Thursday, February 2, 2012

ASCA School Counselor of the Year

ASCA's 2012 School Counselor of the Year, Nicole Pfleger, is in town (Washington, D.C.) this week meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill and spreading the word about the impact of school counselors.  What's not to love?  She had an interview this week with Education Talk Radio in which she was asked several questions by the interviewer about her job, her school, and school counseling.  What I found fascinating was that the interviewer was someone who is knowledgeable about education, but yet who seemed to lack a lot of understanding of what school counselors do.  Together, they produced a dialogue that got my intellectual juices flowing.  Of note:
  • Knowledge of the counselor role: The two discussed a lack of consistency and knowledge in the role of the counselor, something I've talked about in a recent blog post.  At one point, the interviewer talks about his educational experience training to be a teacher and states that he does not remember there ever being any discussion of what the role of a counselor was within his classes.  It reminded me of a presentation I attended at the Virginia Counseling Association conference earlier this year in which a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University had done a small study in which undergraduate students training to be teachers were given a short session on who school counselors are and what they do within schools.  The results were a much stronger understanding and respect for the profession as a result of that information.  Hopefully more trainings such as this will spread to other educational training programs.
  • The importance of collaboration: Ms. Pfleger discussed how much she collaborates with teachers, both in order to assist them and help reinforce their work in the classroom, but also with delicate populations, such as her homeless students.  She is able to work with teachers on individual student situations in order to help insure that school is a positive environment and more importantly advocates for them so that they are not penalized for things like late homework or no homework due to their circumstances.  What is most impressive is her community outreach for these students--she has helped to set up study time at the homeless shelter as well as get tutors to go out there to assist.  As she discusses, for students and families in dire economic circumstances, the school can be the one constant in their lives.  Further, by assisting her students with basic needs, she is able to help them be more ready to learn.  It always comes back to one of our core missions: helping to remove barriers to academic success.
  • College and career readiness: The interviewer asked her what she, as an elementary counselor, could possibly be doing to help such young students with careers.  She responded that she is teaching them those soft-skills that are actually the most important to employers--responsibility, work-ethic, cooperation.  I agree completely with her--the time to begin teaching kids about these important skills of work is when they are young.  It will not matter if they have the knowledge of a particular field or a certain skill set if they are unable to work as a team-player, have internal motivation to do well, or show up to work on time every day.  Elementary counselors are vital links in helping to develop young people into productive citizens later in life.
  • Bullying and creating a culture of kindness: With all of the media-attention on bullying, this topic was sure to be part of the interview.  What I loved was the way that Ms. Pfleger worked to create a culture of kindness within her school through service and positive acts.  She has the results data to back it up--a 50% reduction in discipline incidents.  There would be developmental differences with older students, but why couldn't this be done at a middle school or a high-school?  I'm reminded of a group I helped out with during my elementary internship (also known as one of the most fun experiences of my life) where we had a group of "secret agents" whose missions was to perform random acts of kindness and report back as to how the person received it.  I do not think you can ever underestimate how a small group focusing on basic positive acts can help to spread a better environment throughout a school.  If kids can learn, early on, how powerful nice words or kind actions can be, that can only help them to develop into more empathetic adolescents and adults.
Overall, it is a wonderful interview that will make you think about your own work and how we can continue to advocate both for our own roles as counselors as well as advocate for our students.  For the full interview, take a listen either at ASCA or at Education Radio

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