Teaching Opinion

Response: Ways To Develop A Teacher - School Counselor Partnership

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 23, 2014 10 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series on this topic)

This week’s question is:

What are the best ways for teachers to work with school counselors and vice versa?

I’ve been lucky enough in my career to work with a number of exceptional school counselors, and have seen the huge benefits -- for both students and teachers -- in developing solid partnerships with them.

So many of our students face challenges connected to issues outside the school walls, and we teachers are often limited by time and training in how we can help with many of them. And, of course, the consequences of a number of these problems spillover into our classrooms.

That’s where an effective school counselor comes in...

Today’s post features suggestions from three exceptional educators on how to solidify the teacher/counselor partnership: Dean Vogel, counselor, teacher and President of the California Teachers Association (I am a proud member of CTA); Leticia Gallardo, who works at the school where I teach and who is the most amazing counselor I’ve ever seen; and Mindy Willard, the 2013 National Counselor Of The Year.

Part Two in this series will including contributions from equally-exceptional guests, as well as from readers. There is still time to contribute your thoughts!

You might also be interested in listening to a ten minute conversation I had with Mindy and Leticia on one of my recent BAM! Radio programs.

Response From Dean Vogel

Dean E. Vogel is president of the 325,000 member California Teachers Association:

In my 41 years as both a counselor and classroom teacher, and as president of the California Teachers Association, I’ve observed the changing social fabric of our communities, and the resultant changes in the social dynamics of our schools have put tremendous pressure on teachers and support staff to be all things at all times: educator, parent, therapist, confidant, advisor, arbiter, referee, and the list goes on. A school counselor, at any level, can help with this load and be a real partner with the classroom teacher, especially when the schedule allows time for the collaborative work necessary to truly understand and develop appropriate support systems for students.

Well-trained counselors can help students find their comfort in a variety of highly emotionally charged settings and can help the teacher get back to teaching. In working to build the interpersonal skills necessary for effective cooperative classroom work, a counselor enables the teacher to focus more on the pedagogical needs of the students and less on dealing with misbehavior, innuendo, and various other distractions. And in lending personal and interpersonal support to students, working with individuals and with groups, the counselor can help them to find their passion, their voice, and their resolve. That’s good for everybody.

Counselors can work in tandem with classroom teachers in the classroom, a practice that is much more prevalent in the elementary grades, and they can also do very effective work with individuals and groups outside the classroom, which is much more common at the secondary level. Comprehensive counseling programs accommodate both of these concepts, and also include class meetings, conflict resolution, and individual and group counseling for issues such as divorce, drug abuse, violence in the home, and bullying. A class meeting format where students have the opportunity to discuss and work toward resolution of critical personal or interpersonal problems, led by a trained counselor, can be a real boost to the effective operation of any classroom. Likewise, conflict resolution programs in which students trained by the counselor engage their distressed peers can be an appropriate intervention to difficulties that arise on the playground or in the hallways and prevent the effects of such from entering the classroom in the first place.

I have yet to address the traditional role of school counselors, working with secondary students to be sure that they’re taking the appropriate coursework and are obtaining the appropriate units for whatever their “after high school” plans might necessitate. But that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say that comprehensive counseling services are an essential part of any comprehensive school program and cannot and must not be underestimated.

This very real truth seems to have been lost in the rush to increase student scores on high-stakes standardized tests. As budget shortfalls have increasingly left us with less and less revenue for schools, the shortcut most often used to save dollars is to “make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.” Translation: counselors, nurses, and librarians are expendable. What a shame.

Response From Leticia Gallardo

Leticia Gallardo is a counselor at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California:

Those of us who chose education as a career path do for a variety of reasons. Wanting to help and educate youth better society is a major factor. Having that in mind, it makes sense to create strong relationships at school sites. One of the most important work relationships you want to have is between the Counselor and Teacher. I feel the power of this dynamic duo is overlooked.

This relationship is definitely happening, but we need to build stronger bonds between these two identities. And why is that? Well, both of these people play integral roles in our schools and see and experience different aspects from our students and by working together. A lot of information can be shared and ideas can be created to assist students (in accordance with confidentiality).

Class management could be one area for collaboration. For instance, when a student is misbehaving in class creating an intervention plan with the counselor could be very helpful. A counselor can spend time getting to know the student and their personal back ground and assist with their personal issues that are creating a problem in the class. While knowing some of the dynamics surrounding the student, the counselor can aid the teacher in an intervention plan.

Another area in which counselors can work with teachers is in the disciplinary area. In many schools, teachers usually only contact an administrator when a student needs to face disciplinary action. However, in my school, I also get informed. We do not come from a disciplinary role and we can use our training to assist students help identify underlining problems. After that time, counselors can aid in setting goals in class or in the student’s personal life to help built a better relationship with the teacher and to aim for academic success.

A third way that counselors and teachers can work together is to come up with interventions that a student can use in class when they are having a hard time focusing or participating in class. For instance, giving a student a cooling-off period where they can stand outside for 3 minutes, allowing a student to do a simple art therapy project in class, or teaching a student calming breathing techniques are ideas that a teacher and counselor can come up with for a student in case the need ever arises.

Counselors are there to help students achieve success in high school by helping them with academic, social/personal, and career issues. There is certainly much overlap there with a teacher’s job description -- we need to be partners.

Response From Mindy Willard

Mindy Willard has been a K-8 School Counselor in the Phoenix area for 10 years. She is President-Elect of the Arizona School Counselors Association and 2013 National School Counselor of the Year:

Because You Care

You cannot teach a hungry child
Or one that has not slept.
You cannot teach a worried child
or one who has just wept.

They come to school with their life
written upon their faces.
We do not know even half the strife
that has left those open traces.

So we forget the books for a while
And we give them something else.
Some kind words, a joke, a smile
to help them forget themselves.

Then when the frowns begin to smile
and sad eyes begin to shine
that is when you may reach a child
and help him feed his mind.

At the beginning of each school year, for the last 10 years, I give this poem to my staff. Many of the teachers in my school have received this poem multiple times and upon each read it causes them to stop and remember that we are not here simply to educate the minds of these young people, it reminds them that we are here to care for and love them above all else. I cannot remember where I found this or even who wrote it, but what matters most is that the adults in a school community understand it and live by it.

Professional School Counselors and teachers not only work side by side on a school campus to provide children with an education, but also they must work together to ensure that all barriers to a student’s success are removed. It is only then that a child can truly learn.

One of the most effective ways that school counselors and teachers can work together is to provide all students with classroom counseling lessons. At my K-8 school, I visit each classroom one to two times a month. During this time I provide a Tier I prevention program to every student. These lessons vary depending on data but the essential component is that ALL students receive this service. Through this planned teaching students learn skills that help them to resolve conflicts peacefully, control emotions, problem solve, follow social skills, manage their time, develop study skills, set goals and be college and career ready. Teachers can then reinforce these skills throughout the week with their students.

With the emphasis on test scores and academic achievement in education, counselors and teachers can collaborate ensure that all barriers to a students learning are addressed. A counselor’s responsibility is not only the academic development of students, but also the personal/social and career development. We are constantly looking at the whole child. Teachers are sometimes unaware of this wonderful resource that they have right in front of them.

Teachers are the first line of defense when it comes to a hearing about a child’s needs. They hear the cries of frustration and see the look of worry in a child’s eyes long before the school counselor does. When a teacher notices that a student is struggling, whether it is with academics, behaviors or personal issues, it is always a good idea to collaborate with the counselor on their campus. Professional School Counselors bring a unique perspective to the situation and can many times offer suggestions, resources or direct interventions to help the child overcome those barriers to learning.

It is our responsibility and duty as educators to unite and work together for the sake of our students and their learning.

Thanks to Dean, Leticia and Mindy for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. I’ll have plenty of room in Part Two to share reader comments.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind. You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Last, but not least, I’ve recently begun recording a weekly eight-minute BAM! Radio podcast with educators who provide guest responses to questions. You can listen and/or download them here.

Watch for Part Two in a few days.....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.