March 2020

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose

By Amy Dauble-Madigan
Do you feel overwhelmed working at a school site (or several) as a lone school counselor? Are you dealing with high student ratios and feel like no one understands what you do? Sometimes our daily struggles and workload can feel defeating as we try to do what’s best for all of our students. 

I once wore a T-shirt to school that said, “You think my hands are full, but you should see my heart,” and I couldn’t have related to anything more as a school counselor with high ratios and multiple school sites. With the following leadership and advocacy tips, you can work your way out of being a lone soldier to one of the team captains.

Start by taking the ASCA National Model piece by piece and making it work for you and your unique working environment. Here are some ways I have implemented the ASCA National Model successfully, little by little, at multiple school sites.

Step One

Defining your role is where it all begins. You have the capacity to change how your role is defined with your administrator(s).

Create a foundation for your program by branding your program and being visible. Set up a school counseling table at open house and back-to-school night with information on your school counseling program, a brochure, parent resources (such as your favorite books, coping skills, positive language to use with students, etc.). Advocacy can make a huge difference in becoming a leader. It’s not easy and it’s never over, but it starts with you, at your school site.

Be visible. When I find myself sitting in my office with no students or staff, that’s a signal for me to move. Get out to the playground or into classrooms, greet students in the morning and smile at the people around campus. Just being visible shows you’re invested in the school community, and it also lets students know you are a friendly face around the school. Every Friday I go out in the mornings and congratulate students on trying their best all week, wishing them a wonderful weekend and telling them how excited I’ll be to see them on Monday. It makes a huge difference when you’re visible as a fun, friendly face.

Live Your Standards

Create a mission and vision statement – it isn’t as hard as you may think. If you are the only one at your school site, get together with other school counselors in the district or in neighboring schools and make it a fun activity to create mission and vision statements together that align with your school’s or district’s statements. Post them on the website, your office door and on social media accounts. Shout them from the rooftops – whatever it takes to let them be known. Having mission and vision statements makes clear that you’re running a program to support all students at the school, and you’re not just a specialist.

Set up a meeting with your administrators and have a conversation about how school counselors are held to standards just like teachers. Show them the ASCA Professional Standards & Competencies and the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors. When administrators are holding you accountable to the correct standards, they are supporting school counselors and advocating for distribution of resources to students. Use the annual administrative conference template in the ASCA National Model to begin this conversation.

Share your annual programming calendars with staff and administrators. When staff members see what you have planned, they know you aren’t just sitting at your desk all day. When you show people that you have a plan and a program to run, they respect your profession and start to understand the supports you provide students.

Stand and Deliver

Prioritize your direct and indirect services. If you demonstrate to teachers that enhancing and increasing school counseling curriculum instruction helps you reach more students, they start to understand that you are available to all students, not just the ones who have problems. Does this mean every classroom, every week? Maybe or maybe not, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Keep it organized in a way that works for you and your schools.

Use the power of collaboration. When you attend meetings and show interest in collaborating with parents, community members and teachers, you show that you share responsibility in helping students be their best. Reach out to the parent organizations within your school and ask to present on the school counseling program or social/emotional tips for parents. Another part of collaboration is making people feel valued. Sarah Slemmons, middle school counselor in Culver City, Calif., writes teachers a thank-you note for giving her classroom time to reach students. Showing your appreciation can go a long way. 

Streamline your referral process. Using Google Forms and other technology can help if teachers refer students to school counseling services, reducing email and letting you organize your caseload and collect data. However, be careful with confidentiality and limitations around technology.

Show Yourself

Share your data. This can be as simple as mentioning your results at a staff meeting. Or, share a one-page infographic with district directors or at a school board meeting; this is a great way to capture school board members’ attention and highlight your results. Use the data report form from “Making DATA Work,” published by ASCA, or create a colorful infographic using Picktochart or similar sites. When you share student outcomes illustrating how students are different because of school counseling, people will listen. 

Stay accountable even if no one is holding you accountable. Talk to your administrator about basing your annual performance evaluation on ASCA documents and templates, such as the ASCA School Counselor Professional Standards & Competencies. Share the school counselor assessment tool with your administrator or supervisor.

Lead and They Will Follow

Being a leader and practicing self-advocacy takes courage, but all of this advocacy and implementation begins with knowing you are a leader. After implementing these pieces of the ASCA National Model and being an advocate in my school, I went from being a 60% school counselor at two school sites to a 100% school counselor at one school site. I share that because I believe advocacy makes a difference. Advocacy is never easy, and it’s never over, but it makes a world of difference.

Our students need us to advocate and lead so every student has access to a school counselor and a school counseling program. It may be hard to think of yourself as a leader within the school system, but no matter your school level or how long you have been a school counselor, you have something unique to offer to your students, your school and the profession.

Remember, people don’t understand what they don’t know, so we have to educate them any way we can. Start today by making school board presentations, serving on district teams, strengthening the school counselor/administrator relationship, using National School Counseling Week as a week for advocacy and implementing the ASCA National Model piece by piece, little by little. This all helps overcome the challenges of role inconsistency and high ratios.

Change starts with you and your advocacy, wherever you are. You have the capacity to start change, even if it’s small. Lead. Advocate. Empower. 

Amy Dauble-Madigan is a school counselor at El Marino Language School in Culver City, Calif. She can be reached at amymadigan@ccusd.org.