout, brochure, etc.), but the only thing that matters is that you’re getting this information out there.
Another important aspect of the “you’re not doing enough” mentality is the culture of your school. If your workplace is a super negative, it’s probably a sign that the culture at your school is breeding negativity. Again, this does not at all surprise me that so many schools are stuck in this negativity hamster wheel. Teachers are expected to sacrifice financially, socially, emotionally, and more to do the best for their students, and yet parents and administration still ask them to do more! I am currently reading the book Awakened by Angela Watson, which is aimed towards teachers but I found this book to be so incredibly helpful and it does a good job touching on this topic. Teachers have their own set of challenges, and I learned early on in my internship experience (Thanks Ashley Price, you’re seriously school counselor goals) that supporting teachers is a huge aspect of supporting our students. For example, if a teacher doesn’t respect or understand your role(s) at your school they are less likely to send students to you for your counseling sessions, or to invite you to parent conferences that you could be really helpful in, or share concerns or information that would be valuable for you to know. These are all activities that are vital to you making a difference in the lives in your students and lead to a more cohesive, supportive environment. Therefore, showing teachers that you are supporting them and on their team will lead to more collaboration and hopefully a more positive school culture as a whole. Leaving an encouraging note for a teacher, leaving a small gift (I have never met a teacher who doesn’t like coffee or chocolate), or complimenting a teacher on her classroom management skills or how she handled a difficult situation goes a long way! I also think that developing relationships with my teachers by stopping in after school to ask them how they are doing really builds up this sort of teammate mentality.
I should point out that it’s a process to prove yourself to your school (as a new counselor, I am certainly still working on this and will take all the help I can get), but your goal shouldn’t be to prove yourself to teachers, but to do what you think will most benefit your students. For example, if a few negative teachers at your school think behavior is the problem and that you should be focusing on that, your focus is providing and referring students with/to mental health support resources (counseling, referrals to community counseling agencies, etc.). This will in theory help with problematic behaviors, but that isn’t necessarily your focus.
Lastly, one things that I think can be really helpful is administering a needs assessment to teachers to find out exactly what needs they see as being a priority because then we can narrow in our focus on those things. I have no doubt that this will allow your teachers to clarify what they need (and see their students as needing) from you and they will certainly notice your attention/response to their feedback. At the beginning of the year I did a google docs assessment, but got very little responses back even after several reminders. I provided a paper version in their mailboxes around December for a mid-year assessment and I had a 100% response rate! This assessment gave me super helpful insight that narrowed my focus in on topics for guidance/SEL, pointed out kids I should be seeing, and provides data to share with my principal and staff. Although Google seems to be so much easier as far as analyzing information goes, this worked best for the teachers at my school and provided me with far more information than I received online. Attached is a downloadable counseling assessment that you may edit and share with the staff at your school. I hope that this information allow you to feel less alone, empowered, and employed with ideas that may help build more cohesion at your school! Please share any additional ideas or feedback you may have below in the comments!