Finding The Balance

What is your school counseling style?

What is your approach to school counseling?

For this posting – I have decided to deviate a little from the technology side of the world and talk about something a little different.This post is more of an op-ed then a tech-centric blog post. I also hope to get you (and I) thinking critically about our approaches to student counseling.

When we were in graduate school (or if you still are), we learned about Adler, Gestalt and CBT and more tools we can use and base our counseling identity in. However, to be perfectly honest – I hardly ever find myself thinking “let’s try CBT with this student” in my school based setting. If you also act as a mental health counselor – you may have more opportunity, but for me in my role – it just doesn’t come up that much. These foundations are important to learn about but I think the more realistic approach is the development of our personal counseling styles. A natural segway between our own personalities and our outlook of our jobs helps define our roles.

Essential Elements

In a helping profession – there are some natural requirements for most school counselors, in my opinion, and experience. First and foremost in the world of school counseling is the ability and skill to be empathetic. One of my professors described it as “not just putting yourself in someone’s shoes – but being able to see that person in their own shoes”. For school counselors to be effective – we must be able and willing to understand and empathize with all types of students going through all types of experiences.

Another essential element is being student focused. One thing I love about my school district’s vision is that point number one is that students are the focus of every decision. As school counselors – we have a unique opportunity to interact with students, staff, teachers and stakeholders in our community. By placing students first – we say “you are important” with our actions and deeds.

In my opinion (remember…op-ed here) that is all it takes for the essential skills to be a school counselor. If someone has the ability to be empathetic and student focused – they have much of the requisite skills to be a school counselor. The rest is specializing and defining your counseling style through experience and your education.

Being self-aware of my own counseling style

Over the months of December through March – I have been more aware of my approaches to school counseling. I think one big reason is that these few specific months were uber busy for me. With scheduling started, mandated grade level meetings, etc. – my calendar was booked solid. I started to notice myself complaining and being more negative. In fact, I started this post around February and I am just now getting to finish it in the end of May. The end of the school year tends to test the patience of educators as well. While that isn’t the focus of this post (although I am being more vigilant to keep positive) it spurred me to think about my approach to the school counseling profession.

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If you know me – you would know that I value logic, and enjoy humor and healthy sarcasm. I am an ISTJ personality type. In my office – I try to treat each of my students like they are my peers, fellow adults. I sometimes think of myself as an atypical type of counselor – more business minded than a “curl up in my chair with a cup of tea and talk for an hour counselor”. Occasionally, I catch myself thinking that I am missing something and should be more warm and fuzzy. I know that is not my personality, and I can be warm and fuzzy, but it is not my natural tendency. I have to learn to embrace this, practice my less natural skills and keep building my strengths. 

It’s about finding a balance

I have zero research-backed data on this, let’s call it a hunch, but from the anecdotal evidence of talking with colleagues and following along on the school counselor Twitter and Facebook haunts, I notice we all desire to be all things for all people. It is our tendency as school counselors and helping professionals. I even wrote a blog post a while back called Jack of All Trades that you should go read. The problem with not having balance in your school counseling program is that you (the school counselor) gets absolutely worn out. A worn out counselor is not good for anyone. We get extra testy, short with parents, students, and colleagues, and we lose the fire we very much need to be effective.

While I know that I may not fit the typical school counseling “mold”, I know that my own set of skills, strengths, and attributes bring a ton to my kids and school. I also know that my colleagues and friends to do fit the “mold” are incredible. They are able to connect with students in a totally different way than I do, create different programs that are perfect for their kids and our world is better because of them. If you are reading this and feel like you don’t fit the “mold” – be aware of your areas of strength AND your areas that are not your strength. Because those areas of strength are where you not only need to practice but also where you need to network. 

Making The Connection

Being the only school counselor (until next year!) at my school has been challenging but made easier because of “my” team. I say “my” because I am not supervising them or responsible for them – but having a team allows me to capitalize on my areas of strength and the areas that my teammates have. It just so happens that their strengths complement my weaknesses. For example – Hilary is our school’s wellness center liaison. Our wellness center is a great space comprised of a comfy, welcoming interior with a caring adult to talk with students on a more casual way. Hilary is GREAT with the kids. She is younger and they really connect well with her. In fact – in a recent student connections survey (I am planning a future blog post on this) – over 50% of the students reported having her as a connection they trust on campus. How awesome is that!?! We work hand in hand (figuratively) with the support of our student social/emotional needs. Our school uses the RTI model and we have expanded it to our student support team as well.

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Hilary is primarily our Tier 1 Support along with me in the classrooms. Students can talk to her about a rough day, take a break, get tea, etc. When students are seen that fall into our more needy category – Hilary and I work together to support the students. When Tier 3 students come into the picture – I typically see them and loop in the community or mental health resources.

This system works well for us at North Tahoe High School. You may not have this ability, but it may be something you advocate for. It also could be a teacher who connects well with students, a social worker, etc. No matter your circumstances – when we try to force something – it typically works until it doesn’t. That results in one side or the other cracking or breaking. 

I don't have to do or be it all - getting to know my school counselor personality #scchat Click To Tweet

We don’t have to do it all

Some things in life (and even in school counseling) are “fake it ’till you make it”-able. Learning new systems, skills, processes, students, etc. all seem to be able to fit that – however changing who you are is something that doesn’t seem to fit. I think the better approach is to think about your own personality and what your strengths are and how you can compensate for things you may not be naturally inclined to. It is okay to not be able to be the best at everything. As long as you have the basic abilities listed in the beginning of the post – other things can be learned, built or developed. By trying to do it all or be it all – we end up as stressed, bitter or burnt out school counselors. Your students deserve the best and that includes your attitudes and mindsets – even if you don’t fit the typical “mold”. Happy summer!

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Finding the balance – What is your school counseling style?

by Jeff Ream time to read: 7 min
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