If your school is fortunate enough to have a school counselor in the building, be sure to maintain a constant stream of communication with this valuable professional.
Role of a School Counselor
School counselors are in our schools to provide counseling and guidance to students. It is important to keep notes on students that are on your watch list, whether it is academically, socially, or emotionally. Your school counselor cannot help you if you are not willing to communicate your needs and those of your students. Depending upon the make-up of your school population, your school may want to consider working to establish peer groups to deal with the following:
- Anger management
- Children in families with drinking/drug issues
- Children coping with anxiety
- Family change (divorce, new siblings)
- Grief, trauma, or loss
- Impulse control
- School success
When you can identify a need and address that need with your school counselor, peer groups can be a positive way for students to deal with some of the above issues. If they can meet with others in their same situation, it can help them feel like they can work through their issues with their peers, in a safe, protected environment. If you do have these peer groups established, you should stay in contact with the counselor throughout the process so that you can stay on top of any progress your student may be making. This also allows you can also find out about any major changes in the student's life that may affect classroom behavior.
When it is time for parent-teacher conferences, a school counselor can also sit in on a meeting if you anticipate that parents will be either difficult to work with or hesitant to accept help for their struggling child. A counselor can perform a classroom visit to observe an at-risk child and support you as the classroom teacher with her findings. Often parents will be more willing to accept findings about their child if they come from multiple sources.
Response to Intervention
When we think of a school counselor, we usually think of some of the issues addressed above: anger, grief, behavior, or family issues. Your school counselor can also be a strong partner in working out strategies to improve student success and achievement in the classroom. Our school uses a Response to Intervention (RTI) program that consists of a team, involving the counselor, principal, teachers, and sometimes parents. These parties meet to develop a program that is intended to be prevention based. It identifies students that are on the verge of falling behind, and provides additional interventions and strategies within the classroom setting that will reinforce what is being taught and increase academic performance. These types of programs are a strong partnership between the school counselor and the rest of the academic staff.
Depending on the needs of the student, the RTI program provides support in a variety of ways. This support can be one-on-one work with a intervention specialist, or maybe sometimes a student just needs a cushion on their chair to help them sit still so that they can concentrate and complete their work. The range of support varies, and this is where the communication between classroom teacher and counselor must be fluid. As the classroom teacher, you spend the most time with a student, and should keep the counselor informed on what is working and then be willing to re-evaluate and try new strategies.
Keeping your school counselor informed about at-risk students will in turn help you reach those students in a more productive way. When the counselor knows the fabric of your classroom, she can provide you with tools to work best with your students. Be open and honest with any struggles and concerns, talking through them and coming up with appropriate strategies will go a long way to helping you have a smooth and successful year.