Engaging Students in Classroom Guidance: Management Strategies for Middle School Counselors

Article excerpt

Classroom guidance for all students is an important element of the program delivery system for middle school counselors. Effective classroom management is essential to implementing classroom guidance and may be challenging at times. This article presents strategies and management techniques to facilitate middle school counselors' planning and implementation of classroom guidance to meet the unique needs of middle school students.

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School counselors have the opportunity to communicate developmental information and guidance to many students in middle school classrooms (Wittmer, 2000). According to the ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2003), classroom guidance is an important part of the delivery system for counseling programs, and it is recommended that middle school counselors spend 25% to 35% of their time in delivery of the guidance curriculum.

ASCA (2003) and Campbell and Dahir (1997) have emphasized a partnership between counselors and teachers to provide a proactive and preventative guidance curriculum addressing topics that every adolescent may face and teaching healthy skills to cope with these experiences. The original middle school philosophy (George & Alexander, 2003) included a teacher-as-adviser approach with groups of students meeting weekly with teachers to address developmental issues within the peer group. Many middle schools have removed this advisee time to fulfill requirements for more academic content (Myrick, 2003). In today's middle schools, counselors may be the sole presenter of the guidance curriculum in the classroom.

Unfortunately, school counselors may be uncomfortable in the classroom because of a lack of experience in classroom management. The ASCA National Model (2003) includes the following statement: "Although teaching experience is not required in some states, it is important for school counselors to receive training in ... classroom behavior management" (p. 16). This article presents strategies to assist middle school counselors in effectively implementing classroom guidance. A mixture of counseling and classroom management techniques specific to working with early adolescents is discussed.

EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM GUIDANCE STRATEGIES

Because the school counselor has a special role in middle school as compared to teachers, classroom strategies need to be slightly different but equally effective (Wittmer, 2000). A good balance of caring, empathic counseling skills coupled with traditional behavior expectations and interventions is needed (Myrick, 2003). Parental influences lessen in comparison to that of friends during the middle school years (Caissy, 1994), and for early adolescents, teaching within the peer group atmosphere can be most effective (Wavering, 1995).

Preparation

The middle school teacher grade-level teams can be of great help with preparations and their input can offer helpful recommendations for counselors planning classroom guidance activities. Teachers can assist the middle school counselor in identifying topics that need attention, the time of day that will work best, and which classes can best accommodate classroom guidance (ASCA, 2003).

For example, the first author's initial job as a new counselor in a rural middle school provided a specific challenge. In the first weeks of school, physical fights were commonplace and students had serious verbal conflicts related to simple issues. Conflict was erupting in this school and many students felt unsafe. A common statement from students and parents was that fighting was acceptable if one was "hitting back and defending oneself." Teachers assisted the counselor in devising a plan for presenting alternative actions through counselor-delivered classroom guidance activities. For scheduling, the teacher team suggested avoiding Thursday and Friday, and review and test days. In addition, the teachers recommended offering classroom guidance activities at the end of math lessons. …