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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].

Summer Learning Promotes Success for Social and Emotional Learning Leader

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on May 23, 2013

By Judith Nuss, CASEL Consultant, Collaborating Districts Initiative in Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Austin Independent School District

I have participated in the National School Climate (NSCC) Summer Institute several times. Each time I come away rejuvenated, educated, and inspired with enhanced skills and knowledge to activate positive change in our schools for teachers, students and parents. Probably my most memorable institute experience was my first one in the summer of 2006. At the time, I had just completed my rookie year as Director of Social and Emotional Learning in a distressed urban public school district in a state capital city. I went to the Summer Institute as a true and eager learner – wanting to know all the research and the best practices for promoting social and emotional learning.

That was the summer I first met Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a most personable professor and researcher - down to earth, advanced in social and emotional competence, and always with an appreciative voice that could sooth a raging bull. To date, Jon remains a valued mentor and colleague. I always value effective leadership.

I also first met Mary Utne O’Brien, then Executive Director of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.) After being mesmerized by Mary’s keynote message, I participated in a small break-out session she facilitated. In addition to meeting the learning needs of this session’s group, Mary warmly counseled me, responded enthusiastically and knowledgably to my questions, and greatly inspired me to strenuously climb the uphill challenge I was leading in my district – that of promoting district-wide and explicit social and emotional learning for all K-12 students.

[Read more…]

What I Learned during My Week at the Summer Institute and Why I’m Coming Back

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on May 17, 2013

By Shawn Healy, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation

A positive school climate is essential to a school living its civic mission. I’m admittedly a novice when it comes to school climate, but when I arrived in New York last July to attend the National School Climate Institute’s 2012 Summer Institute, I knew this much, and believed it deeply in my heart.

My expertise lies in civic education and engagement. I taught high school social studies for six years, am a PhD candidate in the field of political socialization, and chair the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, which advocates for school-based civic learning opportunities across the formal curriculum, in extracurricular activities, and through day-to-day school governance.

My combined experiences in the classroom, as an academic, and as an advocate, taught me that a challenging curriculum incorporating proven civic learning practices is alone insufficient in preparing young people for their roles in our representative democracy. Principals must be a driving force for a school’s civic mission, with specific attention to staff development, from hiring to evaluation to professional development. Schools must also build reciprocal relationships with the surrounding community, where both are resources for one another.

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5 Take Home Lessons for Cultivating Connection in Schools

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on December 07, 2009

(Thanks in advance to Janis Whitlock for contributing this article to the latest issue of School Climate Matters. Janis Whitlock is a Research Scientist in the Family Life Development Center and a Lecturer in the Department of Human Development. To learn more about Janis's work, click here.)

When I set out to study the conditions in schools most likely to foster thriving in adolescents, I expected to simply document what most of us already know — that individual relationships with adults are central.  What I gained, however, was a much more complex understanding of the importance and influence of student engagement. In order for students to thrive, they do need meaningful relationships with adults, but they also need much more than that.
After sifting through decades of research in this area, I found these 5 critical take home lessons for all educators, parents or student leaders focused on cultivating engagement and positive connection to school life:

  1. Far more happens at school than academic development. The halls and classrooms of every school provide developmental spaces in which young people try out social identities and relationships that form the basis for adulthood. These developmental spaces also provide information to youth about their individual and collective value in the world and contribute mightily to academic achievement and social health.  The foundation of healthy development, brain and cognitive research tells us, is the development of trust, connection, and agency in daily life, and a child without these tools with struggle to accomplish the cognitive tasks so highly prized in today's culture.
  2. Living fully today is as important as preparing for tomorrow. Like the adults who so diligently prepare them for it, youth long for the future.  To most fully realize their potential, however, they must also acquire the skills needed to be fully where they are in each moment. They need time, space and support to forge a positive and cohesive identity, and to balance this with the immense pressures to perform and plan. Indeed, the ability to live each moment fully and with gratitude is the foundation of a successful life.
  3. Individual connection with adults at school makes a significant and lasting impact. Like family, school is a place in which the tensions between childhood and adulthood are played out.  Heightened adolescent need for visibility and recognition means that adult actions assume great significance.  Something as small as an adult noticing a change in a young person’s hairstyle, clothing, or demeanor communicates respect and attention.  These things are particularly important in large schools where many students may go unnoticed by adults for long periods.  

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Guest Expert: The Power of Your Story

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on December 02, 2009

(Thanks in advance to Jay Goldman, guest blogging for us below. As an organization dedicated to improving the school community, we take great pride in sharing the supports of colleagues in the field who make a particularly powerful contribution to the cause.  Jay Goldman, a professional Youth Speaker and founder of the Never Quit Program is one such individual, who inspires students everywhere to become their best selves by sharing his own message of volunteerism, passion, and hope.  Read his story below and visit his website to learn more about how Jay can help your students find their voice.)

I first shared my story nearly ten years ago in a small support group at my high school. I spoke to underclassmen about the negative decisions I had made as a teenager, which led me to be hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, depression, and a suicide attempt on my sixteenth birthday. Surprisingly, I felt a strange sense of relief after sharing what I had gone through with the group. Because of this, I then started speaking for non-profit organizations and began sharing my story with other local youth and support groups. I am proud to say that I have now shared my story with tens of thousands of students and have been professionally speaking to youth audiences for the past five years.

It’s important for us to realize that we all have a story inside to share. For me, it’s a story of childhood disappointment, violence, disability, and a broken home. However, it’s also a story of perseverance, courage, hope, and compassion. I went from a kid who was held back in first grade for developmental issues, placed into a special education math and reading program, and attempting suicide at age sixteen, to speaking at The White House, volunteering with charities around the world, and receiving an award from The President of The United States at age twenty-five.  

When schools invite me to speak to their students, I share real life stories of the events that I have witnessed and the decisions that I have made which have helped me become the person I am today. I leave the young people with whom I speak an understanding that the decisions they make will dictate the life they lead.  I strongly state that not fighting for a dream is something they can regret for the rest of their life, and that living from their heart with love, compassion, and understanding will help them become the most fulfilled and successful people in the world.  Most importantly, I leave them with confidence and a belief that it takes just one person to make a difference.

[Read more…]

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