Fast forward 25 years later. I have found most people still don't know what School Counselors do, including some School Counselors. And recently, I discovered even other types of Counselors are confused about our job. So why would we think parents and teachers have any better idea? It was time for me to take a serious step forward to educate and advocate the stakeholders at my school about School Counseling. Armed with my year long curriculum plan, the data that has informed my program, information about my qualifications, the ASCA model, and the the reason we are no longer called "Guidance Counselors," I decided to hold my first meeting. Many thanks to my new friend and colleague, Dr.Lauren Wynne for her support and encouragement to start my School Counseling Advisory Council. I could not have done it without her help.
I started off the school year making personal, face to face, contacts with parents at Meet the Teacher, Open House, and PTA functions, asking if they would be on my advisory council. I told them we would meet twice a year for one hour each time and I would be looking for their feedback, suggestions and ideas about my School Counseling program. As I considered which parents to invite, I thought about parents who represented the racial make-up of my school and were not the same ones who already serve on every committee. I actually asked 2 parents I have had uncomfortable dealings with in the past. Both are strong personalities and very vocal, but I always know what they are thinking and I value that. I don't want a rubber stamp, "yes m'am" type of committee, but one that will both encourage and challenge me. It is important for each School Counselor to think about the parent personalities you invite to join your Advisory Council. Next, I sent out an email to my faculty asking for interested individuals to contact me. I had two responses. My goal was to meet in late September, however circumstances at the start of the year conspired to keep me from doing so. Finally in mid-January we were ready to meet. I had recruited eleven members.
It was a simple meeting really. I was pleased that 7 of the 11 people I invited actually attended. I had cold drinks, a sign- in sheet, agendas, hand-outs of my Annual Curriculum Plan, data from the first quarter, and the ASCA Model. We used the Media Center where I had access to the internet and the LCD projector for my Advisory Council PowerPoint. I started with introductions and the icebreaker, "Two Truths and a Lie." It is interesting the things people share and what you can learn about others in a fun non-threatening way. I shared about my role as a School Counselor and how and why the name changed from Guidance Counselor to School Counselor. We saw one of my favorite short video clips that describes the role of the School Counselor created by Dr. Richard Cleveland titled Comprehensive School Counseling.
I explained the who and what about ASCA and the 4 components of a Comprehensive School Counseling program. Then I did a short activity where I had 2 parents come up and put on empty backpacks. As I described student #1's day and each of the challenges and barriers she faced I placed a heavy book in her backpack. For student #2, I placed a small magazine in her backpack as I described each of the inconveniences in her life while surrounded by a supportive family. My point was all students do not come to school ready to learn. Not everyone has help with homework, a hot meal, clean or appropriate shoes and clothing, a safe living situation, and a hug and encouragement to start their day. Some students need the support of the School Counselor more than others.
Then we reviewed the data from the end of the previous school year and our current data for the first quarter. Last, I shared my Annual Curriculum Plan and small group goals based on the current data. We discussed how classroom lessons were progressing and parents had questions about the curriculum and how it was selected and what was required by the state. In closing, I asked for feedback and suggestions and had parents share several ideas of things they would like to see in the future. Interestingly enough, these were ideas I had been thinking about myself.
As I think about my first School Counseling Advisory Council meeting I have to say I am feeling pleased. I admit I was a little scared of what they would think or say, but the response was positive and I felt a certain affirmation for the program I have developed. However, there are things I will do differently next meeting. For example, I sent a reminder email the week before. Next time I will send an additional email 2 days before and do some follow-up phone calls to those who do not respond to my email. I also need a couple of community members. I need to contact our business partners and see if I can recruit them to be a part of the Advisory Council. Also, f I had waited another week to do my first meeting, I would have had second quarter data to share as well. I should also have included some photos of my School Counseling program, like activities with my Leadership Club, Vehicle Day, RRW, Soctober, classroom lessons and my conference presentations. These are lessons learned and improvements I can make for our next meeting in May.
Are you ready to have stakeholders take a look at your School Counseling program? Whether it is all you want it to be or not, I challenge you to get a School Counseling Advisory Council started. It is the single best way to educate and advocate for the program you have or the program you wish to have. Educating parents, teachers, administrators, and community members about your training, skills and the services you can offer is the first step towards advocating for a Comprehensive School Counseling program. If you've you got the program you want, flaunt it, celebrate it, and share it! If your program is not what you want it to be and you are more clerical or administrative than School Counselor, what a great way to show the contrast between what you are doing and what you could be doing. Educate your stakeholders about the unique and valuable contributions to school climate and student learning School Counselors can make when given the freedom to do the job they were trained to do!