Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The School Counselor’s Role Next Tuesday

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It is a crazy busy time for school counselors.  At the high school level alone, counselors are busy trying to make November 1 college application deadlines, and are on the verge of dealing with the end of a marking period.  This is also the time of year most students start to notice that Thanksgiving—and the first sustained school vacation—is just around the corner.  Throw in the end of Daylight Saving this weekend, and it’s just hard to get students to focus on much of anything right now.

I’m asking you to try very hard to do just that next Tuesday, when the democratic process calls on all of its beneficiaries to engage in the modest, but important, task of voting.  Thousands of schools are polling places, and it’s hard to understand why more educators don’t take advantage of this real-life learning opportunity.

That’s where we come in.  Connections with the larger community is an integral part of social-emotional growth, something counselors do best. With a little forethought, and some quick team building, Tuesday’s activity can help students make strong connections between the power of voting, and the opportunity it brings to shape our country.

How can counselors advance the cause of raising engaged citizens?

  • Talk to school administrators about their plans for Tuesday. It’s likely a few teachers (probably the Social Studies team) have already been doing some preparation for election day in their classrooms, so now is a good time to find out what they’re doing, and see how you can support their efforts.
  • This is also a good time to talk with your leadership about their security plans for Tuesday.  This is one of the rare days when  students have to share the building with the public, and that interaction can be rich with educational opportunities, as long as it’s   safe.  Understanding how students and the public can, or could, interact that day is key to building future plans.
  • Once that’s done, it’s time to get the larger faculty involved. There will be ample opportunities for teachers and students to get updates on the election from social media and cable resources.  In addition, classes can set aside time to go to the voting area and see the democratic process in action.  Sample ballots are typically posted outside the polling place, offering students a first-hand chance to see just how voting works.  Any ballot initiatives create more than enough opportunities for teachers to lead critical thinking discussions that bring in the expertise of their fields.  Offering different lenses on the task of voting gives students multiple perspectives to consider, a key element to growth in their understanding of the world around them.
  • This is also a chance for you to shine. One of the reasons people don’t vote is because they don’t want to get involved with the tensions associated with politics.  This is a perfect opportunity for counselors to talk about conflict resolution skills, and the importance of students using the right mix of empathic listening and strong self-esteem to allow others to have their say, while not letting them walk all over them.  Letting your colleagues know you’re available for classroom demonstrations of these key skills can make Election Day a lifelong lesson for students and adults alike.
Recent articles suggest the historic apathy of young voters is only getting worse, all at a time when the need for all voters to participate in the process couldn’t be greater.  Encouraging participation, and providing ways to manage the shape and tone of political dialogue, are critical elements counselors can bring to the success of the day.   

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