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Cloudy with a Chance of Bullying: School Counselors as School Climate Meteorologists

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on July 15, 2013

By Carli Segal, M.Phil.Ed., M.S.Ed.

 

“You’re a school counselor? So what do you do, exactly?”

I get asked this question a lot, and there is not an easy answer because in any school environment, we school counselors wear many hats. Therefore, our role has been notoriously difficult to define. Elementary school counselors often function as teachers of classroom-based counseling lessons, facilitators of small group counseling, collaborators on IEP, 504, SAP and other such teams, crisis managers, and liaisons between families and community services, among other roles. Secondary school counselors often serve as career and college planners, individual and small group counselors, testing coordinators, crisis interventionists, and more. We aim to follow the ASCA National Standards, and realistically, that may look very different depending upon setting. For example, a school counselor working in an urban, emotional support program may spend the majority of his or her day focusing on crisis management, where a school counselor in an affluent suburban public school may spend most of his or her time on proactive, classroom counseling.

Though our job descriptions may vary slightly from school to school, the one thing we have in common is that we are, first and foremost, responsible for improving school climate. “Responsible for improving school climate” is not likely listed in our job descriptions, but in my opinion, that is the ultimate goal-- to make sure every student experiences school as a safe, warm, and encouraging environment. Though each student may perceive school climate differently, it is our duty to intervene at the individual, small group, classroom, or school-wide level to remove any social, emotional, and behavioral barriers to learning. Not only are we responsible for improving the school climate, it is our duty to measure and assess school climate. This is why I view my primary role as a school counselor as the “School Climate Meteorologist”.

Historically, principals and teachers have been thought of as being responsible for improving school climate. American School Counselor Association standards have, in recent years, shifted from a reactive “guidance counselor” model to a more proactive “school counselor” focus. Now, with a unique wide lens to the entire school, school counselors are fortunate to have the ability to see the “big picture” and can impact school climate in a big way. School counselors can organize and facilitate school-wide programming that can make the school environment feel safer, such as bully prevention programs, character education assemblies, and school-wide positive behavior support programming. School counselors can also “zoom in” their lenses to focus on counseling individual or small groups of students who may make school climate feel less positive for others. This does not mean that principals and teachers ought to pass the school climate torch to school counselors, it means that school counselors need to, at the very least, be included in the school climate conversations. School climates are best improved when there is a collaborative effort from all stakeholders.

PROACTIVE & REACTIVE SCHOOL CLIMATE COUNSELING

As meteorologists attempt to proactively predict weather based on patterns and analyze data to best prepare people for what’s to come, school counselors aim to anticipate challenging times and provide students with the tools they need to “weather the storms”. One personal example is that based on data from teachers, I anticipated an upcoming standardized testing month to be particularly stressful for students. In preparation for this, I launched a small counseling group for students who suffer from test anxiety. I also co-facilitated a Testing Motivation Team to attempt to keep the climate positive as possible during a strenuous time.

Additional proactive school climate improvement activities that can be run by school counselors include mentor programs, events like Teaching Tolerance’s “Mix it Up at Lunch Day”, and wellness activities for students and staff.

School counselors try to be proactive, but oftentimes we must react to surprising school climate disruptions. As an unexpected rainstorm can disrupt an umbrella-less commuter’s walk, a sudden student-related tragedy can alter the entire school climate, bringing a sudden feeling of fear or sadness over the school community. Schools must be prepared for those school climate-threatening situations in which we must intervene, and school counselors can help. Allow us to develop school crisis plans, connect with families during difficult times, and most importantly—be there for the students who need an empathetic ear and safe place to relax while they process their emotions.

DATA DRIVEN SCHOOL CLIMATE IMPROVEMENT

There are many formal and informal methods to measure school climate, and school counselors are trained researchers. We may use pre/post surveys to gather data, assemble focus groups (comprised of staff and students), or conduct exit interviews at the end of each term or school year. If our school’s positive behavior support program is well documented, behavior slips can indicate positivity of school climate. School counselors can also acquire school climate data by attending grade level meetings, reaching out to parents for feedback, and consistently collaborating with all faculty and staff.

I am proud to be a school counselor, as it allows me to be many things: a teacher, researcher, supporter, motivator, advocate, liaison, and sometimes, a lifeline. This is why it is sometimes difficult to respond when someone asks, “Oh, you’re a school counselor? So what do you do, exactly?” All of our school counseling roles serve to improve school climate to some degree. I am happy to coin “school climate meteorologist” as an umbrella term (no pun intended) to describe our seemingly countless duties, and I will wear the title with pride.

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Carli Segal, M.Phil.Ed. & M.S.Ed., is an elementary school counselor and school climate meteorologist of an inner-suburban public school of Philadelphia. She is the founder of Twitter’s Elementary School Counselor Chat (#escchat) and co-founder of School Based Mental Health Chat (#sbmhchat). Follow her @carlicounsels and join the conversations! Carli can also be reached via email at [email protected].

Research Roundup

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on April 14, 2015

In order to decrease expulsions and suspensions, Chicago public schools are using restorative practices, such as, “Culture of Calm” to solve disciplinary problems. Staff expect students to “talk it out” with another student or adult he/she trusts; both the students and staff who are in charge of “the peace room” are trained in restorative practices.  

 

The term “bullying” is always evolving.  Schools are now widening their policies and enabling school administrators to act on cyber bullying that happens outside school walls. Now leadership can “take action — both in discipline and restorative measures."

 

Black male students aren’t the only ones who are disciplined at a higher rate than their white male counterparts. Female black students are also facing harsher discipline practices.

 

Are girls better readers than boys?  Recent research from Brown University provides three main insights 1) Gaps have always existed and they may now be closing, 2. It’s a global problem, and 3. Enjoyment of reading has nothing to do with it.

Research Roundup

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on January 08, 2015

When Your Kid Is the Bully: What to Do
This article explains two main reasons why children bully and how parents can get involved to acknowledge the behavior, focus on consequences, partner with schools, and build social and emotional skills. https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/when-your-kid-is-the-bully-what-to-do-105895368669.html

 

The overuse of suspension in American public schools threatens the success of all students
New research looks at the consequences from the overuse of suspension as a response to negative behavior. Rather than improving the learning environment for students, suspensions are leading to decline in positive perception of school experiences. This article expands on how suspension should be used as a last resort and not as a primary source of punishment.

2014: Year in Review & What's Coming in 2015
School climate topics from increased mental health funding to bully prevention policies sparked your interest in 2014. In this e-blast we revisit just a few news items from around the nation as well as what's coming in 2015 for NSCC in this year-in-review recap. 

 

Did You Know 1 in 10 Students Drop Out or Change Schools due to Bullying?

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on August 31, 2011

For many of us the first day of school is right around the corner. Students and educators across the country are gearing up for another year and this year the issue of bullying and cyber-bullying is not only on the student’s minds but educators as well. This year, 160,000 students will skip school each day in fear of getting bullied.  With these numbers as high as they are, it's not a big surprise that academic achievement is an increasing challenge in most schools. If you want take part in making a change in your schools academic achievement and pinpointing where exactly this begins, then you can't miss the first National Conference on School Engagement.

 

National Center for School Engagement Presents:  The National Conference on School Success
Date: October 26-28, 2011

Location: Denver, Colorado 

 With regestration all conference participants will be given  one year free membership  to the  School Climate Resource Center –Operated by the National School Climate Center

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Support the Safe Schools Improvement Act in honor of Carl Walker Hoover

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on April 06, 2010

Carl Walker Hoover

One year ago today, Carl Walker Hoover took his own precious life only 11 days before his 12th birthday after being bullied incessantly with anti-gay taunts. Since his tragic death, Carl's mother has been a tireless advocate for greater awareness of this rampant harassment in our nation's schools and has pushed for stronger anti-bullying legislation.  You can help by signing GLSEN's petition in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262), which will require schools receiving federal funding to enact policies to prohibit bullying and harassment, and provide them with resources to prevent and respond to incidents when they occur.

This past January, the country was shocked by the brutal bullying of 15-year-old freshman Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide after months of harassment. Today, three of the nine students who face charges connected to the case were arraigned in court, entering not guilty pleas. As the community looks to make sense of this tragedy, one truth is abundantly clear: our children need better supports to put an end to this toxic abuse when it occurs and prevent future bullying from taking place.  The Safe Schools Improvement Act will help ensure that policies and practices are in place to keep our children safe.

Effective, school-wide, sustained programs are the next critical piece. If you are in need of bully prevention supports as a student, educator, or parent, please visit BullyBust today to access free resources, join a nationwide community of educators in the Partner School Program, and sign the STAND UP pledge to show your commitment. You can also sign up for our newsletter to receive concrete supports on bully prevention, student engagement, and creating positive school climates.

Spread the word, and check the status of bully prevention legislation in your state. Together, we can put an end to bullying.

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