From the moment I entered the profession, I learned about the many issues our jobs were encountering. I trained and implemented the comprehensive school counseling model. I kept outcome data and followed the inquiry-based process. I promoted smaller caseloads and changes on the non-counseling activities imposed on school counselors. I joined the “tribe” and promoted the “movement”. Was there really a movement? After many years in the profession, several workshops throughout different school counseling associations, it seems that changes still are needed. What is missing for school counselors to see a change in their professional practice?
I came by the chapter in my dissertation on change theory and began reading it again. I branched out to the books and articles I used on Systems Thinking and began analyzing the main idea. I read Seeing Systems by Barry Oshry and it all connected. It was about not following the general message and having a new perspective: the business of education.
Student needs are different, but the educational system remains the same. As in any company or organization, for success to be achieved, the understanding of the parts and their contributions to the whole is essential and common sense. We need to pause on our ideals we have been sharing and think through the culture, the people and the gaps within our educational systems. What should we be looking at?
Emotions: As humans, we live on emotions. It is part of our developmental process. The problem is that we focus on emotions based on our perspectives and reactions to a trigger. Maybe it is the additional non-counseling activity just placed on the school counseling team or the decision to reduce staff in the counseling department. We begin by reacting rather than understanding. Understanding does not mean acceptance but getting the right information regarding the decisions.
Stories: I read that we, as individuals, thrive on storytelling. We like to share our beliefs and what we perceive through stories. Stories may not be factual, but a reaction to the emotions felt and what we, as storytellers, want to believe. Stories can be dangerous as the essence can cause toxic environments.
History: Before we tell stories, let’s do some historical searching. Let’s take the concept of validation of profession. As a school counselor, you may want to spend time trying to understand how the understanding of the professional practice changed from administration to administration. I recently mentioned to a group of higher education professors in the area of administration how important it is to have a class that educates future leaders on the role of student support systems (school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists and school nurses). Understanding the history of philosophical changes at the local level can guide school counselors to re-educate administration, faculty, parents, and others on the support and programs benefitting the students as well as the community.
System members: Our emotions influence our storytelling and blocks historical perspectives. Instead, visualize what the administrator or teacher must face daily. What decisions do they make and what emotions are involved in their practice? What struggles are they encountering in making decisions that will affect personnel and programs? By going through this reflection process a school counselor can be aware that no decision is made without difficulty.
How do we approach challenges now?
Step back and reflect before the reaction takes over.
Write down the questions that come up in the conversation.
Talk to the administrators about how the decisions came about.
Have an open conversation about the difficult process it may have been.
Understand, process and reflect. Seeing the system can change the perceptions.