The theme for National School Counseling Week is “School Counselors: Helping Students Dream Big.” In a time when school counselors are likened to the “junk drawer” of the school, and social-emotional learning is politicized to be divisive, and youth mental health concerns are on the rise, it is my dream the school counseling profession would be better understood for what it really is, and supported and celebrated for what it can do for students, schools, and communities if given adequate time and resources. It is more important than ever to advocate for our profession and the critical role we play in student development, school culture, and school leadership which all have a direct impact on the community.
“It is my dream the school counseling profession would be better understood for what it really is, and supported and celebrated for what it can do for students…”
How do we advocate for our profession? The American School Counselor Association advocates at the national level for the school counselor role, and the Indiana School Counselor Association advocates at the state level for the role of the school counselor, but it is our job to advocate for school counseling within our schools and communities. If we don’t, who will? We need to control the narrative on school counseling. Below are some practical tips on advocating for our role as school counselors and fulfilling the dream of effective, comprehensive, data-driven, fully-funded, fully-supported school counseling programs in every school.
Not All Press is Good Press
The first step is communicating clearly the “Role of the School Counselor,” along with the rigorous program and licensure requirements fulfilled by school counselors everywhere. Many do not realize school counselors have completed Master’s Degree programs with training in individual and group counseling theories and techniques, career counseling, and 600+ hours of field experience at varying grade levels. It is important to highlight that school counselors support student success in three domains: academic, career, and social-emotional learning. As school counselors, we can easily get pigeonholed into focusing on only one or two of the three domains, and one big misnomer is school counselors only focus on pushing a social-emotional learning agenda or are only capable of supporting students academically. Dispeling this misinformation will help change the image of the school counselor. This can be accomplished through a variety of ways: bulletin boards, newsletters, social media, establishing a school counseling stakeholder committee for your program, and/or presence and participation in school and local committees.
The second step is to highlight the positive student and school impact of the school counselor through visibility. Develop a school counseling program brochure and/or business cards, a website or social media page, and celebrate National School Counseling Week through completing and sharing the daily photo challenges. Use these platforms to showcase the school counseling programming you are doing in the classroom, small groups, or individually with appropriate sharing permissions on file, of course. With all of the bad press and none of the good press, it would be hard for others to understand the role of the school counselor. Social media is here to stay and it offers a great opportunity to connect with students and families, as well as to advertise programs, events, and the positive impact of the school counselor.
Noblesville School Counseling & Social Worker Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
School Counseling Newsletter Example
School Counseling Bulletin Board Inspiration
National School Counseling Week Activities
The Proof is in the Data
There are many buzzwords in school counseling right now: comprehensive school counseling, evidence based school counseling, data driven decision making in school counseling, etc. There are mixed emotions about these buzzwords, mostly due to the work involved in collecting and analyzing data to prove our school counseling programs are “comprehensive,” “evidence based,” and “data driven.” It is not the work itself which causes mixed emotions but the lack of time, resources, and support to do the work. None of us can deny the importance of data when it comes to advocating for our profession, position, and program. However, data output is only as good as data input; in short, knowing what data is most beneficial to use in advocating for your role, your time, your program, and even funding is the first place to start.
As school counselors we are constantly running out of time, and finding ourselves struggling to advocate for our time to be spent in direct services with students. I can acknowledge as schools have evolved through the years, we are constantly being asked to do more as educators within the school day, yet the school day has not lengthened. However, that does not decrease the value and importance of school counseling within the school day. We must prove our effectiveness in correlation with where our time is being spent if we hope to advocate for less indirect services and more time spent with students. This begins with tracking our time spent consistently and using consistent measures and categories. There are many programs which can be used for this such as NoteCounselor or SCUTA, but if you aren’t fortunate enough to have funding for these programs, you can use other methods such as Google Forms which offers some basic analysis for free. No matter what you use to track your time spent, using consistent coding will be the most effective way to later analyze your time whether you code it simply direct service vs. indirect service or you use specific labels such as: Guidance, Counseling, Advocacy, Management, and Non-Program. Here are some example forms for those who may not have access to paid programs: example spreadsheet and example Google Form. One of the best uses of your time analysis is to showcase your effectiveness through numbers in an end of year report to share out with stakeholders. An end of year report summarizing your services, programs, student successes, time spent, trends, etc. is a great way to highlight the positive student and school impact of the school counselor and an effective tool for advocacy. Here are a few Example EOY Report and Blog re: EOY Report with downloadable template.
We cannot advocate for the school counseling profession on our own, especially those who are the only school counselor in their building; therefore it requires the support of the professional learning network of school counselors, sharing best practices, and evaluating our school counseling programs against other local, state, and national school counseling programs. Joining professional organizations such as ASCA or ISCA, attending school counselor network opportunities such as those offered through Counselor Connect, and even engaging in virtual networking opportunities such as the #scchat on Twitter, helps us gain insights and confidence in advocacy for our role as well as best practices for our program. Regularly gathering information on how other school counseling programs operate and school counselor responsibilities can help you advocate to take responsibilities off your plate or propose new processes and procedures. This is especially true if you can share data on the effectiveness of the other school counseling programs and/or the school counselor role and function within the school.
Another effective tool in advocacy is in addressing the reasons why school counselors, much like other educators, are leaving the profession. Performing exit interviews with school counselors when they leave, and documenting the struggles to perform the duties assigned to school counselors can help address retention. Improving staff retention is a motivating factor for change; it saves school districts money to retain good staff rather than continuously hiring and training new staff. One of the biggest reasons school counselors are leaving the profession, aside from lack of support, resources, and time to complete all that is required of them, is the fact many of us do not get to spend adequate time performing school counseling duties and in direct service with students because we are tasked with ODAA (other duties as assigned). If schools want to improve school counselor retention, they must address the ODAA. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes staff turnover and exit interviews, to identify there is a need for change.
“The more we collectively and individually advocate for our role, the more we will see change.”
The more we collectively and individually advocate for our role, the more we will see change. Organizations like ASCA advocate at a national level while ISCA advocates at the state level for school counselors. Those organizations support us in our work, but they also need us to advocate individually as well as our involvement and membership. Through advocacy I have seen counselor caseloads drop and duties removed from the shoulders of school counselors which prevent us from doing the job we were hired to do. School counselors are a tier one intervention, and are trained mental health professionals. As the student mental health crisis gains more attention and student behavior becomes more of a focus, the need to better understand school counseling as well as the need for school counselors to be freed up to support students grows. This National School Counseling Week let’s combine our efforts and dream together; if not us, then who?