Building Safe School Communities: Our Circle of Care

How a bi-weekly meeting helps support our most at-promise students.

Collaborating for the Common Good

Recently, a post on a Facebook group I belong to asked about how school counselors collaborate with others in their department or cross-departmentally to support students. I realized that I have yet to share something that we do at my school site that has been such an awesome experience and has helped a vast number of students. Whether you are siloed as a single counselor at your site or have a team of ten – this tool can be useful for any and all.

Circle of Care

Two years ago – I set out to create a better foundation to develop our school community and collaboration on. I, until this year, have been an only school counselor in my building and that can be a lonely (and sometimes scary) experience. It leaves little room for consultation and collaboration on difficult cases. I know that I don’t have all the answers all the time (and many times few answers most of the time), but I was the one leading most of the searches to find students support they need. School counselors are called to consult frequently and I needed a platform to do that with.

Defining Consultation

Consultation is the collaboration of professional school counselors with parents, students, teachers, administrators and other helping professionals, both within and outside the school setting. The goal of consultation is to empower those involved to assist students in the areas of personal/social, academic and/or career development.

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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Leo Buscaglia

"Dr. Love" - alumnus and a professor of special education and counseling at USC’s School of Education for nearly 20 years.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” 

Halford E. Luccock

Minister And Professor, Yale Divinity School

“If you can do what I can’t and I can do what you can’t. Then together we can sort out the unworkable; unthinkable.”

Unknown

How it works at my school

This need for a consultation platform drove me to seek out the help of my colleagues. I approached my admin and proposed the idea that we hold bi-weekly meetings to discuss our at-promise students and how to best support them holistically at school while doing our best to hook them up with support for when they are at home. Our team meets every other Tuesday morning for about an hour and has a standing meeting scheduled during that time. At times our meetings are shorter if the students we are concerned about are few, but often it takes the whole time allotted. Each person brings cases to the group to discuss and brainstorm ways to support the student and/or family. At the beginning of each year, we all sign a confidentiality clause that what we discuss stays in the room unless mandated to be disclosed by law or ethical requirements or with the student’s explicit permission.

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Who is in the Circle of Care?

Our members of the Circle of Care (by the way – I just named it this so it wasn’t our “Meeting about concerned students…meeting” and it sounds more supportive and comprehensive) include myself, our school principal and assistant principal, school psychologist, our Wellness Center staff*, and occasionally an invited teacher or other staff member who may have special insight or interest in the case to be discussed.

*Our Wellness Center is a place for students to get low-level support and spend time with a caring adult. It is super helpful to me and our student body. Our staff creates wonderful relationships and it helps us connect even more students to help they need.

Each of these individuals brings unique perspective and ideas to the table. Our assistant principal can often speak to attendance or discipline issues that arise that give context to other things that are being observed. Our Principal has the ability to make things happen and get things moving where it may take me much longer. Our school psych is super rich with knowledge and can assist with possible referrals for assessment or other support systems in our district. Wellness center staff bring thoughts from conversations with the student or the student’s peers to help guide our path. Overall – it is a great system!

Student Centered Support

I think my favorite part about doing our Circle of Care meetings is how student-centered everyone is. As we bring new cases forward and update on ongoing situations, people get invested in the success and wellbeing of our kids. It really is a great thing to watch happen. Now as we get close to our meeting times, my principal will pop in and ask “Hey – are we doing our meeting today? I was just checking”. People look forward to collaborating together.

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We have also seen great results from working together. County-wide support teams have been convened based on our Circle of Care referrals, family support has been successfully accessed, mental health therapy and doctors visits referred to, and students able to better reach the promise they are destined for. It has also caught on at our other high school in our district!

Potential barriers to overcome

If you are thinking about starting a similar Circle of Care group at your school, here are a few things you may need to think through.

  1. Who is appropriate to invite? You have to look at your school dynamics and environment. Is it realistic that all counselors attend or do you have one rep go? Is your principal at a place where they can be involved in this meeting? How large of a group do you need or want?
  2. How often should you meet? We settled on every other week to balance our loads. You may consider weekly or monthly meetings depending on your needs.
  3. Check with your district. Whenever starting a group like this, I suggest running it by the powers-that-be first. Make sure they will be supportive and back the effort or you may be in for an uphill battle or shut down completely.
  4. Track data. Start collecting data from the beginning. How many cases did you review? What were the outcomes? How many successful referrals to mental health support? Grades of cases studied. All things will help not only you improve your counseling program, but also back up these meetings. Remember that you are dealing with confidential information so be careful with your data tracking.

Go for it!

I hope that you decide to go for it! I have found it very helpful and think you will too. Do you run a similar consultation group? How does it work for you? I would love to hear. I am always seeking to improve my services. Comment below or shoot me an email.

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Building Safe School Communities: Our Circle of Care

by Jeff Ream time to read: 8 min
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