Kelly Counselor's Conversations

A discussion about life and how school counseling fits into it all

Don’t Poop on my Parade

I’ve been asked several time in my now almost three months as a high school counselor, “it’s pretty different from the elementary world, isn’t it?”

I love that I’m always able to reply, “surprisingly, not as much as I thought.”

Sure, there are definitely differences- the ebb and flow of the school day schedule, developmental level, scheduling, etc., but the foundational components are the same.  I’m here to directly serve students to help them be successful in the personal/social, academic, and career domains.  I advocate for students and their families when needed.  I collaborate with staff, parents, and the community to support those I serve.  And I use data to inform the decisions I make.

Sadly, many people, including some counselors themselves, don’t believe this.  I was told a lot before I started, “they don’t care at the high school; they have given up on kids; make sure you don’t become jaded”, and so on.  And I’ve seen small elements of this already.

But mostly, I’ve seen a staff whose embraced that I’m different, and students who have thanked me for teaching them something they hadn’t known before.  They didn’t make fun of me the first time I visited a classroom (as I had feared) or sent them thank yous for National School Counseling Week (as I had feared).

The reality is, just as I have to support ALL students, I have to work with ALL staff to support students, whether they’re on “my ship” or not.  There will always be 10-20% of those who won’t get or like what I’m doing.  I can’t ignore them.  I can’t refuse to work with them.  But I don’t have to condone it.  And I can hope that my work, day in and day out, will help them realize I’m using this one chance of a career I have to its fullest.

Just as I told a group of students the other day, “show up.  And I don’t mean just come and fill a seat everyday.  Be focused.  Be intentional.”

Ship quote

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 540 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 9 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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An “Island” No More

Many elementary schools across the country do not have a fully licensed, trained school counselor on their staff; much fewer schools are blessed to have more than one. This often results in the elementary counselor feeling like an island amongst their own staff, even with good collaboration and advocacy. Add that to inappropriate professional development geared towards classroom teachers that counselors often have to take, and one can see why elementary school counselors often feel alienated.

I know I sometimes felt that way, and I loved my former school and staff, and know they “got” me.

So when I began at my new high school, I was thrilled to finally be working with ANOTHER counselor in the SAME building!

And then I quickly fretted- when I was the only one, at least I could make all the decisions for my program, and only blame myself for my mistakes. There was comfort in that. What if the only other counselor I was now with didn’t jive with me?

I soon felt silly in that fear and should have trusted my principal that he not only hired me for my scope of work, but also in thinking of the relationship I’d have with my “teammate.” With her being a first-year counselor and me being new to the secondary world, we have a lot to learn, but with passion, drive, and immense respect for one another, we’ll move mountains.

Thank you, Anastasia.

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Time Heals All Wounds

This past week I was privileged to accept my first high school counseling position, and it has been a whirlwind to say the least- the adjustment to new home, new baby, and now new job leaves me exhausted but in the most invigorating way possible.

In my second interview, my new principal asked me, “why do you want to work here?”. A pretty generic question, but the response I gave surprised even me. I told him that even a month ago, I would not have felt ready for this. I was still grieving leaving my old elementary school and feeling overwhelmed with new motherhood.  But the clouds seemed to part one day at a time, and I felt now I was in a position to be excited.

I’m tremendously grateful to be given this opportunity, considering a lack of high school experience and not a great internship at this level seven years ago.  I was told I was hired because my boss knew I’d always put the kids first.  And while life is still very unpredictable, I do know he’s right about that.

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Culture Shock

I ended my maternity leave and began substitute teaching last week for two main reasons- income, and more importantly, to begin to establish roots where I now live. Networking and “who you know” is vital in the education field, and even more so in the school counseling profession, where jobs are not always mandated and often scarce.

I live in a much more rural area now, and it’s not bad, it’s just…different.

I now live in a world where schools don’t always lock their doors. Kids come and go as they please. Everyone knows everyone. And even though many are only half listening to the content, they’ll still likely pass the state tests and earn their “A” growth status. The banners are proudly displayed in the hallways.

I couldn’t help but feel a little (ok, a lot) resentful earlier this week coming to this realization, formally being the counselor in an urban, high-poverty, high English learner demographic. All the complaining about “teaching to the test” but doing it faithfully anyway, and telling our students if they work hard enough, they’ll show growth, led us still to earn an “F” last year. All this on top of how hard our staff works on positive school-wide behavior and classroom management.

As I reflected more, I found myself feeling a little guilty for the resentment. I always like to say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s not the students’ fault they live in a safer area, are more likely to live in a nuclear family setting, have generally higher incomes, and are Caucasian. We know these factors contribute to school success. And talk all you want about these tests being “standardized”, they are still written by adults having these general characteristics.

I hope this isn’t coming off as a scathing manifesto, because that’s not my intent. I suppose it’s just another rant about how the educational system needs to be changed. It’s also inspiration for me as a school counselor to keep advocating for those lacking the “right” demographics to still find success.

And if I do end up working as a counselor in one of these rural schools someday, I’ll passionately advocate for them too. They’ll still have needs and barriers- not bad ones, just…different.

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The Head vs. Heart Dilemma

I could just tell you that I haven’t blogged in over three months because I’m super busy with a 10 week-old and looking for a new job.

Well, this is true. But if I’m honest with both you and myself, it’s not the real reason.

The main reason is, since I’m not “technically” a school counselor at the moment, I felt like a fraud posting in a blog titled “Kelly Counselor’s Conversations”.

When I began this blog a year and a half ago, I was blissfully unaware of how drastically my life was about to change.  It was just me, my husband, and the cat.  We had been living in our starter home for a year and a half.  And I was about to start my fifth year as school counselor at a place I loved.

Then, in December 2013, we found out we were pregnant.  Cool beans!  We had been trying, and miscarried our first time, so we were ecstatic.

Then, my husband was offer a job promotion we couldn’t turned down, requiring us to move once the school year was over.  We moved in June 2014 and had our son Ace in August.  After a lot of contemplation (and also avoiding the issue the first month of maternity leave), I resigned from my school last month.  The commute was simply unsustainable, but it still felt crazy to walk away from the career I loved and work so hard to build.

Those “in the business” know how difficult it can be to find another position in a new geographical area, especially after the school year has begun.  Needless to say, no bites.  So I’m returning to substitute teaching this week to establish new roots.

I’m posting today because too often, we let our head and its technicalities get in the way of doing what our heart wants and needs us to do.  Dictionary.com defines “counselor” as “a person who counsels, advises.”  Does not being a counselor on a payroll mean I’m not one who still yearns to counsel and advise others?  I think not.  So while I may not post as frequently as I once did, my heart and I choose to push on.

PS- you’ll be one of the first to know when I am “technically” a school counselor once again. 🙂

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Identity Crisis

It’s been a rough week for me emotionally, and not just because I have a baby’s foot lodged under my right rib 24 hours a day. 🙂

Now living 90 minutes away from my hometown, I have one foot in my new town and one foot still in the latter- with my doctor, my loved ones, and my career.

And on my long drives back to my hometown, I’ve realized how unsustainable this is in the long run, especially with a son arriving next month.

I think I was the last to “get the memo” about my own life and realize I have to move on from what I’ve always known. I feel like I’m starting life from scratch in many ways and figuring out what my new identity is- as a mom and as a professional. I hope to remain a school counselor but know this may not happen right away. And man, my identity was REALLY tied up in being one.

Things will figure itself out eventually; I won’t let it not. But the process in the meantime is YUCKY.

At least I know these quotes really show who I am:

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“But I WANT to stay mad!”

My husband and I have encountered many frustrations as of late with our move- buyers of our house backing out at the last minute, unforeseen repairs at the new home, and flooding in our new neighborhood the first week.  Plus, packing and moving EVERYTHING just sucks.

Those who know me best know I have a temper; I was on the “waaambulence” in a tirade a few weeks back and told my husband, “I don’t want to calm down.  I want to be mad for a bit.”  I felt like just dismissing the anger was almost saying what was making me mad was ok.

This got me thinking about my approach with the students I work with at school, individually and in my “Bomb Squad” anger small groups.  Plus, I’ll have my own child in about two months.  What do we want to do as school counselors?  As parents?  Calm children down as soon as possible, which is valid to an extent; we certainly don’t want them to make distructive decisions and want to re-route them back to being productive as soon as possible.  But in doing this, are we inadvertently telling them they don’t have the right to be angry?

There’s some hard-core dissonance going on with me right now, professionally- “Kelly Counselor” tells the kids that anger is a normal feeling, like “happy”, “sad”, and “scared”, but also is the “go-to” person to get angry kids back to class and back to work ASAP.  I’ve realized the past few years I’ve been so engrossed with my tight schedule, the tight master schedule, giving as many strategies to them as possible I’ve lost sight of letting them really vent and telling them, “I understand.”

It’s a delicate balance, but one worth thinking about.

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You Never Know…

I’m just going to be honest, with a pending home move in two weeks, a baby on the way in 2 1/2 months, and a potential move of school offices this summer (YUCK!), I’ve got nothing.

But today I received a note from one of my third graders and wanted to share it; this is certainly not to tout my work as a school counselor, but to inspire those in the helping professions that you never know how much you reach someone you help.  With all the chaos of finishing a school year, and the fatigue of pregnancy I’ve felt like I haven’t been doing the quality of work I’ve been accustomed to.

I think this is a reminder to us all that help others that the RELATIONSHIP IS EVERYTHING.  Kids especially just want your time and to know you care.

“Dear Mrs. Johnson,

Thank you very much for helping me and (name withheld) fix our problems with (name withheld).  I appreciate it very much.  Every year I have problems and you help me solve them.  I don’t want you to leave this school someday because you are a great counselor.  Good luck with your new baby.  God gives almost every woman in the world a gift to keep and take care of.  And all those months that you are on break with your baby, enjoy them.  Thank you very much for your advice with my problems.”

Again, this is a THIRD GRADER.  The world in the future is not doomed.

I think I can finish the race strong- school ends Friday for us, and I will sprint to the finish line instead of sitting on the track on the last curve.

Have a great summer!

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The Journey During the Wait

Last week, a school counseling student on our state’s Listserv asked for advice on how to best interview with schools; frustrated she had not yet landed a job.  Certainly in such a specialized field as school counseling is, I could certainly empathize with her dilemma.  But I also felt a deeper connection because I too, after six years, am back on the job hunt.  My husband earned a promotion with his company, requiring us to move an hour and a half away, and in a different time zone.  With our first child on the way this is definitely an exciting, yet stressful and sometimes downright scary time for us.

While responding to her post, I had a few revelations to use in my own current journey as well.  I believe many of these tips can be utilized in other professions:

  • Be willing to relocate, if possible.
  • Keep your options open- you may have your heart set on being a high school counselor, but can learn valuable skills and can even dispel many assumptions by taking a position at the elementary level, and vice-versa.
  • Take the time to research the schools you’re applying to- look at their website, state data, and even the town or city’s website if you’re unfamiliar with the location.  This is will help you be better prepared for the interview and lets the interviewer know you took the time to care about their specific culture.
  • Be authentic- don’t answer questions based on what you THINK the interviewer wants to hear; but answer honestly.  This is better for everyone in the long run; both you AND the school have to feel the “right match.”
  • Ask the interviewer(s) this question: “What is your biggest achievement gap and how can I help fix it?” This lets the school know you are driven right from the get-go.

Most importantly, begin important work BEFORE interviewing, especially if you’re having difficulty even getting the call to interview:

  • Join and volunteer for your professional organization, at the state and/or national level.  This gives you invaluable experience and knowledge, and bolsters your resume at the same time.
  • Substitute teach, and take any job you can- school counselors have to work with ALL school employees, and this experience is invaluable in being able to connect with your staff in the future.
  • Volunteer to serve youth in your community in any capacity.  In the counselor profession, the relationship is paramount.

Here are a few great books to read, in which some of my tips were adapted from:

“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg

“Linchpin” by Seth Godin

Finally, here’s a picture to brighten your day, drawn by one of my third graders:

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