Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Administrative Support of Counseling Programs—The Counselor’s Role

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It’s a busy time of year. Elementary and middle school counselors are involved with parent conferences, while high school counselors have the additional layer of early college applications to complete.  Combined with the responsibilities of fall testing, it’s easy to look back on the department goals set in September and wonder, where did the time go?

If you’re feeling the need for support, the best place to turn is your school administrator. The unique position counselors fill in the school community provides ample opportunities to create innovative programs and activities that can enrich all facets of a student’s school experience.  At the same time, a school counselor’s role is neither completely teacher, nor completely support staff, nor completely administrator.  This absence of commonality makes it challenging for counselors to feel a sense of support for their work-- but this absence increases the necessity for school administrators to provide that support.

Interviews and surveys of school counselors in Michigan revealed five areas where administrative support of school programs is essential—and while the research was conducted in 2000, the results still ring true today:

Program and Logistical Support  Administrators supply the resources needed to implement all facets of a comprehensive counseling curriculum, including curriculum development, program implementation, and program evaluation.

Programmatic and Professional Growth  Counselors always want to do more, and administrators give counselors the opportunity and encouragement to expand their services, including school-wide activities to deliver counseling services, as well as participation in professional development activities to stay abreast of new trends in the field.

Engaged Advocacy  Supportive administrators meet with counselors on a regular basis, and promote and endorse counseling programs with internal and external audiences, including faculty, district administration, school boards, and the public.

Capital Allocation   Administrators allocate physical plant and technology resources appropriate to advance counseling services, resulting in workplaces for counseling that are fresh, updated, functional, and welcoming.

Affirmation  Administrators trust the judgment and abilities of the counselor, evidenced by the autonomy the counselors are given, and by the tenor of the work relationship between counselors and administrators.

None of this should come as a surprise to either counselors or administrators, but many counselors get to the middle of the school year and realize they’ve forgotten these five essential fundamentals, and the role counselors play to receive that support.  Time is always at a premium, but try to take 30 minutes and ask yourself these key questions about your role in this important relationship:

  • What’s the best way to tell your administrator about upcoming programs and events in college counseling—e-mail, phone call, informal conversation?
  • How do you share the results and feedback of your programs with your administrator, and is that information presented in a summarized way that’s easy for them to access?
  • Is there a clear way to send your administrator a “heads up” about a situation with a student or family that could soon require their active intervention?
  • What formats exist for your administrator to share the feedback they’re receiving from others about the school’s counseling services?
  • When is the best time to discuss plans for program growth, and how would your administrator like to be approached when that time arrives?
  • How do you relate your appreciation for your administrator’s support of your program?

This list should also look familiar—it’s the same series of other-centered questions we present to students when discussing effective communication.  Every counselor needs and deserves their administrator’s support, but it’s essential, especially in busy times, to make sure we put ourselves in a position to receive that support in the myriad ways it can be presented.

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