April 2018

Steps for Family Success

By Jillian Shadis and Dana Kurilew
School counselors are only one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping students. No matter what the goal, the most successful results are achieved when counselors and families work together so the message is consistent both at school and at home. Working directly with parents can be intimidating but can also be extremely gratifying. As a school counselor, you may find yourself initially scared or frustrated at the prospect of counseling parents, but as you grow into your role you realize quickly that is an essential piece for student success.
As the American School Counselor Association points out, many parents had very different experiences with their “guidance” counselors than today’s students have with today’s school counselors, who are certified, specially trained mental health professionals. Start by letting parents know what you do. What is your role in the school? What does your school’s counseling program entail? Many parents aren’t aware of all the ways that counselors can advocate for and assist students in finding both academic success and establishing positive self-worth. Other suggestions for working with families include:
  • Be available for parents as much as possible. That is hard for a counselor who is often pulled in many different directions, but being responsive and keeping lines of communication open goes a long way in establishing trust and rapport. Don’t underestimate the power of a phone call or in-person meeting!
  • Have available resources such as parent books, websites or handouts that pertain to the issues they are facing with their children. Also helpful is an at-the-ready list of local and community resources should you feel the student needs more support than a school counselor can provide. Parents will notice and value your knowledge and appreciate your efforts to connect them with additional information and support. ASCA has a variety of resources that school counselors can share with parents.
  • Remember that it is okay not to know everything! If you do not have the answer to a specific question, let parents know you will find the answer and get back to them…and then make sure you do indeed follow up.
  • Communication with parents in and of itself sometimes presents a challenge, such as when there are language or cultural differences. Be aware and be respectful of those, and find ways to ensure your message gets across in a way that it can be understood, whether that involves working with a translator or other community member who can help bridge the gap.
  • Be honest with parents about what their child needs to be successful. Sometimes the truth is tough to swallow, and knowing a difficult conversation needs to occur can make anyone anxious. However, if it is in the student’s best interest, counselors need to be courageous enough to offer sound advice in a professional way so that families can have accurate and specific information when making decisions.
  • Be ready, willing and able to explain counselor–student confidentiality and how it is not a barrier to partnerships with parents. With any luck, you’ll be able to obtain permission from the student to share information, but if not, validate the parent’s feelings and frustration and explain that if the student does not trust the counselor to maintain confidentiality, they may not share fully or honestly.
School counselors must continuously collaborate with parents to identify issues regarding both academic and social/emotional needs and acknowledge family involvement as a necessary and integral part of the learning process. Engaging families in partnerships enhances each child's ability to learn and succeed to their fullest potential.

Jillian Shadis has 14 years of experience in public school counseling, including six years in an administrative role. She co-founded and served as president of the Somerset County School Counselor Association, and will serve as president of NJSCA in 2019-2020.

Dana Kurilew has 14 of experience as a public school educator with 10 years as a high school counselor and four years as a counseling services supervisor. She is president of NJSCA and was a ASCA School Counselor of the Year semifinalist in 2015.