Posted by Nancy Barile on Wednesday, 02/04/2015
School Counselor, Kathleen Liakos, LICSW, with her former student
This week is National School Counseling Week. Sponsored by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the week seeks to focus public attention on the important contributions of professional school counselors in U.S. school systems. It draws attention to the work school counselors do, acknowledging their role in helping students to achieve.
As a twenty-year teaching veteran, I can certainly attest to the enormous impact that school counselors have on the success of students. Simply stated, teachers could not do their job without them. There are many obstacles that can stand in the way of a student’s achievement, and teachers are only equipped (and licensed) to handle some of them. In many cases, it is necessary to seek help from those who are licensed, specially trained, and skilled to handle the most difficult of issues.
School counselors assist in the social and personal development of students, and they work to ensure that students become productive, and well-adjusted adults. They see students individually and in groups, and they often triage emergency situations.
My close friend, Kathleen Liakos, LICSW, has been a middle school counselor for over fourteen years. She and her fellow social workers have been an essential and crucial force in our school district, and they have helped thousands of students. In a conversation with Kathleen, she discussed the important things that teachers should know in order to enable School Counselors to effectively do their jobs. I’ve compiled them in this list:
1. Teachers are not trained or licensed as counselors, and therefore should not attempt to counsel students. Teachers enter dangerous territory if they ask personal questions of students or have conversations with students about serious social and personal problems. If a teacher suspects that a student has a serious issue, s/he should follow protocol to report it immediately to the school administrators and counselors.
2. Report, report, report. Even without a teacher asking questions, children can disclose things to teachers verbally or through their written or art work. A teacher may even be uncertain as to whether a problem truly exists. In all cases, it is best to get the help of a professional by turning the matter over to school administrators and counselors.
3. Give very concrete prompts to writing assignments. If using journals, a very distinctive directive is critical. Asking a student to “Write about the Worst Day of Your Life,” is most definitely not a good idea. If you collect journals, be sure to read them. A student could write something – a threat of suicide, for example – that needs immediate attention. Teachers are responsible for things written on their time.
4. Students can be very needy, but it is necessary for teachers to exercise proper boundaries at all times. Be wary of social media. Students should not be contacting teachers outside of school time regarding anything other than schoolwork. A teacher should not be alone with a child behind closed doors. It is important for teachers to protect themselves and the perceptions of themselves within the school. A teacher should aware of how much time is spent with a child, and be sure to keep time equally distributed amongst all students. Students can misinterpret extra attention as something other than what a teacher intended. Don't give gifts to students - even the poorest or most disadvantaged. If a teacher sees a need with a particular child, contact the social worker. There are ways to give to needy students that social workers understand.
5. When suggesting books or literature for children to read, teachers need to know their audience. Genres of books that focus on cutting, anorexia, or substance abuse, for example, can trigger children to act in ways that are harmful.
This week, please be sure to thank your school social workers for the work that they do. They are often the unsung heroes in a school system.