Wednesday, June 1, 2016

College Access and Your Principal: An Essential Partnership

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

The Internet is already full of the pictures that hold a special place in the hearts of school counselors.  Dressed in cap and gown and beaming ear to ear, an incredibly delighted high school graduate is standing next to an equally delighted, somewhat older, and often slightly slouching adult.  Off to college, perhaps with a counselor-discovered scholarship in hand, the caption under the picture reads “Thank to my counselor Mrs. Smith, I’m doing something I never thought I would do—go to college.”

It does our hearts and our stress levels a world of good to see a counselor’s hard work pay off for a student with college dreams.  As we think about professional goals for next year, we can’t help but wonder what we can do to help more students realize that dream, if that’s what they want to do.

That’s where your building principal comes in.  Long recognized as an essential element of a successful school counseling program, strong counselor-principal bonds are a must in order to create the college-going atmosphere that gives all students the chance to consider college as a viable postsecondary choice, understand what it takes to be ready to make the most of college, and walk the sometimes winding path of applying to college and finding the resources to pay for it.  When it comes to setting college goals for next year, here are three reasons why you need to start with the principal-counselor relationship:

College Access Isn’t A Program; It’s an Atmosphere  There are some programs counselors can run without anyone else’s assistance, but creating a college-going atmosphere simply isn’t one of them. We may be the masters of college awareness, but students knowing which college they like best means nothing if they don’t have the skills and attitude necessary to make the most of the college experience.  That’s largely built in the classroom, through extracurricular activities, and in conversations about learning that need to go on outside the counseling office in order for students to truly be college ready.

It’s important for counselors to have strong relationships directly with teachers, but when it comes to integrating college readiness into every assignment, building time in the annual schedule for events like College Application Week, and sending the right message about the role of college to parents, principals can move the college access needle as no one else can.

Your Principal is Your Boss  It’s also important to remember that principals control the one commodity counselors never have enough of—time.  From assigning tasks like schedule changes and test administration to creating policies for when colleges can visit your students, principals play a significant role in deciding what gets done in the college curriculum, when it gets done, and what doesn’t get done.  Any college program that requires more counseling time, or more building resources, ultimately happens only with your principal’s OK—and it will only get done successfully with their enthusiastic OK.  Give your administrators take a personalized tour of your college counseling curriculum.

Your Principal is Well Connected  A growing body of research shows that an effective college-going culture is best created in the community, not just in the school.  Since the principal is seen as the face of the school in the larger community, it’s essential counselors make the most of the relationships principals have with business leaders, the local media, faith leaders in the community, and heads of area government.  A world of partnerships, internships, job shadowing, professional connections, and program resources await the counselor who builds strong bonds with caring community members, and that relationship begins through the principal’s office. 

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