These are excerpts from presentations given at the CESA Counselor Forum in Burbank, CA that was sponsored by CACE.
Often times school counseling can be an exercise in contradiction. The very nature of counseling is that it is collaborative, encouraging, strategic and social. And yet counselors can find themselves isolated in some kind of in between place, juxtaposed between faculty and administration, but not really belonging to either. Counselors don’t belong on an island, they belong in partnership, but many times it falls on the counselor to form those partnerships. So how does that work? In the best of situations counselors are the connectors of education; shining a light on the “why” of education. While a faculty member sees the micro view of their discipline, the counselor has the privilege of seeing the big picture and lending perspective to all the stakeholders involved in the education of students. The idea isn’t necessarily to justify our own existence. Although, I’ve found that if you’re feeling undervalued this may be helpful. It is, however, about doing the internal networking that will lay the ground work for you to do the external networking necessary for effectively advocating for your students.
I find that high schools tend to be victims of tribalism. Let me explain what I mean. It’s natural to connect with the people with whom we have the most in common. History teachers gravitate toward history teachers, math teachers toward math teachers, accountants toward accountants, etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking like-minded people unless it promotes isolation or the uniting against what is viewed as a common enemy. Tribes will often use their own modus operandi to evaluate the effectiveness of other tribes. My day to day as a counselor is going to look different than the day to day of an accounting office. And yet we use our own frame of reference to gage effectiveness.
We know that our jobs will often times take us away from our desk and so the measure of our effectiveness can’t start with a chain that connects us to our desks. However, the truth is that one model can’t be used to measure the effectiveness of everyone else. I think that counselors have the unique opportunity to be a uniting force within a school. Counselors can pull everyone together in the effort to provide opportunities. You need to find ways to share the work and celebrate the success.
It takes intentional effort to unite these tribes. Think of it as internal networking. The goal is to connect with your colleagues and make them partners in the process. My goal is to celebrate the success together in order to build the team that is willing to do the work together. For example, every spring we have an award ceremony for our faculty where we honor the teachers who wrote the most recommendations or the teacher who wrote for the students who were more “challenging”. I use the same meeting to report out on the success of the most recent class. My goal is that we can all share in that success. I also take every opportunity to make sure that I have opportunities to report to our Board of Directors. I report on challenges, successes and opportunities. By involving all stakeholders, you can promote unity in your school while also fostering an understanding of what it takes to be successful in your position.
Internal networking will lay the groundwork for the external networking required to be an effective advocate for your students. I want to quickly suggest three opportunities to network externally in ways that will help your students, promote your school and advance your career. Start with forming a cohort group of counselors from other schools. Everyone can benefit from the collective wisdom of others doing the same job in a potentially different environment. Think of it as the tribe that you may not have access to at your own school. This group can serve as collaborators, advisors and even commiserators.
Secondly, get involved with your professional organizations. Look for opportunities to volunteer and when that opportunity presents itself; say yes. Seek way to connect with NACAC (or your regional affiliate), NACCAP, CESA, CAIS, NAIS and ACSI. Within these organizations you find ways to connect, learn, contribute and be mentored.
Lastly, find ways to connect with your colleagues on the college side. Set a goal for the number of campuses that you would like to visit each year. I know that this takes budge, but many colleges fly counselors in to their campuses each year. Don’t be shy about seeking these programs. In addition invite schools to visit your campus and when they visit assume the role of true host. Make every effort to be present for each visit. Set up an ambassador program that allows student to host each college campus. I like to have a student greet each college representative at our front door, show them around campus, offer them a cup of coffee, water and a small gift, lead the discussion during the visit and then make sure that they have directions to their next visit. The ambassador is also responsible for following up with a thank you note to the college representative after the visit.
Don’t work in isolations. Choose collaboration. Choose to be mentored and seek to mentor.