There I sat, unmoving in my seat, at a weekly staff meeting. The principal had just handed out papers outlining our school’s goals and objectives for the next school year. Listed over and over were academic goals about improving literacy and math. There was a small section on improving behavior through our school-wide PBIS program. Phew, something that has to do with what I do every day!
Ever feel like there is such a huge focus on academics in your school that you’re not sure if there’s room for you? I do. Most professional developments, staff meetings, and conversations are academically-based. And really, why shouldn’t they be? It is school after all.
Here’s why: because teaching behaviors is just as important as teaching academics. There, I said it.
Teaching behaviors includes everything from the behavior expectations in the areas around your school to teaching students how to treat one another (and this category is HUGE!). Think about it…if students are misbehaving, not following directions, being disrespectful to each other or their teacher, how much academic learning is getting done? Not much at all!
In my first couple years as a school counselor, I struggled with this concept even though I knew that teaching behaviors was important. I always felt like I was impeding on precious academic time if I asked to use some for classroom lessons or to have discussions with students. However, after a while, I gained confidence in this respect because I was providing a much needed service for the students and the staff. Eventually, most staff came to see this too and became more flexible with classroom time.
I had to make room for myself by becoming my own advocate. Here are some strategies I used to do this:
•Be patient – especially if you’re starting in a new school. Get to know the schedule and ask teachers for the best times to pull students to talk and to schedule classroom lessons. You may have to work your way up to the classroom lesson schedule you’d like to have.
•Be flexible – schedules change, especially in schools. Be willing to reschedule student meetings and classroom lessons as things come up for teachers. Doing this will make it a lot easier for yourself when you have to cancel in a classroom (and you will at some point!).
•Get a set classroom schedule – in the very beginning of the year, go to teachers and schedule your classroom lessons weekly, biweekly, monthly, or however often you plan to do them. After you get your schedule set, send it out to ALL staff, including specialists, special ed, secretary, principal, etc. You want everyone to know what your schedule is as soon as possible to prevent interference.
•Talk to your principal – it’s crucial that your principal knows what direction your counseling program is going. Let him/her know how often you’re in classrooms, how many groups you’re facilitating, how many students you usually see individually on a weekly basis, etc. Make your hard work known!
•Speak up at staff meetings – let your staff know how you contribute to the school’s behavioral AND academic goals, since both impact each other. Are there specific lessons or initiatives you’re doing that are having an impact on student behavior? Talk about it!
•Share the ASCA standards – let your staff know that you have a curriculum to teach, just as they do. They may not want to read all about the 3 domains school counselors teach, but you can give them some information about each.
•Publish a newsletter or blog – on a regular basis, get your name out into the community and share all the wonderful things you’re doing. This is a great way to communicate with parents and administration about the importance of your job.
•Collaborate – find someone in your school who believes in teaching positive behaviors as much as you do. There’s usually at least one person and he/she can be a great resource.
•Contribute to your school – join at least one team. Whether it is PBIS, Sunshine Committee, guidance steering committee, safety team, etc., show that you have ideas and enthusiasm to share, and that you’re a team player.
•Believe in yourself – know that as a school counselor, you are a professional in possession of unique skills and education that truly make an impact on the students you serve. No one else in the school can do what a school counselor can!
Finally, always keep this thought in mind:
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” –William James