April 2018

President’s Letter: Parents Are Partners

By Dana Kurilew
Few counselors would deny that successful partnerships with students’ families are critical to student achievement. Students with parents/guardians who are involved are more likely to be successful in their courses, have more confidence, and tend to have fewer behavioral problems. I, as many of you do, remember the days when parents/guardians had minimal involvement in their child’s education. There was not 24/7 access to their child’s grades and attendance, and some students did not even know if they were even passing courses until the first quarter report card came out. This was a time when school counselors met with students mainly to schedule, review grades and assist with the college process. This was also a time where personal family struggles and students’ personal situations often were not shared. Families dealt with issues within their tight family unit and did not always reach out to schools for support.
As school counselors, you are witnessing the shift and know that each of you is now charged with supporting students with a wide range of needs, including their social/emotional development. Today’s counselors must split their time carefully between students' academic, social/emotional and college/career needs, while knowing that we cannot do it without support from the student’s family. Increasing family involvement in a child’s education is high on the list of goals for today's school counselors. It is important that counselors remind families to share their triumphs and tribulations so that they can work together as a team.
In most schools, counselors have new students added to their caseloads yearly so building a solid relationship with families is important prior to issues or concerns arising. When meeting with a student for the first time, be proactive and reach out to the parent/guardian to let them know you met with their child and share feedback from the meeting. When an issue does occur, you will be glad you took the time to be proactive and learn more about the family dynamics. When possible, offer face-to-face meetings. In a technology-driven world, it is easy to use fast, convenient and high-tech solutions, but we should not prioritize speed over the power of face-to-face communication.
When working with families, remember that you do not have to overcome obstacles alone, particularly mental health concerns. Reach out to other school counselors or student assistance counselors in your school or county, and to outside agencies, for advice or assistance. Together you can determine the best strategy for sharing your concerns with the family, identifying resources and devising a plan for the student. Finally, be brave, be confident and go into every situation with a positive outlook. Do not assume the worst; most conversations with parents/guardians are positive and they are grateful for all that you do and offer them during difficult times.
Students in schools today come from increasingly complex family situations and are overcoming more personal issues than ever before. Involving the family will keep us on the right path when assisting students. Keep up the great work and know that families do truly appreciate all that you are doing every day.
Contact Dana Kurilew, NJSCA president, at president@njsca.org.