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Historically, teachers have been expected to be the custodians of the nation's children and have been charged with the task of preparing them to be good citizens. Ironically, it's only been three decades since school counselors have come into their own and are regarded as vital members of the educational team. Five Tips on How to Be an Effective School Counselor is designed to offer ideas on how you can be productive without losing sight of your own self-esteem and self-worth.
Tip #1: Define Your Own Identity
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) supports school counselors' efforts to help students focus on academic, personal, social, and career development so they achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society.
While the ASCA supports high ideals, the reality of some school settings and the implementation of ASCA's ideals might be a test of your talents, strengths, and fears. Consider this scenario. You arrive at a school where your primary responsibility will be disciplining students who appear as if they have been raised by wolves, the staff is burnt out and expects to use your office as a dumping ground, and the principal views you as his personal mouthpiece when being confronted by difficult parents or the public. Sounds far-fetched? Not at all.
Because of budget constraints, school districts have come to expect school personnel to do more with less. If you find yourself in this situation, you must clarify several questions. Where do I fit? What do I want? What are the resources at my disposal? What might be a deterrent to accomplishing my goals? Clearly, you may not be able to change the conditions you face, but you have a choice as to how you'll let the conditions define you.
Tip #2: Create A Nourishing Environment for Yourself
When you arrive at a school, the "culture" is usually in place. It doesn't matter how qualified, willing, and able you are to put in place a quality counseling program, there may be forces that might be beyond your control and hold the potential for negatively impacting on your ability to do your job. To be an effective school counselor, you must identify these forces quickly and develop a game plan.
Attitude is key. You must like and respect yourself and be able to promote and nurture your own inner significance and value. No matter how small or cramped your assigned space might be, make it attractive and appealing. Bring in plants and photographs. Create bulletin boards that are inviting and inspirational to students and staff. Use this space to bring in magazine articles and book reviews to encourage productive interactions. Many students will never seek out a school counselor and a creative bulletin board might be the key. You must sell yourself and be willing to invest your energy in getting to know a student's reality and at the same time enhance your professional growth..
Tip #3: Keep Your Emotional Pantry Stocked With Empathy and Compassion
As a school counselor, you will come in contact with students who come from myriad family settings. In any of these settings, you might find students who have practically raised themselves. To be an effective school counselor, you must resist the urge to be a custodian of other peoples children, even though the implied bottom line for parents and students may be "What can you do for me?" You are limited in many ways in what you can do. Recognize your limitations and reach out to others within the school and the community. Sometimes, it might feel like you're on a "short leash," yet, you must believe in your self-worth and the students' and have confidence in your ability to make a difference in their lives.
Tip #4: Take Care of Your Emotional and Physical Health
Plan time away from work before you become physically or emotionally exhausted, so that you can regroup. You cannot be all things to all people. If you have a family of your own, taking care of yourself is doubly important. Setting goals for yourself, your family, and your job, (in that order) can help to guard against stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. To be an effective school counselor you must look for ways to compensate for your weaknesses. Don't be afraid to use your students to help you which ultimately helps them, such as peer groups or support groups. Brainstorm with teachers about common concerns.
Tip #5 Leave Work Problems at Work
Resist the temptation to take work home. This is quite difficult for many people. Other than for your employer's needs, resist the urge to give students or parents your personal phone number and personal e-mail address. Also, assess very carefully whether you want students to interact with you on facebook, twitter, or any other high tech situation where your role as a school counselor could be compromised. Use the school's e-mail and web page for work-related issues. Also, if each classroom has a television, work with the school's media specialist and devise a system where important messages at the end of the day can be fed into it.
The challenges facing our young people are greater than ever before. Schools that have school counselors are lucky. To be an effective school counselor, you must guard against maintaining the status quo and maximize the opportunities to facilitate the development and education of your students.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA): http://schoolcounselor.org/ and http://www.schoolcounselor.org/content.asp?pl=325&sl=133&contentid=240
Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos067.htm