Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Welcoming School Counselors to the Team

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Welcoming School Counselors to the Team

Article excerpt

Educators traditionally have turned to school counselors to calm emotional students, mediate students in conflict, and handle crisis situations. Also, traditionally, much of counselors' time has been given to such tasks as preparing for standardized testing and scheduling.

Yet, focusing on responsibilities outside the counseling arena can hinder their ability to connect with students, to deal effectively with serious student issues, and to craft the preventive measures that are so important to creating a positive and safe school climate.

Recognizing the important role school counselors and social workers play in promoting student achievement and well-being, Ocoee Middle School in Cleveland, Tennessee, has made a concerted effort to create a space in the classroom for the school counselors and make them true members of the team.

During the past five years, our school counseling team has evolved from two counselors assigned to desks in the main office, balancing administrative duties with middle school student drama, to three full-time counselors spread across each grade level; a full-time social worker; and a half-time counselor who oversees the school-wide positive behavior plan, the anti-bullying initiative, and the progress of our student-faculty advisory program.

Administrative support has been the key to success. The school administrators have given their full support to our vision and have worked with the counseling department to implement such initiatives as the advisory program and the school-wide positive behavior initiative. Our staff has moved from being fundamentally reactive (giving it our best shot) to taking a more constructive, proactive approach to meeting the needs of our students.

Reaching students

Even though we have a strong organizational structure and administrative support, we face a major challenge. Our middle school is home to 1,250 students in grades 6-8. That leaves our staff of counselors with a 1:400 student ratio. Consequently, we must be creative in reaching as many students as possible.

Some of the ways we meet the needs of our students is by

* Conducting small-group pull-outs and classroom guidance lessons.

* Becoming more visible in areas such as the cafeteria, the core classrooms, and the hallways.

* Participating in school-wide assemblies.

* Inviting community organizations on campus to provide their expertise and resources.

* Being an integral part of the advisory and schoolwide positive behavior team.

* Recruiting local university students to complete their community service requirements with us.

Developing a more comprehensive school counseling program can be a huge undertaking, and it takes time and effort, as we have seen during the past few years. However, the direction we are heading has helped us establish our school counseling program as an integral component of the school's academic mission and has helped ensure that every student has equitable access to the counseling program.

School counselors and social workers have a unique skill set that should not be bottled up in an office, waiting until called upon to defuse a difficult situation. We have tried to be just as proactive connecting with students and teachers in the classroom as we have with students and their families. Only with a collaborative culture will we be able to nurture the health and personal and academic growth of our students. …

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