Self-Advocacy for School Counselors

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Self-Advocacy for School Counselors- savvyschoolcounselor.comI have thought a lot this summer about self-advocacy for school counselors.  I started outlining this post, and a few days later I received an email from a new school counselor who is really in a difficult situation with her new position.  She is assigned to SIX schools and isn’t feeling the love so far.  Unfortunately, my email response to her came back to me undelivered. So, I’m hoping she will see this post and contact me again.

I want to preface this post by saying, administrative support is key!  Regardless of the level of support, it is important for you to advocate for your program.  In the end, your administrator has the final say.  Even if you don’t feel supported, know that you’ve done all you can by advocating for yourself.  If you don’t, who will?

Avoid Discipline Issues

As school counselors, we pride ourselves in creating positive relationships with our students.  We work hard to build a good rapport and establish trust with the students we come in contact with each day.  This can be hindered if we are asked to handle disciplinary situations at our schools.  Assisting with disciplinary issues will confuse children about your role.  Instead of seeing you as their adult friend, they will not look forward to coming to your office.  Let your administrators and teachers know where you stand to help avoid being involved with discipline.  Also, be sure to let your students know they are never “in trouble” when they come to see you.  Let them know from the beginning during your introductory classroom counseling lessons.

Avoid the Therapy Trap

Although school counselors have degrees in counseling, we are unable to provide regular therapy to students.  If there is a student needing to be seen once a week for the whole school year, they need more than you can effectively give them.  This doesn’t mean you won’t have some students who come to see you for consecutive sessions.   Be sure to state up front how many sessions the student will have with you.  Last year, I purchased the loyalty cards sold on Vistaprint. I got the idea from THIS BLOG. They have five boxes along the bottom that can be punched or stamped.  This is a great visual for your students to know how many times they will get to visit with you.  Of course, all students won’t need to use the cards, but they are great to have for the ones needing more extensive counseling.

If an IEP or Behavior Plan has included you as an “intervention,”  be sure to speak up.  Yes, you want to work with the student, but being bound in writing by plans like these can be detrimental to your program.  Sometimes the writers of these plans need to be reminded that the student they are creating the plan for isn’t the only student you are working with.  They won’t always see your “big picture.”  Self-advocacy will help make the picture more clear.

Implementing Your Program

I don’t know about you, but running my school counseling program is very important to me.  When I get caught up for days or weeks where I am unable to run my program because of other “school related assignments,” it bothers me to no end.  We can’t always avoid these, but we can still speak up.  The ASCA National Model was created to help with this, so be sure to create yours and make sure your administration has a copy.  We are accountable for following through with the closing the gap action plans we create each school year.

Along with your National Model, you’ll want to be sure to “market” your program.  You can read more about school counselor public relations HERE.  Showing pride in your school counseling program is also a great way to advocate for it.

Management Agreement

As I said before, support from your administration is key.  The management agreement is a part of your ASCA National Model plan.  This agreement is a great way to gain support from your principal.  It outlines all of your programs and services.  It details the percentage of time you will spend delivering your curriculum, planning for individual students, providing responsive services and lending system support.  All of this is done with hopes that you won’t end up doing all of the non-counseling duties we are so often stuck with.  It assists you with advocating for your program.

There are some school counselors who are able to truly do their jobs each day, and that is wonderful!  If you find yourself in a situation that goes against the grain of your school counseling program, speak up.  Doing so may help you get what’s needed to make your program effective.  If it doesn’t, you can feel good knowing you spoke up and advocated for yourself and your program.

To the school counselor who reached out:  I hope to hear back from you again so I can re-send my email to you. :)

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School Counselor, If You Please…

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Blog Photo- July 2Guidance Counselor… I’m not sure if I was just overly sensitive to those words this year or if they have always been used so much!  Unfortunately, most people simply do not realize the term “Guidance Counselor” is outdated.  Even though most of us know and understand the difference between school counselors and guidance counselors, there are things we can do to help those we work with to understand better.  Even if our co-workers don’t completely understand why it even matters, we can always make an effort to make changes within our school counseling programs so the word guidance isn’t so commonplace.  Here’s what I suggest:

  • No More Classroom Guidance: We can’t get away from our curriculum being called “guidance” for now, but why call our classroom lessons “classroom guidance?”  I’m guilty.  That’s “what it’s always been called,” right?  It’s even a category on my blog for heaven’s sake!  About halfway through this past school year, I decided to take Rebecca Lallier’s lead. Rebecca is the author of the blog School Counseling By Heart.  She calls her lessons “Class Councils.”  I began saying “Classroom Counseling.”  I’m not sure that I’m settled with it or not, but it stopped me from using the term classroom guidance.  With a new school year coming up, I’ll take time to address the “name change” with teachers and staff with hope they will catch on.
  • Removal of the word Guidance:  I remember the day I went to get a new ID badge in my school district.  I used to have much longer hair, and I looked nothing like my badge. So, I stopped by to take a new picture after a meeting in the central office building.  I told the guy my name for the badge and asked that he put School Counselor underneath.  He made the comment, “Yes, I know it has to say “school” and not “guidance!”  Surprisingly, I still see some counselors with guidance on their badges.  If you’re telling everyone you’re a “guidance counselor” then that is just what they will call you.  Make sure your email signature says school counselor.  Try not to say Guidance Department but School Counseling Department instead.  Address everything coming from your program as school counseling.  Looking back at the door to my office, I had a sign with my name and school counselor, but I also had a sign that said “Guidance” since I’m in the “Guidance Office,” right?  No more!  I actually took that down well before the school year ended.  This year, I plan to make a big deal about making the word guidance disappear like magic.  I’m thinking about making one of those red “no symbols” and putting it over the word guidance just outside my office.  While I’m at it, I’ll probably look into having a t-shirt made.
  • Spread the Word from Day One:  When all else fails, drive it home with your students during your classroom counseling lessons. Children love to “know more” than adults.  Case in point:  During my carpool duty one afternoon, I was speaking with a parent.  The parent’s mother was in town and was also in the car.  She told her mother I was the kids’ guidance counselor.  Her kindergarten student quickly said, “She’s the SCHOOL counselor.” :)  That made my day!  Make a big deal about it during your lessons.  Hopefully the classroom teachers will be  within earshot and learn a little something as well!

Truth be told- No one calling us “guidance counselors” is doing it to intentionally make us cringe-and we do cringe!  They just don’t know.  So, let’s make a pact this coming school year to make an effort to squash the term once and for all.  It may not be easy since some from the old school just can’t let go of the term, but I’m sure we can turn some things around if we make the effort.  Are you in?

If you need a great article to back it all up, check out Marie Isom’s blog post School Counselor (yes!) vs. Guidance Counselor (no) on the South Carolina Counselor Cafe blog.  Her post says it all.  I especially like where she wrote: “Guidance is a service.  School counselors provide a program.”  There’s also this great post written by Tabitha Panariso, author of Scrapbook of a School Counselor.  Tabitha says, “It may seem silly to get upset over a title. These days though, it’s all in the name.”  If you want to spread the word electronically, there are also those creative eCards Danielle Shultz created on School Counselor Blog.  They say, “I love it when you call me ‘guidance’ counselor,” said no school counselor ever.  I think I may just print one and frame it for my desk!!

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