Top 3 Mistakes School Counselors Make
And how to correct them
No matter whether you are in small school or a large one, a public school or a private one, school counselors often make the same mistakes.
How do I know?
I was a school counselor for 20 years and I’ve made them all myself. The problem is that these mistakes don’t bring about the desired results, even though on the surface, it appears that we are helping and doing our job. Sometimes what feels like the right thing to do, doesn’t really serve our students or us.
1. Become a Teaching/Counseling Machine
A machine tries to do it all. She plans each lesson perfectly and thoroughly. She is organized. She is invested and involved with every student. She is available all the time. She skips lunch and bathroom breaks. She spends every evening and weekend thinking about her students and their problems, planning lessons, talking to concerned parents, etc. She attends to everyone’s needs…but her own.
Sounds like the perfect counselor of the year, right?
In reality, no one wins if you become a counseling machine. Students don’t learn to take initiative. Parents don’t learn boundaries. Administration and coworkers begin to expect you to do it all.
Ultimately you burnout.
You sacrifice your mental, physical, and spiritual health. You may not even be aware of how stressed you are but you know that you’ve lost your zest. You probably even feel guilty about that… but eventually you come to resent your students, parents, coworkers and the administration at your school. The worst part is that as hard as you’ve worked, you still don’t feel appreciated or respected by your students or coworkers.
The truth is that you are so much more than a counseling machine. Everyone around you benefits when you set boundaries and realistic expectations for yourself. When you take care of yourself physically and emotionally your students get a rested and energized you. As an added benefit, you teach and model for students and adults how to take good care of themselves as well.
2. Become the Behavior Police
Have you become so frustrated that you are constantly lecturing students and staying on their case? Have you given the class the big, long, loud repetitive lecture that starts out with: You are never going to succeed at ________ if you don’t begin ____________. When you get to the next grade, teachers aren’t going to do _________ for you any more and you need to take responsibility now for blah, blah blah…” It is then followed up with every annoying thing that they have done in the last month to push your buttons and aggravate you.
Here’s a more important question.
Did that lecture give you the results you were looking for?
In other words, after your lecture did your students say…
“Thank you so much for showing me the error of my ways. I will change that behavior right now. You are the best counselor ever.”
In our dreams… right? Lectures generally fall on deaf ears. I know as a student myself, when I got the lecture, I left the planet. I tuned out and figured she must be talking to all the other students in the room but me.
Of course you need to guide and instruct students but the timing and delivery is crucial. Lecturing when you are frustrated and on your last nerve is not effective. Instead provide the same information in short conversations that lead into a lesson where the behavior identified can be practiced. Model and explain the type of behavior that you want to see prior to the situation rather than lecturing about the behavior after the event.
Whether you are talking to a class, a group or an individual student, remember, less is more. Don’t hit students with a hundred things to change. You want to address one point at a time during a relevant teachable moment. That’s about all kids will process.
3. Become Disconnected with your students
Having a healthy connection with your students is the basis of counseling This means that establishing a positive relationship will be essential in order to teach them the skills that you want them to learn. This doesn’t mean that you have to become warm and fuzzy if that is not your style or that you need to become emotionally involved with students. In fact, having clear boundaries is an important part of the process as well
The mistake however that a counselor may make is that their relationship with their students becomes one-dimensional. They are all about doing and getting results but not about being and feeling: “Turn in your homework. Get along better with others. Finish your work. Pay attention. Stop Talking.”
Instead stay connected with your students’ heart and energy. Be connected to things that mean something to them. Be interested. Be curious. Take time to get to know them as unique individuals who bring a great wealth of experiences to share. Your positive expectations will set the goal for them to strive for.
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