Saturday, February 7, 2015

The School Counseling Circus

Friday night was an amazing evening! Our county School Counselor Association hosted its annual awards banquet.  Usually we do this at the end of the school year, but decided there was no better way to celebrate and advocate for School Counselors at the end of National School Counseling Week than with an awards banquet.

As last year's winner of the Elementary School Counselor of the Year Award, I was given the honor of  being the guest speaker.  I am sharing below my speech to the Elementary, Middle and High School Counselors in my county.

The School Counseling Circus
You know, when you think about it, being a School Counselor is a lot like being a circus performer.  You have the clowns, tight rope act, lion tamers, plate spinners, jugglers, dancing bears, acrobats, the motorcycle dare devils riding in the cage of death,  the human cannonball, contortionists, magicians  and of course, the ringmaster.

Are you the plate spinner?   Your day starts with an emergency drop-in conference before you can get your ancient computer on and booted up... which runs right into your first class, which when you leave you are stopped by 2 teachers, a student whose dad was arrested and a call on the radio to see the Assistant Principal AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!!! You have students whose families are in a neighborhood feud, a call to make to Child Services, behavior plans to check, new students to meet, an outside referral to make for drug use, lunch with the latest round of girl drama, and a report on bullying. Can you keep them all in the air…. safely spinning at the same time?

 Maybe you’re the clown?  You do your best to make others happy and feel comfortable. But, some people act like they don’t like you, and some act like they are afraid of you.  The truth is they don't understand you or what you do. You are always trying to please and prove your worth, but some of those darn "clown-a-phobics" just don’t want any part of what you have to offer. They may say things like, "Why do you want to talk about THAT?"  If  you bring THAT up it will just make the problem worse!  What do School Counselors do anyway?

What about the tight rope act?  There you go precariously balancing  a thin line between doing what is right for students and being a team player in your school... where maybe your administration isn't quite sure what a School Counselor does or why we even need School Counselors. You try to make time for all the “other duties as assigned” that come your way and still find the time to see your students and offer guidance as to which classes to take and all they need to know to prepare for college.

Perhaps you are the human cannon ball.  Forget the to do list! Each day starts off like a shot!  You are constantly in, motion moving with lightning speed from crisis to crisis, all while answering emails, returning phone calls, checking on students, writing letters of recommendation, and dealing with drama… You are going from one fire to another and putting them all out, all while secretly fearing  their still smoldering ashes are likely to erupt into flames again at any time.

Are you the lion tamer?  The person they radio because there’s student in crisis who is standing on a table, a desk, a file cabinet or bookcase... or has a chair heaved high overhead ready to hurl it in the blink of an eye!  Or the student who is standing menancingly with a pair of scissors in hand ready to lunge at you as you offer soothing words and suggestions for calming down?

Are you the contortionist who tries oh so very hard to crunch your very tired mind and body into a very small and narrow box created for you by teachers, administrators and parents who just don’t “get” what you do.  Who try to shove you into what they believe a “guidance” counselor is or should be. These self-informed individuals have no idea what you do. And because they have no understanding of your education and qualifications or what School Counselors can do to assist ALL students, you are assigned whatever tasks they need done which have absolutely nothing to do with school counseling.

Are you the dancing bear?  Smiling, dancing, twirling around… just doing what you’re told all in an effort to please and entertain the crowds and prove your value as a member of the circus team? 

Are you the juggler trying to be super counselor, super parent, super colleague and all you feel is just super tired?  Do you volunteer for everything, try to implement every program, try every new idea, read all the latest literature and try all the latest technology?  Are you sponsoring clubs, helping with testing, and participating in extra duties because you are trying to prove you are a team player­­­? 

What about the acrobat?  You have incredible range and flexibility.  You can cope with anything, anytime, anywhere!  Flying by the seat of your pants? Well, that’s just how you roll! You’ve been doing this so long you have an innate ability to assess a situation on the fly and give adequate and sometimes brilliant advice. You can come up with a classroom lesson, a group activity or an individual student intervention right off the top of your head, because there is so much experience in there you can access it without a thought.

Are you the dare devil motorcycle rider circling inside the cage of  death?  You work with high risk, high need populations and you love it!  The risks are real,but so are the needs of the students you are hoping to impact with your care and concern.  You take chances to offer them the kind of acceptance and hope no one has ever seen them as fit to experience. You take risks to offer them a future and a glimpse of life beyond the correctional system.

Are you the trapeze artist, flying high, without a net, holding on by your finger nails? You love your job, but sometimes it can just be…overwhelming.  You feel there’s so much to know and do in order to help the students in your school, so many things you want to try.  The needs of the students the teachers,  and the parents, are always nagging at the corners of your mind, even when you are trying to meet the needs of your own family.

Maybe you are the magician?  You make it look all so easy.  Problems  seem to magically disappear when you are on the scene.  You have the ability to say or do the right thing to calm the crazies, the cry babies, and the crackpots.  You always have a trick up your sleeve to help a student with whatever situation they encounter.  The teachers and administrators "ooo" and "ahhh" at your skills.  They just don’t see how you do it and to be honest, sometimes neither do you.

Are you the ring master? Trying to keep a department of plate spinning, lion taming, acrobatic,  contortionist  juggling, clowns in check?  Good luck ! You try to keep the program on track , but it is a 3 ring circus and you are also one of the performers in the "Greatest Show on Earth."  So you put on a face of confidence and support and encourage your performers. And if one drops a plate or falls off the tight rope, it's ok  because  we've all been there.  We have each other backs, because we are all in this together.

So, What part do you play in this circus act? Which performer or performers are you? At any given hour, on any given day, of any given week you may find yourself performing one or all of these acts... because School Counselors are very much like circus performers. Both require intense training and highly specialized skills, perserverance, agility and flexibility.

The truth is, we  seldom get to “perform” with our peers.  When it comes down to our daily tasks we are a solo act, performing a solitary job, many times in private, involving the confidential  hopes and fears, feelings, and experiences of our students, their parents, and sometimes our teachers. These jobs performed in private are often misunderstood and misrepresented, leading to inaccurate assumptions about who we are and what we do.  There is a constant need to prove our worth and the value we add to the students, parents, and teachers at our schools. We have a job that is frustrating and satisfying, depressing and joyful, infuriating and uplifting.  The need for self-care and collaboration is great, but not always available or encouraged.
So right now I want to encourage you.  I want you to know and believe how special you are. I want you to believe your programs, your lessons, your conferences, and individual counseling sessions make an impact on the lives of your students.
I want you to …
Believe you are amazing
Believe you are wonderful
Believe you make a difference
Believe your caring can crack the toughest nut
Believe students are better because of what you do. 
Believe that somewhere a parent is taking the time to connect with their child
Believe a student will stand up to a bully
Believe a family is healing from a loss
Believe a young woman will walk away from an abusive relationship
Believe an adolescent has started to dream about what their future can be
Believe a young adult is reconsidering drinking and driving
Believe a child will have their physical needs meant so they can focus on learning
Believe a young man will choose to live
Believe a student will take the step to overcome fear and uncertainty and be the first in their family to go to college
Believe you are a light in the dark, a safe place in a storm and a rock on sinking sand.

Because you are a School Counselor you give hope, you give love, you give strength ,you give confidence, you give life.
Because you are a school counselor you shape the future of our world.
Because you are a School counselor the world is better for it!
At the School Counselors banquet with my awesome AP who totally "gets it!"


  1. Excellent speech and metaphor for school counseling!! Most days, I'm the plate spinner and most definitely the tight rope act. ;)

  2. Wonderful stuff, Thank you.