School Counselors Need a Seat at the Decision-Making Table

This spring 2017, Dr. Judy Jackson-May and I presented at an Ohio School Board continuing education training entitled “Social Issues: Supporting Families and Staff.” Our goal was to assess the school board member’s knowledge of these issues (poverty, race, gangs, and social media), and encourage the participants to take a deeper look at their school staff, as they may already have solutions to these issues; like school counselors, for example, who deal with these issues, but are often overlooked.

Two women walked into the room and I immediately sensed something special about them. As I suspected, they both are school counselors. Lyndie Shuckert is a school counselor at Lakewood High School and board member at Cuyahoga Heights Local District. Stephanie Tutkovics is a school counselor with Crestwood Local Schools. Honestly, I almost screamed with excitement. However, I controlled myself. I did not want to scare them before we even started the presentation!

We designed a participant-engaged seven-question online survey. A number of the questions dealt with parent engagement. For example: How often do parents attend teacher conferences? How do parents receive school information? How likely are they to respond to “calls to action,” and do they participate in school activities?

(Pictured: Lyndie Shuckert (Cuyahoga Heights) and Stephanie Tutkovics (Crestwood), featured on the left and Mary Kaley (Maplewood) featured on the right.)

Guess who won the survey? Yup, you guessed it! Lyndie and Stephanie, the school counselors. They rocked it.

It’s not that the school board members, who are not school counselors, are not knowledgeable; it’s just that school counselors are specifically trained to deal with these issues. They spend a significant amount of time with the students and are the masterminds on these issues from an educational and knowledge-based perspective.

Most school counselors do not have time to build proactive programs that address the emotional and social needs of students. Instead, they find themselves in reactive mode, putting Band-Aids on problems and never getting to the root cause. School counselors follow state-mandated standards of implementation to try and provide comprehensive school counseling programs[1], but they face an uphill battle for these reasons:

1. Most school boards are not willing to allocate the necessary funding to deal with the body of research that clearly shows how a child's brain is unable to retain information when that child is dealing with emotional, social, and traumatic issues, or other forms of mental illness (Flannery)[2].

  • Stephanie states, “School counselors typically face a lack of ‘buy in’ about the importance of understanding, recognizing, and dealing with mental health issues with students. I find teachers tend to take students' misbehavior personally. Instead of getting to know the student on a more personal level and understanding where that student is coming from, there's more of a disconnect between teacher and student. This is where a counselor can step in and help bridge the gap. Everyone has a story, we just need to take the time to understand what the story is and what help students need.”

2. School counselor ratios are staggering. The American School Counselor Association recommends a school counselor to student ratio of 1:250. However, some school counselors have student ratios of 1:500, which disallows school counselors to have any student interaction (Harris)[3].

3. School counselors play a significant role in a student’s overall success. The American School Counseling Association notes that school counselors are responsible for “students’ academic, career and social/emotional development needs by designing, implementing, evaluating and enhancing a comprehensive school counseling program that promotes and enhances student success.” That is a tremendous amount of pressure for one person, especially if they are balancing a number of students in their school and district, especially in high-risk schools. Typically, standardized testing, college prep, and other academic issues take priority over a student’s overall emotional needs. As a result, emotional and social issues are pushed to the side, likely because the results are not always immediately visible.

It takes time to see the return. It is not a one-time seminar and then you are done. It is necessary to provide active, ongoing, systematic programming. If emotional and social issues are dealt with in this manner, positive academic results will follow. Instead, because they are reactive in nature and one-off, school counselor’s deal with a significant amount of stress and tend to burn out quickly.

Lyndie states, “In my current role, I am the ‘tester.’ There are so many statewide exams. My students see me (during testing season) as that person that needs them to complete the test. It is challenging with my at-risk students. I wish I could have the role as the supportive resource, the person to help them with test anxiety and life skills. Unfortunately, the majority of my time is spent preparing for and executing the testing season in my building.”

School counselors should not be used as test monitors and paperwork pushers. These are things that can be done by someone else so that a school counselor has time to create a comprehensive school counseling program.

School counselors can provide significant assistance, synergy, and successful results to students, teachers, and parents if given the right tools to succeed. Time is of the essence. We must shift the narrative and resolve this disparity.

Here are a few suggestions to start the conversation:

To School Counselors:

  1. Think about the issues you face in your school and where you can be of assistance. What is standing in the way of you providing that assistance? What resources and tools are needed?

  2. Identify your key stakeholders. Who makes the decisions in your school and in your district? Have you ever presented these issues to your district? Have you ever asked to have a seat at the table? Do you feel you are equipped to have a seat at the table?

  3. Organize school counselors in your community. There is power in community. List your school counselor community. How often do you meet and do you believe you are touching upon the areas that need to be addressed in your school? If not, why?

To School Principals, School Board Members, and Superintendents:

  1. Consider inviting your school counselors to your board and operational meetings. Ask them to conduct the above assessment and listen to their opinions.

  2. Review your budgets and assess how much you allocate to enhance your student’s emotional and social development.

  3. Analyze your school counselor’s workload and assess whether they are overly tasked and close to burnout.

Together, we can work to change the narrative, but we cannot wait any longer. It is go time! We must take proactive measures today.

School counselors, join my newsletter to learn of ways to stay connected, build upon the steps outlined above and to receive soon to come services, such as one-on-one coaching and group mastermind sessions.

School principals, board members and superintendents, Bowling Green State University professor and Ohio School Board Association Regional Manager, Dr. Judy Jackson-May and I work in collaboration to provide professional development to districts and organizations seeking to evaluate, examine and/or modify current practices to be more responsive to the vital clients they serve. Do not delay - we encourage you to contact us to help your school perform at its highest potential. Learn more about our services here or contact us.

[1] Ohio Dept. of Education. Ohio Standards for School Counselors. Dept. of Education. October 2015.

[2] Flannery, Mary Ellen. How Trauma is Changing Children’s Brains. neaToday, 17 May 2016.

[3] Harris, Elizabeth A. Little College Guidance: 500 High School Students Per Counselor. The New York Times. 25 December 2014.

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