Wednesday, February 2, 2011

School Counselors and Their Classroom Presents

By: Patrick O'Connor 

Maria was one frustrated educator. She’d been an elementary school teacher for about ten years, but she was still considered the rookie in a building where the teaching staff was seasoned, stoic, and not headed anywhere, either in terms of retirement or new ideas.  Every insight Maria gained at a conference or in a journal was met with a patronizing nod when she shared it at staff meeting, and she could feel the life oozing out of her, her classroom, and her teaching.

Unable to communicate with her colleagues, Maria turned to a school counselor, hoping they would listen to her plight.  After a brief summation of her years of frustration, Maria turned to the counselor and asked “Is there anything I can do?”

“What would you change in your classroom, if you could?” asked the counselor.

The fire came back in Maria’s eyes.  Idea after idea came rolling out of her mouth, with vivid descriptions of what the classroom would look like, how each change would benefit each child, and what a more energized classroom would do for the atmosphere of the school, the students, and their families.

“Wow” said the counselor.  “Tell me, just what is it that’s preventing you from making those changes?”

Maria’s stared blankly ahead for a full minute.  “Well, I’m tenured, the changes wouldn’t veer from the school curriculum, and they wouldn’t put the children at risk.”

She then picked her head up and looked at the counselor.  “Nothing” she said, breaking into a broad smile.

One visit was all it took, and  the seeds of change had been planted.  About three weeks later, the counselor overheard Maria’s veteran colleagues talking at lunch about the new level of focus and energy Maria’s students seemed to have.

One of those same colleagues walked past the counselor’s office with Maria a week later, with Maria explaining some of the changes she’d made in her classroom. That’s why it came as no surprise when Maria later led a discussion at the staff meeting about the gains in her student’s interest in learning and performance, and how they were achieved.

It’s often said that teaching is one of the loneliest professions in the world, but it’s very easy to think of one even lonelier—school counselor.  Surrounded by students and duties from the minute we walk into the building, counselors don’t have much down time, but they have even less time than classroom teachers to take a breath, stop and see the big picture, or consult with a colleague at lunch, since far too often, we have no colleagues in the building who are free when we eat lunch—right around 3:00.

That isolation can easily lead us to believe our work has no value beyond the handful of students we see each day—but then along come the Marias to remind us of the opportunities that exist for counselors to support our colleagues in the classrooms. From study skills to bullying prevention to career exploration to simply being there to listen, counselors offer a wealth of skills, resources and expertise that can help teachers make healthier, more productive classrooms, even if we never set foot in them.

Of course, once classroom teachers know what we have to offer, we’ll be invited to come in more often, but that’s not the goal.  The goal is to support better teaching, better learning, and better living, and a host of opportunities await us to bolster those goals, as soon as we stop thinking about what’s holding us back, and start focusing on what we want done.

It works.  Just ask Maria.

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