By Stephanie Filio
There is no quick way to describe what it entails to be a school counselor. Our days are never consistent and our schedules rarely stay intact or go uninterrupted. We are the ultimate jacks of all trades, masters of none. We serve many people, we are used for various purposes, and our routines change faster than a locker door slams shut. This can breed a lot of misconceptions about what we do, hurting our ability to support students by reducing our connections to them.
The American School Counselor Association’s National School Counseling Week is the perfect opportunity to share with others what we do and to celebrate our role in students’ lives and within the larger school framework. As counselors, we know exactly what we do, but to someone outside the office, our jobs remain a mystery. By clarifying what we know based on our education and identifying what we are good at, people will be better able to utilize and advocate for us.
What COUNSELOR Stands For
So what do we do? Since we love our acronyms and acrostics in education, here is something to help lay out what a counselor’s function is in the life of a student. We can celebrate with something a little extra special during National School Counseling Week and promote all our wonderful and valuable skills.
C: Collaborating with Teachers, Specialists, and Administrators
We are everything to everyone. Teachers think we are on their side, administrators think we are on their side, and parents think we are on their side. But really, we have one priority: students. By craftily letting everyone else think they are our main concern, we ensure that our students get a coordinated congregation of people to support them.
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Leave a little treat in staff mailboxes with a note from the school counseling department (for example, “We’ve noted your support” on a sticker attached to a pack of post-its, or “Thank you for your role in our counseling” on a Tootsie Roll).
O: Orating and Teaching
Counselors give lessons to many audiences, and we have to instantaneously read a room and be ready to change course if needed. We design, write, and coordinate lessons for the whole school, an entire grade level, individual classrooms, and small groups, and then create progress plans for individuals. It takes a lot of planning, but the exposure to students is worth its weight in gold!
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Make a guest appearance on the morning announcements, be extra present in the cafeteria, have a small group snack attack celebration, or pop into classrooms with a quick digital game on emotions.
U: Uncovering and Compiling Data
Counselors are masters of those tiered levels! With so very many students on our caseloads, we are constantly investigating and evaluating our data to make a game plan. We uncover trends and patterns, make a blueprint, and then adjust as the data fluctuates.
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Offer a professional learning session to show teachers how to examine data. Outline your process and encourage them to use it in their classroom and see how your method works.
N: Networking in the Community
Sometimes, a kid needs something that our division can’t provide. From dog visits to school supplies to mentors and speakers, school counselors maintain a strong side hustle in the community to make sure we can get our students as many resources as we can!
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Have students draw pictures to put on cards. Send them to your community partners to thank them and tell them about National School Counseling Week!
Rapport building is just like the old movie line, “If you build it, they will come.” Students feel compelled to see us for large and small things—from their deepest life events to completely random ones! What an honor it is when a student chooses us to be the one they think of when they have something to share about their lives.*
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Play School Counselor Visits BINGO and see how many things your students come to you for! (Download a BINGO card here.) What will be the prize for the team member who gets BINGO first? Share your boards on social media to give people a snapshot of your day.
E: Engaging Students in School
School counselors are the glue that brings everyone together to create a superb learning environment for students. Because we build rapport and know kids on a deeper level, we can share students’ interests and needs with their support system to help engage even the most finicky learners. Everyone can feel a purpose, as long as they have the tools to find it.
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: During lunches, have a National School Counseling Week banner for students to sign and share their favorite part about coming to school.
L: Lifting Staff Morale
Because we have heart, we also have the potential to make all the difference with our staff. The more positive staff are, the more positive interactions students will have with them! We encourage our teachers, we allow them to vent, and we help them out.
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Leave a treat, such as cookies or snacks, in the teacher work room with a card from the school counseling team.
O: Occasional (Ha!) Paperwork
Let’s face it. We work on schedules. We register kids, we add and drop classes, we arrange student duos that do better in separate rooms. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Do yourself a favor that will pay itself forward by blocking out a half or full day to catch up on calls, schedules, and emails so that you can get back to what you’re really there for—seeing kids!
R: Realizing Various Documents
Some of us just have to do it: the 504s, IEPs, and student team meetings. Divisions differ on this, but many school counselors are also responsible for various city, state, and federal documents that impact student achievement.
Ideas for National School Counseling Week: Get your Child Find on, and partner with the special education department to hold a parent workshop explaining the various resources available to students.
School Counseling as a Philosophy
I’ve always felt like school counseling was more of a philosophy to education than a singular profession. It is a belief that social and emotional learning must be nourished for students to be able to learn new educational content. School counselors mobilize this learning. We respect the process, we nurture the spirit, and we take care of business! This job is magical, because if you come from that space, you cannot go wrong.
So let’s cheers to not having to explain to people that school counselors are not teachers! Hip-hip-hurray for teachers who know they have access to trauma-informed reservoirs of knowledge in their counselors! And a great big huzzah to administrators who understand the area between simply playing board games with kids and ethical clinical boundaries!
Happy National School Counseling Week, everyone, and THANK YOU for everything you do for your school, staff, and community.
*Reasons students might come to see a counselor once they have established rapport: because they got a dog, to find their bus number, to have a place to cry, to ask about clubs/activities, to call home, because their parents have hurt them, to get food for the weekend, to ask for algebra help, to tell you it’s their birthday, to get lunch money, because they are mad at their parents, to show artwork, to complain about a teacher, because they don’t know why they’re sad, to ask for information on try-outs, because they got their phone taken away, because they need help talking to their friends, to share gossip, to make a card for a deployed parent, because they’re excited about a new science kit, because a parent was incarcerated, to get help on an assignment, to tell you about a fight in their neighborhood, because their shoes have a bump in them, because they need a snack, because they actually came to school, to see if you brought the Hot Fries you promised, to prove they did homework, to tell you their parent is out of the hospital, to work on an essay, because they don’t feel well, for a daily check-in, to make sure you still have their artwork up, to beg you not to have a parent-teacher conference, because they lost their phone, and many more!
Stephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.
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