The ability to implement a comprehensive school counseling program often lies not only with the school counselor’s understanding of the ASCA National Model, goal setting, lesson planning, responsive services and data collection but also (and more importantly) with the school administrator’s willingness to allow the school counselor to implement the necessary components of a comprehensive program and eliminate the non-counseling-related tasks (such as a specials rotation and lunch duty). However, advocating for removal of these barrier tasks can be difficult for school counselors. Building a positive working relationship and collaboration with your school administrator is the first step into allowing them to understand you and your role and how you can help improve student outcomes in all domains. (Pictured: The author (right) with her principal, Dr. Crystal Cooper)
In looking to build a relationship with your administrator and helping them fully understand your value as a school counselor, you must first know that the data that is important and valued by the administrator is often different than that most valued by a school counselor. Administrators tend to place high value on academic outcomes, decreases in discipline referrals and closing the gap (academic) numbers – likely the domains in which their performance is evaluated (this is often evidenced by the school improvement plan). Remember to consider not what is most important to you, but what is most important for the school, for learning and therefore for students. With this in mind, it is very important to demonstrate the impact of social/emotional learning (SEL) and other counseling initiatives on academic outcomes to help your school administrator understand the importance of your school counseling program to the school’s improvement plan and overall success.
Among the evidence to demonstrate the importance of SEL implementation within a school building is that students have increased self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, have more positive relationship skills and are more responsible decision makers. Research from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) shows that students in schools with SEL implementation made significant improvements, including in levels of physical aggression and in academic achievement. Utilizing this and other data (from your own school, if possible) can boost your ability not only to advocate for your role as a school counselor but also to build a positive, collaborative relationship with your administrator. This data will allow them to better understand the measurable value of utilizing learning time for SEL activities.
Full SEL implementation is not solely centered around activities delivered by school counselors, but also encompasses teachers and administrators implementing proactive strategies in the classroom such as morning meetings, refill stations, closing circles and mindfulness breaks. It should also incorporate teaching opportunities in response to potential discipline situations and outcomes. These strategies can be taught by the school counselor to all staff members in a train-the-trainer type of format. All school staff is essential to SEL implementation, but especially crucial is the administrator seeing value in the school counselor as a trained mental health professional (especially in light of the collective trauma that is the COVID-19 pandemic). Affording your administrator the opportunity to know your specific skill set and being willing to explain and support student behaviors and reactions through a trauma- and solution-focused lens can help your administrator perceive you as a valued asset and build their desire to work collaboratively with you.
Although demonstrating the data impact and continually displaying your usefulness as a school counselor are essential to building a collaborative relationship and advocating for your role, developing a personal relationship with your administrator is also an important key to working collaboratively. It is essential for you to understand your administrator’s communication preferences and leadership style. Likewise, they must understand your communication preferences and know you will follow through with communicated programs. This will help to build trust and mutual respect, from which the relationship will solidify and hopefully allow for great collaboration and the ability for all to use their strengths to do what is best for students.
With the anticipated student re-entry into the schools, now is a critical time for school counselor and administrator to work in tandem to build a school climate and culture where all students feel accepted, welcome, wanted and loved in the school building so that each can reach their own personal success. To achieve this, the school counselor must understand what is valued by the administrator, and the administrator must know the strengths of the school counselor and see how a well-implemented comprehensive school counseling program and SEL initiatives affect student performance outcomes.