Sunday, August 13, 2017

Practice Professional Empathy

For the first time in twenty years I am the new person at school. This summer I transferred from elementary to middle school and I am excitedly looking forward to the challenge. In this process however,  I have been reminded about what it means to be new, and I don't just mean for students.  When I arrived at my new school, all around me were people  effortlessly going about the business of preparing for students to arrive on Monday.  But not me.  I struggled to get the smallest of tasks completed, like finding a hole punch, and went home each day exhausted and frustrated at how little I had accomplished.  There was so much I wanted to do to get ready and here I was spinning my wheels for hours at a time. Then I thought about my School Counseling partner who is also new.  And I mean brand spankin' new. Just out of graduate school and new to School Counseling, our state, and district.  And then it hit me.  I needed to practice some professional empathy. Yeah, I was frustrated, but what was it like for her?!

As School Counselors, we are all about helping the new students transition and feel at home.  But what about the new faculty and new School Counselors who join our schools?  HOLY MOLEY! Being at a new school is absolutely overwhelming!  You come in all eager and excited and with big plans and ideas of the things you want to do to fix up your office or classroom.  However, you find the most simple of tasks become huge obstacles and take 10 times as long as they should because you don't have the supplies you need,  you don't know where things are,  you don't know who to ask, or what to do to get them.  What is my phone extension?  How do I get a computer or district email? How do I get office supplies? Where is the bulletin board paper?  What is the procedure for making copies?  How many can I make? Do I need to have my own paper?  You get the idea.  The hundreds of tasks and decisions you make without even a thought are now enormous obstacles for your newest faculty.

So as you plow through your pre-planning to-do list, determined to finish it by Friday,  I'm asking you to stop and take some time to offer those who are new, and in need of your kindness, a little professional empathy.  I was able to do many of these things for my new partner and some great office staff and administrators were able to help me with some of the basic policies and procedures. But for some of these other items, my partner and I will be looking for some professional empathy from some of the Middle School Counselors in our district.

Check out the list below to see some of things you can do.  Yes, they may take an hour or two of your time, but a little professional empathy goes a long way for those who are looking for a back to school life-line.

1) Start with basic human needs, show them where the bathroom, water fountain, refrigerator, coffee pot, soda machine, bulletin board paper, staff mailboxes, and copier are located and how they are used.

2) Define the acronyms.  We have different acronyms from state to state and even school to school as we design special programs to meet the needs of our students. As educators, we often speak in acronyms without thinking.  Take a moment and share what these mean.

3) Talk about basic school and district policies, administrative quirks, and unspoken rules.
For example: If there's a specific form for bullying or a student making a threat, a special sign in/sign-out thing if you leave campus, if parent conferences are only on certain days, if leggings are a no-no, if admin doesn't like for your children to help on campus during pre-planning, if pets are okay to bring while setting up your room, etc.

4) Be willing to loan your stuff.  Check to see if there is something you can loan short term like staplers, tape, markers, your children, etc. When you are new you don't always come with all your supplies in tow or have children who are used to helping their mom or dad set up their room or office each year.  Offer what you can, sometimes all your new colleague needs is just the basics to get started.

5) Share information.  Are they getting emails and announcements from admin and the district?  Make sure you print copies so they don't feel left out and even more clueless than they already do.

6) Review the district website.  There are many important things School Counselors and teachers need to know about on our district's website. Give your newbies a basic overview of how to maneuver on your district website, how to access district computer programs, where special required forms can be found, and how to sign up for computer training, and  PD (professional development).

7) Be a mentor.  Offer assurance that it will get easier and be the someone newbies feel they can come to with questions or concerns throughout the year.  The entire first year of school counseling has a very steep learning curve. The counseling skills are there, but all the policies, procedures, do's and don'ts of a district can be hard to manage.  They don't teach all that in grad school.  Remember when you were new.  What would you have liked someone to have done for you?

 If you have started back to school, or will be starting soon,  I urge you to be on the lookout for the new folks. And if you are in elementary, look not only for the new faculty at your school, but the new School Counselors in your district.  There are some things with which only another School Counselor can provide help.  Check in to see who is overwhelmed and could use a little encouragement.  We tend to assume there are things everyone knows, but that just isn't the case. Have some professional empathy and take an hour or so of your time and share it with that new counselor or new teachers.  Your kindness will help them not only feel at home at your school, but more informed and confident as they welcome students to a new school year.

How do you practice professional empathy?  What other things would you add to my list?

Welcome Back!  It's going to be an exciting 2017-2018!