We are so often our students’ biggest advocates, but in a changing world with increased needs for mental health services in schools but limited school resources and funding, who advocates for school counselors? In our CSCA board member feature, Jennifer Quintana discusses the importance of school counselor leadership and advocacy to protect our critical role in student success. She is a school counselor at STEM Launch K-8 in Adams 12 Five Star Schools and our CSCA elementary vice president.
In 2005, when I first started school counseling, I never dreamed that three years later I would become the middle level vice president for four years. I also never dreamed that I would then become an elementary school counselor after 1- years of being a middle school counselor, and then be elected to become the elementary vice president for four years. I never dreamed that nine years after I became involved on the CSCA Board that I would run for and be elected as president starting in 2021. All of these things that I never dreamed of happened because of the amazing, wonderful leaders in school counseling that gave me the push and motivation to do something more than just work in my individual school. The push given to me was to see that advocacy in school counseling isn’t just about the work we do every single day with our students, but is also about advocating for the school counseling profession as a whole so our jobs – dare I say our livelihoods – do not go extinct.
In Colorado, there has been a push towards non-counselors doing counselor jobs, things like running small groups, teaching social/emotional curriculum, spearheading PBIS initiatives, teaching trauma-informed and restorative practices to school staff and, in some schools, even doing individual counseling and suicide assessments. At first glance, this seems fine. The more the merrier, right? But then we have to ask ourselves, if people without a master’s degree in counseling can do counseling jobs, then why would schools pay licensed, educated school counselors to do this work?
The need for school counselor leaders is at an all-time high. We can become complacent, doing the day-to-day job that we were hired to do. This, too, is fine, until we find ourselves replaced by others who don’t have our level of education and knowledge in our own field of school counseling. I know that sounds pretty radical, but it is imperative that we are all doing our job in advocating for our profession, so that this worst-case scenario never comes to pass.
I am a firm believer in school counseling. I have seen students’ lives change because of school counselors. I also believe that every school counselor I have met has leadership potential, has the potential to become a change agent for our profession in their schools, in their districts, and even in our state. This article is a call for school counselor leaders. You might be asking yourself, “So, how do I start becoming a leader?” My answer is in the following four ideas.
You can start by not being afraid to speak up, to “toot your own horn.” If you are being asked to take on a responsibility that is not within the school counseling realm of training or responsibilities, speak up! Educate your administrators and staff members about what you were trained to do. Don’t be afraid to educate. It is in our blood to educate. The ASCA website has so many resources that will help you educate your administrators and staff about your role. Have weekly or monthly meetings with your teachers and administrators and show them what you are working on, what your goals are, what data you have collected to show how change is happening among the students. It’s okay to toot your own horn and be proud of your work!
Second, be present! National School Counseling Week was the first week in February, but it’s not to late to use those resources to be present in your buildings. Put on your newsletters, your website, through posters or other “advertising” methods that you are a vital part of your school. Invite parents and other community members in and share all the wonderful things you are doing with students to show how students are different because of school counseling. Find ways throughout the school year to show your staff and administrators why it is important that you are there. Get in on your school’s monthly PD, speak at a school board meeting about school counseling, create an advisory board so parents and community members can hear about all you are doing, and come testify at a legislative session at the state capitol.
Third, be a leader by showing up. Come to school counseling professional development, attend the annual CSCA Conference and learn more about how to better yourself as a counselor and as a counseling leader. Bring those ideas back so you can have a better school counseling program, reach more students, change more lives. Effective school counselors are constantly looking toward self-improvement and improvement in counseling our students.
Last, get involved! Like me, you may never have dreamed you could serve on the CSCA Board, or be part of an organization fighting for the role of the school counselor in every school across the state, showing up in legislative sessions to speak up for school counselors and advocate for the work we do on a daily basis with students. But you can! Get on the ballot, or participate on a committee. We need you! Our profession needs you! Share your talents and your passions with other counselors who need you just as much as you need them. We are only stronger when we all work together for the common good. If you are interested in participating in any way on the CSCA Board, please contact a board member to learn more about what interests you.
There is a leader in each and every one of you. I look forward to seeing how many of you step up and step out of your comfort zone to become leaders, advocating for and fighting for our profession. Advocating for what is right for students. Fighting for the integrity of our training as school counselors. I look forward to seeing you at future CSCA conferences and hearing about all the wonderful things you are doing in your buildings. I look forward to being your future CSCA President and furthering the CSCA mission of promoting excellence in school counseling!