March 2020

President’s Letter: What It Takes to Lead

By Lisa Tenreiro
Whether you are leading your team of counselors, a small or large group of students, or participants in a professional development session, or you’re trying to win the support of the humans in your own home, one thing is true: Leadership is hard work!

Often one’s success as a leader is determined by results. Your reputation is always on the line and typically you do not feel as if you have done enough. If you are leading alone, the pressure is all yours and if you are leading with a team, you must learn how to compromise and negotiate. So why take on such a risky task? Quite simply, we need great leaders and we need to show others how to be great leaders! When leadership is done well, it can bring out the best in people, influence decisions that have a significant positive impact on others (particularly students) and you can be part of something bigger than you.

I asked three state leaders in our profession to reflect on the concept and experience of leadership.

Like many of us, Eliza Bryant, our state’s current school counselor of the year, shared that she frequently questions whether a school leadership role is something she can balance effectively with the other tasks of her job.  “I never anticipated serving as a school leader, and know that many of my fellow counselors are not interested in formal administration roles either, which I completely respect and understand.  I ended up as a school leader almost by accident.”, said Bryant. Working in a young school, “I was more involved in the creation of systems and structures than counselors might typically be, which gradually led to a more formal leadership role.  I believe that as a school we will eventually reach a place where I can shift away from this formal role, but I am thankful for what I have learned about school counselor leadership over the past five years at TAPA. I encourage any fellow counselors with a similar opportunity to take it, even if only for a little while.”

For lone school counselor leaders like Bryant in her early years at TAPA and like Joseph Bationa of the Rhode Island School for the Deaf and past RISCA school counselor of the year, the stakes and risks are high but the rewards are incredible Joseph reminds us, “with persistence, not giving up, learning from your setbacks passionately, through coworkers and colleagues who want to ensure the successes of our students with the mentality of it takes a school and its communities to raise a child and knowing through your collaboration, your on-ground game with leadership through your personal and professional connections, you make a world of difference.”

“It is so easy for counselors with high caseloads and other non-counseling duties to get bogged down and forget about the role of advocacy for their program. While this is understandable, it is something we should work hard to carve out time for”, says Onna Holland, lone school counselor at Ricci Middle School in North Providence and a RIDE School Counseling Fellow. She shares ways counselors can step into the leadership role and emphasizes that through leadership, school counselors can highlight their important work with students and educate others on what a school counseling program should look like. This gives the opportunity to advocate for stronger programs that are more proactive and help create better connections for students and their success. Read all three reflections here.

To our state school counselor leaders, thank you. We see and hear you, we know your leadership comes with a sacrifice, and we feel your deep love for your students and your work; we need you and your students and schools need you, too. For those ready to move into a leadership role, let’s make this the year! There’s lots of work to do and we know that you can do it.

Contact Lisa Tenreiro, RISCA president, at