You know how we always wear one million and one hats as school counselors? One of those hats is the advocacy hat. But it’s actually more like four hats because we’ve got a lot to advocate for! We advocate for our students. We advocate for our teachers. Sometimes we have to advocate for ourselves. And of course we have to advocate for our profession. The tricky thing about advocacy is that so much of the good work we do here is subtle and sly and difficult to identify the specifics in order to write it down. It’s important enough that I’m going to try though – because when I look at where I was when I first started and where I ended up, I realize I was a pretty successful advocate.
Ways I Advocate for My Students
1. Helping teachers develop alternate views of behavior (and thus alternate ways of responding to it). This is really hard to do sometimes and is more successful if you have a relationship with the teacher first (“connect then redirect”, just like we do with students). Some of the messages I’ve worked to help teachers understand is that behavior is most often the result of a skills deficit. Our job as educators is to teach them the skill and help them master it. Sometimes I do some educating about trauma. Sometimes it’s just helping them view things from the student’s perspective. I’ve provided specific scripts for handling misbehaviors, given them think sheet folders, taught the teachers how to use “take a break”, etc. When teachers are complaining to me about student behaviors, I have the opportunity to reframe it for them. Note: a little goes a long way here. No teacher wants to be preached to, especially when they’re at their wits end trying to manage really challenging behaviors and also provide amazing instruction.
2. Ensuring my students get the academic support they need through our RTI/MTSS process. I coordinate and facilitate these meetings, I text parents repeatedly to make sure they’re coming, and I make sure I’ve got all the information so I can advocate for what the kiddos need. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding everyone in a data team meeting “Sayonna was in Tier 3 for math last year so even though her score is on the bubble right now, let’s put her in Tier 3 again.” Other times it’s a lot more complicated and involves researching best practices on identifying English Language Learners with learning disabilities so you can reference that in your advocating for a psychoeducational evaluation.
3. Helping parents understand their children and their children’s needs. Although our primarily role is handling issues that impact a student at school, we all end up helping parents with home related issues as well because we are often the best people for the job. When a kiddo is an angel at school but runs wild at home, I help the parent create expectations and consequences for home. I also advocate for my students with their parents by having tricky and frank discussions about how their actions at home, like openly discussing problems paying the bills, lead to their child’s lack of focus at school.
4. Modeling how to speak with students and have positive classroom management. The last group of teachers I worked with were pretty awesome, but over the years I’ve worked with many adults that 1) forget the importance of showing students the same respect we expect them to give us, 2) need to see a solution-focused and reparative approach to student conferencing, and 3) are still working on developing their classroom management skills. Modeling these things is a great subtle way to advocate for the needs of our students because a teacher isn’t going to get defensive from just watching you do great things.
On an even more personal note: About three years in my time as a school counselor, advocacy for students came up in an evaluation conversation with my executive principal. We finished going through the rubric and the scores and she said “Sometimes you intimidate people and even make people mad by constantly advocating for what you think is best for the students. Keep doing it.” At the time, I wasn’t totally sure where I stood with this administrator and this conversation was incredibly validating and also fueled my fire to continue the work of being a student advocate.
There are some who believe that a school counselor should constantly be the light of the building, full of positivity and kindness. There is a time and a place for this, but there is also a compelling need to (professionally, respectfully, and using all of our training) make sure our students are getting what they need.
How do you advocate for your students? What are your wins and challenges? Stay tuned for an upcoming post about the even trickier work…advocating for our profession!
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