Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Building a Foundation of Counseling Support

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Did you ever feel like your boss just didn’t understand what your job is all about?  When it comes to education, a new survey shows you’re not alone.

The Center for Michigan just released the results of its latest survey on public attitudes on education in Michigan.  This is one of the first times students and parents have been asked about education reform efforts in a survey, and since they are the consumers of education, this is being seen by many as a significant step forward.

The results indicate the most support for three key ideas:

·       --  Increased access to early childhood education for the state’s four year-olds
·         --Greater respect, support, and training for teachers both before they enter the classroom and once they’re there
·         --Reducing class size

Just as important, the support for these ideas is equally high among all three groups--teachers, students, and parents all see these areas as essential for better education.

This is excellent news—after all, what educator doesn’t know the importance of having teachers, parents and students all working on the same page?  The discouraging news comes when the survey results are compared to the education priorities announced by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder last week.  His three priorities?

·      --   Increased access to early childhood education for the state’s four year-olds
·       -- Increased use of online learning
·      --  Increased schools of choice, where students from one community can attend the schools of another community.

These huge disparities are going to make for some interesting conversations in Michigan this year—and they serve as an important reminder to all school counselors.  There’s a good chance you know what you’d change in your job, if you had the power to do so.  The changes may be big or small, but at least you know them, just in case someone ever asks.

Here’s the question you might not be able to answer.  If you asked your students and your parents what should change in your job, would they say the same thing?  Would the other counselors in the building?  Would your principal?

If you’re like most counselors, you’re either saying “I don’t know”, or you’re guessing what these other groups might say—but have you ever really asked them?

If not, you should, but not for the reason you think.  It’s certainly true that most discussions about changing counselor workloads go nowhere; someone asks you some questions, completes a form, files it, and the sun comes up the next day. 

So why ask the questions again? To get a sense of what others value in a counselor.  Parents and students who put “more class presentations” on their priority list are telling you they aren’t seeing enough of you.  A fellow counselor who wants to do more on careers is sharing a passion you didn’t know existed.  A principal who wants you to spend more time on school accountability forms is probably going to assign them to you, and soon.

In creating this web of values, counselors can look for the common threads and build consensus for change that may actually lead somewhere.  Parent support gives extra importance to a new program you propose; overlapping interests surprise administrators, which can loosen up budgets and caseloads; cutting edge curriculum can gain unexpected support from everyone, as long as it’s student-centered.

It’s likely that the first and biggest change in Michigan education will be in early childhood education, the common denominator of government, educators, and families.  You can build on the foundation of your program, too—once you know what that is.  As we often say in counseling, it never hurts to ask.

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