December 2017

Who Do They Think I Am? School Counseling Program Advocacy

By Dr. Shari Sevier
Have you ever been given an assignment at work and wondered why it was given to you? Too often, school counselors are the recipients of everything and anything that doesn’t have a logical place to land or that someone else doesn’t want or doesn’t have time to do. As frustrated as this makes us, we really have to take a step back and take a good long look at what we are doing to educate and advocate for our program. In most cases, school counselors are given “other duties as assigned” because of a lack of understanding about the true role of a school counselor.

So what can a school counselor do enhance the accurate role they should be playing? Here are a few effective – and easy – suggestions.

Principal/School Counselor Agreement: ASCA created a wonderful tool for helping school counselors have meaningful conversations about the school counseling program with administrators. The completed document will provide the mission and vision statements of the school counseling program, program goals, the percentages of time spent in each of the four program areas, information about the school counselor’s ongoing professional development, system support duties and budget. Completing the agreement is a great opportunity to provide a solid overview of the program and a chance to look at strengths and areas for improvement. This tool is a great educational piece. Access the agreement template.

Mindsets & Behaviors (or State Grade-Level Expectations): Do your staff members know the intended outcomes of the various lessons you teach? If not, consider doing this: Take a copy of the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors or your state grade-level expectations. Eliminate any reference to ASCA or to your school counseling curriculum. Ask your staff members/administrators to mark those statements they think students should learn. It’s likely they will indicate that most, if not all, should be taught to the students. That’s your opportunity to educate your staff, administrators and even community members about what you cover in your curriculum. It’s a perfect time to talk about the three strands, the developmental nature of the curriculum lessons and the importance of students possessing these skills. You can do this at a staff meeting, by grade level, at a PTO meeting. The opportunities are endless. And it opens the door for you to do a presentation on the curricular portion of the school counseling program.

Educating is Advocating. One of our most important responsibilities is to advocate for our program. That means having courageous conversations with various stakeholders. In preparing for those conversations:
  • Identify the barriers to your program before you have a conversation.
  • Think about the impact those barriers have on your ability to support school improvement goals.
  • Identify the individuals who may have the most impact on eliminating or minimizing those barriers.
  • Request a meeting with those individuals.
  • Explain the components of your program. This is another good time to refer to the information contained in the principal/school counselor agreement and the Mindsets & Behaviors.
  • Show how the barriers are affecting what you could be doing for students.
  • Ask if you could collaborate to diminish the effect of the barriers on your program – a little is better than nothing.
Conversations like this not only educate stakeholders about your program but demonstrate that you are a viable partner in meeting school improvement goals and helping students become more successful. It’s a powerful, positive message.
Another educational and advocacy tool is a presentation for stakeholder groups about the school counseling program. Look for any opportunity to present: a faculty meeting, board of education meeting, PTO meeting, team meeting – the list goes on and on. Be factual and positive about the program, focusing on the benefits of a fully implemented program. It’s okay to include a list of challenges, but be diplomatic; select a couple that are easily doable and maybe one that will take more effort. Ask for ideas of how to turn those challenges into opportunities, and enlist those present to partner with you to make the program stronger.

When we advocate for our programs, we want people to listen and learn. Being positive and seeking partnerships with stakeholders can be winning strategies. 

Shari Sevier, Ph.D., is director of advocacy for the Missouri School Counselor Association. Contact her at drsharisevier@gmail.com.