A while back I wrote a post on building relationships with parents, which is vital to the success of any school counseling program. However, in light of the new year and so many counselors starting new jobs at new schools I thought now would be a great time to share how I built a strong foundation with my school staff and most importantly gained the trust and support of my teachers.
You never truly know what kind of culture you are walking into when you accept a new position. And even scarier, sometimes we enter schools where teachers have strong feelings against counseling for one reason or another. Maybe the prior school counselor was working from the old model and the staff isn’t familiar with the benefits of a comprehensive program. Maybe you are the first school counselor they’ve ever had! Either way, the first few months of a new position are a great time to focus your energy on educating staff on your role and gaining their trust. Teachers won’t send you their kiddos or invite you willingly into their classrooms if they don’t understand or even doubt the process. Although sometimes adults on campus can bring in their own bias and wariness about counseling due to personal experiences we are unlikely to change, there are a few things you can do right away to begin winning everyone’s heart!
Be everywhere, ALL the time. Well, not literally. But those first few weeks your caseload is minimal and you have the flexibility to be out and about. Observe kids, observe teachers. Ask to pop into classrooms and get to know their individual teaching styles. Nothing will bond you better than having the ability to share a teacher’s concerns about a student because you have WITNESSED the struggle. This isn’t a time to offer suggestions or come in with a new token chart for them to manage (though this will come), for now just BE with them.
Like I mentioned before, many school staff are truly unaware of what you can offer. Make sure you are communicating with teachers about potential lessons, small group offerings, and behavior consultation. The worst thing you can do is come in ‘hot’ demanding a time to see certain students or teach a lesson. For the first year, and as much as possible, give teachers a choice in what interventions they’d like their students to receive.
Take off their plate
Have you gotten to know a teacher and NOW have suggestions or ideas to offer? Great. Do this with empathy and understanding for the massive amount of things they are responsible for day to day. If you can simultaneously take something off of their plate, extra points for you! Thinking a student needs to have a positive reinforcement system in place? Create it, and model implementing it for the first few days. Do you notice a student struggling to sit still? Visit your OT, and bring the teacher a few fidgets or different seating options. Offer to teach the student how to appropriately use them. Walking through a class and see a teacher sinking? Why not take over for a few minutes? Ask if they need a bathroom break, copies made, a piece of candy. :]
You can never communicate too much. I remember my first year being worried about sending too many emails. This just isn’t possible. With so much on their plates, you should keep communication brief, but frequent. Not only will it keep you and your services fresh on their minds, but they will never be left confused about something. (Well they still may be, but at least they’ll have your emails to refer back to!) Teachers, in general, like to have all of the answers. especially when fielding parent questions. Don’t let them wonder what you’re working on with their student. CC them on parent communication so they are always in the loop. This means you need to be the one to COMMUNICATE with parents when you are seeing their student! Also, remind, remind, remind. I keep my phone with me at all times which has my schedule so if I see a teacher I can remind them when I’m coming in for a lesson or a new group is starting. And for those school-wide initiatives like Red Ribbon Week or Kindness Day… a mailbox memo, posters around the school, a daily email, and morning announcements are your friend. Sometimes I even write a message in the staff lounge!
Lastly, bond on a personal level. Attend those happy hours, exchange numbers so they can text you in a pinch. Make sure you know about and reach out when something sad or unusual happens in their personal lives. You are the school counselor, and should be an emotional support to EVERYONE. You are with these people every day, and it won’t hurt to become friends. First, they trust YOU, then they will trust your process. From that trust you will gain the buy-in and support you so vitally need to run a successful comprehensive school counseling program! Good LUCK!
Check out the post on Carla’s site, Simply School Counseling, here.