The impact of school counselors

This past week the First Lady, Michelle Obama, spoke at the ASCA conference in Orlando, Florida. The statements she made all ring true to those of us who have been in the field of school counseling and those of us who continue to help students and their families find their paths to post secondary education. Her main messages were, “thank you for the work you do” and “I appreciate you”. School counselors play a vital role in the culture and climate of every school. They often serve as the only staff members with any mental health training. They collaborate with teachers, administrators, community members and families to support student success. School counselors are also one of the most often cut positions when budgets are strained. The US Department of Education has worked to fund efforts to create and expand school counseling efforts through the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Grant. These grants are one way to help increase the awareness and emphasis on the importance of school counselors as change agents, leaders and invaluable members of a school’s climate. It is so exciting to see, hear and feel the new attention and recognition for the profession of school counseling from the USDOE as well as from the First Lady. In case you missed her remarks, the link below will take you there.

Remarks by the First Lady

 

Photo of Michelle Obama at ASCA

 

It’s the little things that make a difference.

Selecting a college is a process.  In counseling, most things are processes; few things are simply “one time events”.  In our work to help students find a “good fit” college, one in which they can not only learn, but grow, spread their wings and thrive, we need to take school cultures and climates into consideration. As a fan of experiential education, I feel that one of the best ways to do this is to visit college campuses.  Feet on the ground, eyes and ears open and alert, umbrellas and sunscreen at the ready, all in an effort to absorb the “feel” of the campus.

Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in the SACAC Sweet Tea Tour, 2014. This year we explored colleges and universities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.  Some schools were large, some small, all were welcoming, interesting and exciting and they all laid out the red carpet for our visits. 

Some of the big things included a police escort into the LSU campus (think C.H.I.P.S. for those of you old enough to remember that show), a night at Dat Dog in NOLA compliments of Tulane, a visit to the athletic facilities at Alabama (some did see the football coach but they closed the curtain on us) and cowbells in the baseball locker room at Mississippi State. These were all insights and opportunities to see what the schools have to offer and to highlight some of what they feel are their best assets. 

Southern hospitality was in evidence and practice when Auburn let us go up the the Eagle’s Nest to see the campus and gave us umbrellas just in case it rained. Loyola provided a prayerful and delicious breakfast and had some of the most engaging faculty members on the tour. Xavier reminded and demonstrated to us that it is an honor to serve students. UAB arranged and created a special opportunity to see their campus on the final morning of the tour and even took us to the airport on their new buses.

Some of the small things included a tour of the beautiful chapel at Spring Hill (and a tour led by a delightful young lady); a wonderful, elegant dinner at the president’s mansion overlooking the Samford campus, and an afternoon of hospitality and “sporting activities” (a.k.a. hoola hooping, and lawn darts) at Birmingham Southern.

Some of the most subtle small things happened at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. The staff at Millsaps, especially Laura and Jonathan, Assistant Director and Director of Admissions, respectively, made each one of us feel at home, even though we were there for only one night.  When we arrived at Millsaps, many of us were bus weary and knew we had to go to our rooms, make our beds and then get ready for a tour of the campus followed by a dinner at the president’s house.

It was such a pleasant surprise to get to our rooms and find that the double beds were already made, the blankets and towels were soft and fluffy, and we were each given a full bar of soap!  These are small things but huge when you have been living out of a suitcase for a week. In addition they had decorated our desks with a vase of live flowers and put Millsaps mints on our pillows! You could hear the excitement as each person entered the room and found these little joys. 

The little things do count and they are often what we remember the most.

 

My week in North Carolina with college counselors

I have been privileged to spend several days this week with a group of wonderful college counselors who are all part of the 2013 SACAC Summer Seminar.  Many of these people are new to the field and others of us are “seasoned”.  It has been a great insight into the level of care and compassion that counselors have for the success of the students with whom they work.

To a person, regardless of the socioeconomic status, geographic location, type of school/work environment, etc. these counselors want to help students access the colleges and universities that will help them become wonderful, productive human beings. They also want to keep the focus on the student at all times.

As counselors we sometimes struggle to define our roles, explain our purposes to administrators, justify the importance of using class time for counseling and act simultaneously as resources and buffers between these groups.  Yet, we all continue to do so, year in and year out because at the heart of it all, we are advocates.

We believe in the students’ skills and talents, we want to help them explore their fascinations and develop their passions and we want them to be able to expand their horizons at a pace and location that best suits their needs. We push when we need to; we scaffold when we can and we help students (and parents) understand that there is learning and insight in failure (or rejection from the first choice school).

The compassion and passion of counselors is not something to be taken lightly. Most counselors are humble and do not ask for much recognition or praise.  If you are fortunate enough to have (or have had) a counselor in your life who has helped you grow and become what you were meant to be, please consider letting him or her know that you appreciate the effort.

 

The importance and purpose of supervision.

The concept of supervision of training is often met with reluctance among educators and administrators. This is often due to a lack of understanding of the goals and importance of this stage of becoming a professional.

As counselors in training, it is important to have someone available to help select and modify treatment plans or ideas for classroom guidance.  As teachers and administrators, it is important to ensure that the work being done is effective and appropriate to truly support student learning.  The incorporation of supervisor oversight may seem to be a cost-prohibitive issue; however, the potential for long term damage to students and clients due to poor professional preparation and treatment choices is much more costly.

Organizations exist for the sole purpose of supporting this work.  The Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) is one group that works to support mental health and school counselors as they journey through the process of becoming competent professionals.  State level groups, such as the Ohio ACES (OACES) also support this important work.  Consider checking out the redesigned OACES.org website for more information.