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Five Things School Counselors Want Teachers to Know

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. 

 

 

50 Comments

Joan Sabree commented on February 4, 2015 at 8:53pm:

Five Things School Counselors Want Teachers to Know

Great Article! Thank you for emphasizing that school counselors have the specialized training and skills necessary to provide personal as well as crisis counseling. Sometimes teachers assume the role of counselor and the lack of training can cause more harm than good.

 

Nancy Barile Nancy Barile commented on February 6, 2015 at 7:23am:

Counselors

I agree, Joan! As a mentor teacher, I am always cautioning my mentees to make sure they leave the counselor to those trained and licensed to do that work! 

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Sandy Merz commented on February 4, 2015 at 9:04pm:

Thanks to Counselors

I'm proud and humble to call school counselors my brothers and sisters in the profession. They work tirelessly in challenging circumstances that range from an Honor Roll Assembly, to substance abuse, to family violence, to kids needing someone to talk to, to, well the list goes on and on. I sat in once on a confidential conference with a counselor, a mother,  a girl who was bipolar, but wouldn't take her medicine. I think those 30 minutes provided more professional development that I got elsewhere all year. It shook me up for weeks. And that is what these heroes work with every day. 

Nancy Barile Nancy Barile commented on February 6, 2015 at 7:25am:

Counselors

So much of what counselors do is "behind the scene" - just as you say. I wanted people to recognize how important counselors are to the a student's success because it's true - we couldn't do our job without them!

Sandy Merz commented on February 5, 2015 at 1:02pm:

Correction

A colleague pointed out that my student was a girl with bipolar disorder, not a girl who was bipolar. The distinction can't be emphasized enough. She was human first. Thanks, Barbara.

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