Check out the nomination here: http://app.lifechangeroftheyear.com/nomination_detail.cfm?NominationID=6319
Dr. Truax is a true leader at the district, state, and national levels. As a former master counselor for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Dr. Truax helps vet district initiatives, facilitates presentations, and serves as a mentor for school counselors. She has since become the executive director for CPS, leading all work for school counseling in the district. She has led city-wide “RAMP camps” for school counselors who want to learn how to complete the RAMP application. Dr. Truax has earned RAMP three times and most recently earned a RAMP School of Distinction award from the American School Counselor Association.
At her school, Dr. Truax assisted the school with earning an “exemplary" Safe and Supportive School Badge from the Chicago Public Schools. This means that a comprehensive social-emotional learning plan is in place at her school, including strategic planning, social-emotional core curriculum, a menu of options for small group and individual supports, a behavioral health team, and community partnerships.
Dr. Truax advocated for her school, which serves pregnant and parenting teens, to establish a Career and Technical Education course and a Dual Credit Course. She coordinates all school-wide events for parents and students at Simpson Academy and serves as a lead on multiple initiatives throughout the school.
At the state and national level, Dr. Truax also uses her collaborative talents. She serves on the board for the Illinois School Counselor Association as the vice-president counselor educator. She regularly earns one of the highest ratings for her presentations at the ISCA state conferences year after year. Dr. Truax has also facilitated presentations for ISCA in the fall on the new 4th edition of the ASCA model. Additionally, she serves as a lead RAMP reviewer for the ASCA and regularly presents on behalf of ASCA at the annual conferences.
Dr. Truax also serves as a counselor educator at Roosevelt University. She won the Dr. Toni Tollerud School Counselor Educator of the Year award from ISCA for the amazing work that she has done at Roosevelt University to build and improve their school counseling graduate program.
Her knowledge and expertise never goes unnoticed in any platform in which she serves. Her passion for her students and the school counseling profession is evident in all that she does, from developing stellar programs in her school and seeing huge improvements, to serving at the state and national level through ISCA and ASCA, to serving as a counselor educator. Dr. Truax is wise and truly cares about the well-being of others.
ISCA has been chosen as a grant recipient for the Dr. Toni R. Tollerud School Counseling Grant in the amount of $1,000. This grant will be used to support ISCA's development of a Race and Equity Credential for school counselors. Counselors will participate in a 3 day training to earn the Credential and to become agents of change in their schools to end systemic racist practices in schools. Click here to see the Race & Equity Steering Committee.
Have a great colleague that others need to know about! Someone that is innovative, caring, a magnet for student and staff relations in your school ?Nominate them for an ISCA Award! Click here to access the Nomination Form.
Check out our PAST ISCA AWARD WINNERS. Need more information? Click here.
The ISCA Student Scholarship application is now available. 7 $1,000 scholarships will be awarded to students. Click here to access the application. Deadline for submission is February 12, 2021. Click here to watch a video from ISCA President-Elect Mr. TaRael Kee about the ISCA Scholarship.
Conference Review - By ISCA President-Elect TaRael Kee
Hello everyone, I hope you had a wonderful conference and a Happy Thanksgiving. The ISCA board truly hoped to have an in person conference this year. We really value and enjoy seeing all of our colleagues face to face but the pandemic made that impossible. However, there were some very incredible moments this year despite all of our conference sessions being held online. As a state association, we really grew closer and developed new ways of assessing and meeting the needs of all of our members. Additionally, ISCA gained so much positive momentum coming off of our conference and the disaffiliation vote (officially happening on February 3rd) and we hope to continue moving forward by serving school counselors to the best of our ability.
The ISCA Awards Ceremony was spectacular and held many heartwarming moments. Brian Coleman gave a phenomenal keynote speech and a very touching tribute to our Executive Director (and his mentor) Dr. Vince Walsh-Rock. Our awards ceremony made it apparent that so many counselors are working so hard and accomplishing so much despite the challenges that a pandemic brings. Did you know that in 2020, ASCA awarded nine Illinois schools RAMP designation? Counselors in our state are incredible and build phenomenal relationships with students. Hundreds of students wrote extraordinary essays about their circumstances and the impact their school counselors had on their lives. We highlighted counselor-student bonds at our conference by recognizing ISCA’s seven regional scholarship winners.
ISCA truly values recognizing the amazing effort of school counselors throughout the state of Illinois. During the award ceremony attendees heard personal and very touching speeches about past presidents Leslie Goines and Dr. Matt Liberatorre. The ceremony continued to progress after those heart warming presentations by honoring the 2020 ISCA Award Winners. Ultimately, the night culminated with Dr. Heidi Truax winning the Illinois School Counselor of the Year Award. Our awards ceremony was amazing and served as a snapshot of all of the success that Illinois school counselors had throughout the 2019-2020 school year.
This year, we had 376 school counselors from all over Illinois register for the ISCA Conference! Our attendees participated in 1525 professional development sessions! Even more meaningful is that our members felt like the training was impactful and our presenters received excellent reviews! The topics this year ranged from developing mentorship programs to motivating challenging students. Here is a comprehensive list of all of our breakout sessions. If you are interested in watching additional sessions they are still available until December 31st. All you have to do is log into the conference portal to continue learning! Also, if you missed the conference but are still interested in our professional development videos it is not too late! All you have to do is click HERE to register and enjoy quality professional development! The ISCA Board hopes to continue to provide our members with relevant training. Please help us by completing our brief Needs Assessment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyday life in Illinois and across the nation. There is great uncertainty about the depth and duration of the disruption that the pandemic has caused. We know that public servants throughout the state are spending every waking moment responding to the immediate, public health crisis. One way the IGPA can help is by providing them with evidence-based, objective information as they face the difficult choices ahead.
At the request of U of I System President Tim Killeen, IGPA assembled more than four dozen interdisciplinary faculty experts from all three System universities to assess COVID-19’s effects on the state. Each group is collaborating on a series of economic modeling activities, data analyses and syntheses of impact.
Members of the task force stand ready to help consult with state and local officials and provide any information they can to assist. A link to the task force roster is on the left side of this page. This page is updated frequently as the task force continues its work.
For more information, contact: IGPA Director Robin Fretwell Wilson at email@example.com.
This Policy Spotlight examines the impact the pandemic has had on teachers and school administrators in our state.
An Unfolding Crisis in the Satisfaction and Supply of Teachers in Illinois
The ISCA disaffiliation vote from the Illinois Counseling Association (ICA) passed 78% to 22%. On November 12, the ICA Governing Council accepted the voting results and ICA will release the name Illinois School Counselor Association (ISCA). The disaffiliation will take place on February 1st, 2021. This is an exciting time for ISCA and one that will reap many benefits for ISCA members. During the next couple of months, ISCA leadership will revising by-laws, fee structures, and strategic planning. This is a great time to get involved with ISCA! Reach out to any ISCA Board member to get involved.
In America, educators have embraced the long standing practice of valuing mainstream traditional western concepts like individualism over collectivism and community-centered planning. However, America is a country filled with a wealth of ethnicities, cultures, subcultures, belief systems and ideas. Many minority cultures in America practice traditions that have long benefited the people in their communities and with whom they share similar backgrounds. As individuals, we must acknowledge that the solutions which worked on our journey to become school counselors may not work best for or be culturally relevant to all students. We must consistently make efforts to become more aware of blindspots in our professional approaches and value the lived experiences of people from other economic and sociocultural backgrounds.
While the cost of postsecondary institutions are becoming increasingly more expensive and student aid largely is not adjusting to the inflating price of college, many minority households in America remain below the poverty line. The fears and barriers to success for these families are real and deserve deep consideration when presented. When counselors inject their own socioeconomic experiences into the future plans of these families while overlooking their lived experiences, they appear dismissive. Instead, counselors should strive to find practical solutions that benefit the family that they are assisting by listening and becoming more culturally aware. Such cultural awareness will increase counselors ability to present more relevant opportunities.
Beyond financial barriers, barriers in representation may create anxiety for students. For example, counselors who work in high need districts are often giving first generation families information about career fields in which they do not personally have relationships with successful people or institutions that they have never experienced. These students need more representation in career pathways to envision their own success and a stronger belief that they can succeed at the aforementioned postsecondary institutions. For these students and their families, their lived experience is one in which school counselors are asking them to have faith in systems that have not historically benefited them or people that look like them.
Collectivism vs Individuality
An overemphasis on individuality creates a massive cultural blindspot for many Americans. It is totally understandable to push people to do the best they can for themselves. However, some cultures care more about their community as a whole and continue to find success over the years through these practices and mindsets. There is also comfort and safety in collectivity when you are a member of a minority population in America. Culturally competent professional school counselors should value the entire child, their culture, community, and the lived experiences that they bring forth.
In America, people strongly believe individualism and push students to fulfill their dreams even if their family disagrees. The American career seeking mindset is typically about being happy with your own life. Students are told that happiness is just as important as financial success. There is a lot of merit to this position because career satisfaction is important but so is purpose. Studies have shown that people who choose careers for happiness but do not feel a sense of purpose do not remain in their careers (Brooks, 2020). If community is a part of the students purpose the counselor must honor that in order to give sound advice.
Additionally, people from other cultures and marginalized backgrounds in America typically employ some form of collectivism. In some cases, there are many families that are struggling to pay bills to make ends meet or maybe live in multigenerational households to make due. These families tend to need their children to work in order to provide shelter. Delayed gratification is often not a motivating factor for them because survival is more important. This type of student may decline to move away for college because their family needs the additional support. Many low income families also push their children towards careers that are practical and can uplift the entire family over more abstract student-centered pathways. There are families that are just beginning to build wealth and financial stability together and may not have the luxury of impractical majors because their family is depending on them.
Immigrant populations sometimes find strength in moving to areas where people from their cultures already live. Sometimes they open stores, markets, and other businesses that serve the needs of their families and communities. A lot of immigrants work together to overcome cultural and language barriers. Some parents may not want to send their child far away from their community because of these factors. Other families may want their child to work in their family business because they want to build wealth for the next generation. The students' sacrifice here provides value to the collective and may add purpose to their work.
Families also have concerns about coronavirus, deportation, police brutality and more. We are currently living in a very stressful time and marginalized groups are typically disproportionately impacted when times are hard. Poor people often have fewer resources and many minority populations suffer from unequal access to quality healthcare. So, parents may be leery of sending their child far away. Families are also being separated right now due to their citizenship status. Unarmed black and brown people are being murdered on camera and these videos are being disseminated on social media platforms. Additionally, some young adults are also very immature and make irrational decisions on college campuses that can jeopardize their safety. There is so much going on right now and parents are understandably afraid.
Covid-19 disproportionately impacts minority communities largely because of factors like unequal access to healthcare, obesity, cardiovascular health, being under insured, and more. Parents may be leery of sending their child, who may not be the most responsible, away to school because of these factors. Minorities also have a long and complicated history with the American medical system. Recent studies show that there are major disparities in treatments and outcomes amongst the demographic groups that lead to costly emergency room visits and subpar health outcomes (Oguz, 2020). Some parents are concerned about sending their children to navigate a pandemic and the health care system alone.
Parents from immigrant backgrounds may fear deportation or family separation due to their immigration status. Some families may feel that completing the FAFSA and other college related forms could expose their family to unnecessary harm. Many of the previous protections that immigrant families have are being rescinded. Parents are rightfully afraid and may be apprehensive about giving the federal government access to their names and addresses. Ideological backgrounds aside, it is human to care about the safety of your family members especially your children.
Parents are also afraid of police brutality in addition to fears of the coronavirus and deportation. College students sometimes make very irrational decisions. Many parents may worry that their child may not receive the benefit of a doubt if they have a police encounter. No parent wants to receive a call in the middle of the night about the safety and well-being of their child while they are far away. Parents want to be there for their child whenever they are in need even if they made a mistake.
College Expenses Rise, Financial Aid Doesn’t
One of the most difficult conversations that I have witnessed as an educator was a parent having to tell their child they could not afford to send them to their dream school. When money is an obstacle, parents will do almost anything to help their child including applying for Parent Plus Loans and private loans. While some families may succeed in financing a child’s education, there are many others who do not have those options due to issues with their credit score or immigration status. These legitimate fears may cause angst about high cost postsecondary recommendations.
The price of college is ever increasing and parents do not want to tell their children that they cannot afford to support them in attending school. So many students struggle to find aid to attend four year institutions especially when they need to live on campus. Most institutions in-state and out of state cost more to attend than the maximum amount of federal aid that a freshman can receive. College costs continue to surpass the inflation rate while financial aid has largely remained stagnant (Houle, 2014). Students who do not receive a significant amount of money in scholarships often end up spending exorbitant amounts of money on college attendance. Like anything else, rising college costs disproportionately impacts marginalized communities that do not have the resources to afford the increased price. In addition to rising costs, undocumented families cannot receive federal aid. I have seen some of the most intelligent and talented children (documented or undocumented) struggle to find funding to attend college.
Many families have negative or no experience at all when it comes to postsecondary education. There are so many first generation families that do not know anyone that has gone to college and honestly do not know anything about the college application process. Additionally, others have not had positive experiences with education in general and may have doubts about their (or their child’s) ability to navigate through the admissions process and ultimately become a first generation college graduate. It is difficult for some parents to seek help from educators when they have not had positive educational experiences.
There are many parents in America that didn’t finish high school. For those who were labeled “problem students” or feel like they did not receive the help that they needed to be successful , their apprehension toward school counselors and educators presents a unique but not uncommon roadblock. These parents may not be as quick to reach out to the school and ask for help. As such, it is imperative school counselors build relationships with parents and students in order to better support educational goals.. Faith in education may require time and patience to develop. We are essentially asking many parents to have faith in an educational system they believe failed them under the auspices that the same system will better serve their children. Parental involvement in the college process means school counselors working to overcome past negative experiences and adding an additional layer of perspective from the lens of those who have seen these processes work for the betterment of individuals and communities.
While navigating the admissions process, students and parents must proactively seek help from counselors, admissions representatives, and financial aid advisors. There are so many components to the college admissions process. Assistance is needed with everything from school and major selection, test preparation, financial aid, applying for scholarships, dorm room deposits, and reading financial aid award letters. In addition to those activities, there is often a lot of correspondence that’s difficult to understand, interpret, and follow through. As counselors, we know the magnitude of work involved in every step. We also know that each step might be met with or burdened by significant barriers for families. For perspective, this process is made significantly harder when parents do not speak English. It is easy to become overwhelmed when applicants are unfamiliar with the process.
Becoming More Culturally Competent
The road to cultural competency is never ending because there are so many cultures and subcultures around our country and the world. The first step in becoming more culturally competent is discovering for yourself why it is important for you to learn more. Grow with a sense of purpose. If you are culturally different from the community that you serve, seek understanding by talking directly and listening even more to people to understand their fears and concerns.
Next, seek additional training and resources whenever possible. Attending professional development and obtaining cultural competency credentials are excellent ways to grow. Many state and local school counseling associations are beginning to build these resources in an effort to enhance the cultural competency of their members. ASCA has a Cultural Competency Specialist Credential available. On the credential page, there are a bevy of helpful books, articles, webinars, and videos. In addition to this credential, ASCA has a Race and Equity Resource page that provides a lot of resources. Teaching Tolerance also provides articles and email updates that are incredible for building cultural competence. Finally, Beyond Diversity has a highly recommended cultural competency training program called Courageous Conversations about Race.
If you are interested in working with educators in your community try joining or starting book studies within your district or community. This is an amazing way to obtain knowledge and grow with your colleagues. Many districts are beginning to utilize this as a way to build community and improve the knowledge base of the staff. Many schools also have student clubs like minority based student unions and Gay Straight Alliances. Get involved with the subgroups in your school! There are so many avenues to grow cultural competency and the road is never ending so enjoy the ride.
Brooks, A. (2020, June 09). 4 Rules for Identifying Your Life's Work. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/05/how-choose-fulfilling-career/611920/
Houle, J. N. (2014). Disparities in Debt: Parents’ Socioeconomic Resources and Young Adult Student Loan Debt. Sociology of Education, 87(1), 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038040713512213
Jachimowicz, J., To, C., Menges, J., & Akinola, M. (2017, December 7). Igniting Passion from Within: How Lay Beliefs Guide the Pursuit of Work Passion and Influence Turnover. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/qj6y9
Oguz, T. (2019). Update on Racial Disparities in Access to Healthcare: An Application of Nonlinear Decomposition Techniques*. Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), 100(1), 60–75. https://doi.org/10.1111/ssqu.12551
Every year, the American School Counselor Association selects one school counselor to be awarded with the title of “School Counselor of the Year”. School counselors of the year are selected based on their ability to create systemic change within the profession through significant leadership, collaboration and advocacy. I had the great honor of being selected as the American School Counselor of the Year in 2018.
My story becoming the American School Counselor of the Year begins at Lawndale Elementary Community Academy located on the westside of Chicago in the North Lawndale neighborhood. To give some context, this is the same neighborhood that Martin Luther King Jr. came to live in during the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Chicago to bring attention to poor housing conditions for black residents. After his assassination and the riots that occurred after his death, the neighborhood lost a significant amount of job opportunities. Over time, there was an increase in violent crime, homicide rates, substance abuse and other such factors. (Seligman, A. (2005) Encyclopedia of Chicago: North Lawndale. Retrieved fromhttp://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/901.html)
Factors such as these, lack of adequate school funding and high staff turnover rates all had an impact on the school community at Lawndale Community Academy. When I came to the school in 2015, the school was rated as one of the lowest performing schools in the city. The school served roughly 300 students in grades PK-8 that were 97% black and 96% of families reported as low-income. Though I knew that this work would not be easy, one thing that I held true is that relationships and data-informed practices are fundamental to creating change.
My School Counseling Program:
When developing a school counseling program, it is important to begin with a review of school data (American School Counselor Association, 2019). To help guide my selection of key data points, I used studies conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. In the report titled, “Looking Forward to High School and College: Middle Grade Indicators of Readiness in Chicago Public Schools” there is a key finding that middle school student data can be used to create early indicator systems for high school graduation and post-secondary readiness (Allensworth, E., Gwynne, J., Moore, P., and de la Torre, M. 2014). In particular, this study showed that grades and attendance during freshman year of high school are the greatest predictors for high school graduation. In response to these studies, Chicago Public Schools created metric systems for monitoring student grades and attendance so that we can identify students that are “on-track or off-track” for high school graduation beginning as early as third grade. As part of my school counseling program, I targeted two metrics based off of this research: student attendance and students “on-track” (a combination metric for grades and attendance).
Another data metric that I targeted was also grounded in research by the University of Chicago: Urban Education Institute. UChicago Impact created a survey that assesses school culture and climate in 5 key areas: Effective Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, Involved Families, Supportive Environment, and Ambitious Instruction (UChicago Impact. Retrieved from https://uchicagoimpact.org/our-offerings/5essentials). Researchers found that schools that are strong on at least three of the five essentials were 10 times more likely to show substantial gains in student learning over time than schools weak on three or more of the five essentials. As part of my school counseling program, I targeted the “Involved Families” indicator on this report.
Once I had determined the outcome goals for my school counseling program, I next determined the interventions that I would implement. To target student attendance, I used the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Model (McIntosh, K. and Goodman, S. 2016). Within this model, we provided tiered interventions for all students, small groups of students and for individual students based on their level of need. In addition, we worked as teams to review student data, identify data trends, determine potential root causes and select interventions. The Tier 1 practices that I implemented to target student attendance were: school-wide incentive events, assemblies and field trips. The Tier 2 practices that I implemented were individualized check-ins for students, small group goal setting sessions and daily phone calls. The Tier 3 practices that I implemented involved individual parent-student meetings and attendance contracts. I also fundraised over $75,000 for new computers, furniture and incentives to help the school look and feel more welcoming.
In addition, to support student attendance, I implemented a number of social and emotional learning interventions. Studies have shown that students that develop positive social and emotional skills, also improve their attachment and attitude towards school (Kendziora, K. and Yoder, N. 2016). The interventions that I implemented to support social and emotional skill development were done in collaboration with a number of community partnerships that I had brought into the school. I assigned community partners to support students at each grade level. At the Tier 1 level, we taught classes on healthy relationships and community violence. At the Tier 2 level, we facilitated small group counseling or provided mentoring services to students that needed additional support. At the Tier 3 level, we facilitated individual counseling or consultation sessions to support the needs of students with the highest level of social and emotional needs. Also, to improve engagement in the school, I developed a number of after school programs including running, basketball and dance.
When targeting the “on-track” metric, I particularly focused on middle school students using college and career readiness interventions. In the report titled “The Forgotten Middle”, it was noted that only 2 out of 10 eighth-grade students are on-track to take courses in high school that will prepare them for college (ACT, Inc., 2008). In Chicago Public Schools, middle students apply for high schools through an application process called GoCPS (gocps.edu). There are many high schools with rigorous academic criteria that students must meet in order to be admitted and in addition there are many career specific programs for students to consider. At the Tier 1 level, I hosted monthly college and career exploration events like school fairs, career fairs, campus visits and field trips. I also provided classroom instruction using Naviance (naviance.com): students set goals, explored careers and postsecondary interests using this online tool. I also hosted school-wide events like college-career week and school PEP rallies. At the Tier 2-3 level, I provided small group and/or individual consultation to students regarding grades, test scores, career interests and high school application processes.
To target the 5 essentials “Involved Families”, I implemented a number of interventions. As an elected official for our school’s Local School Council (a governing board responsible for advising and evaluating the school principal, school budget and improvement plans), I was able to be directly involved with the strategic planning for the school. To support parents in becoming more engaged in the school, I hosted monthly family fun nights like dances and literacy nights. I would also host weekly parent workshops to learn about community resources. I hosted quarterly parent meetings by grade-level to learn about their children’s progress in school. I sent home monthly calendars with important information.
After 3 years of implementing these interventions, we began to see systemic change happen within the school. Student attendance increased by almost 4%. Chronic absenteeism decreased by 61%. The percentage of students on track in middle school nearly doubled, improving from 17% to 46%. The percentage of “Involved Families” improved from “Very Weak” to “Neutral”. The overall rank of the school improved from the lowest level of performance in Chicago Public Schools, Level 3, to a Level 2.
Beyond the school, I also worked to advocate and support the school counseling profession district-wide in Chicago. I served the district as a “Master Counselor” for five years. This is a group of school counselors responsible for presenting best-practices throughout the district, vetting district initiatives and serving as a mentor to new school counselors. I also served on a number of committees to support postsecondary readiness throughout the district and wrote a companion curriculum for middle school Naviance tasks. In addition, I served as a site-supervisor for five school counseling interns throughout my career.
The American School Counselor of the Year Award Process:
Every year, the American School Counselor Association selects one school counselor to be awarded with the title of “School Counselor of the Year”. The process of selection begins with each state-level school counseling association. Each state-level school counseling association determines their own selection process for school counselor of the year and submits the winner for their state to the American School Counselor Association. The winners from each state need to submit a resume, three letters of recommendation and a 5-minute video describing their school counseling program. The application also asks for school counselor nominees answer the following questions:
Give examples of ways you have advocated for the profession throughout your career.
What were two or three of your school counseling program goals last year, and how did you address them? Use data to show your progress in meeting these goals.
Give an example of a particularly effective collaborative effort you spearheaded with a stakeholder population (administrators, faculty, parents and/or the community).
What types of professional development opportunities have you participated in throughout your career, and how was this contributed to your continual learning?
How does your comprehensive school counseling program use advocacy, leadership, systemic change and collaboration to make a difference for students?
Once nominees have submitted their application, a review committee ranks and scores each application, then meets as a group to determine 4-6 school counselors of the year finalists. These finalists are then flown out to Washington D.C. for in-person interviews. The selection committee then votes to determine the individual that will serve as the “School Counselor of the Year”. School counselors of the year are selected based on their ability to create systemic change within the profession through significant leadership, collaboration and advocacy. (American School Counselor Association. Retrieved from: https://www.schoolcounselor.org).
All school counselor of the year nominees, finalists and award winners are flown out to Washington D.C. for an annual school counselor of the year gala and a series of professional advocacy events at the nation’s capitol. During the year that I won, I had the great honor of having my award presented by former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama continues to be an advocate for school counselors as part of her REACH Higher Initiative and Better Make Room Campaign (https://www.bettermakeroom.org/our-team/). Her mission is to increase the number of students nation-wide attending college, a 2-year institution or completing a professional training program past high school. Mrs. Obama recognizes that school counselors provide critical support to get this work done.
Reflections on Becoming the School Counselor of the Year:
The opportunities that have come my way following this experience are too numerous to mention. I have transitioned to now work in the district office for Chicago Public Schools, I serve as the President-Elect of our Illinois School Counselor Association and teach as an adjunct instructor at my alma mater DePaul University. I have written articles, facilitated presentations and keynotes, participated in blogs and podcasts all over the nation.
One thing is certain, I have a voice that can be heard in a way that it wasn’t before. So I have to really think about what my message is. And for me, it is all about relationships and community. This work cannot be done alone and change cannot be created single handedly. As a school counselor, I value the central themes of leadership, collaboration, advocacy and systemic change (American School Counselor Association, 2019). I never worked alone and never created change alone. Collaboration is key to create systemic change.
Because school counselors are some of the only school professionals who have access to a wide-variety of information regarding students, they can often be the missing link that helps propel students forward to future success. Though I know school counseling can look different in different countries around the world. School counselors are in a critically important position to help students break down barriers and gain access to college and career options; help students learn skills to successfully navigate social situations and build resiliency; as well as to help students form a strong academic profile.
For me, I aim to shine a light on the profession of school counseling and the work that school counselors do everyday that may not ever be recognized. There is so much good work happening out there. There are people that have created change beyond what I ever have. And, there are people out there doing this work for much longer than I ever have.
This award is never about the winner, it is always about shining a light on the profession and the impact that school counselors have on children all over the world. In the words of Michelle Obama, “[School counselors] have the power to show [our kids] that no matter how alone or afraid they might feel, they are seen, and they are loved.” (Obama, M. (2018) Retrieved from: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/SCOY/TRANSCRIPT-MO-2018.pdf)
ACT (2008). “The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring that All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness before High School”. Act, Inc.
The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs, Fourth Edition. (2019). Alexandria, VA: Author.
Elaine M. Allensworth, Julia A. Gwynne, Paul Moore, and Marisa de la Torre (2014). “Looking Forward to High School and College: Middle Grade Indicators of Readiness in Chicago Public Schools”. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.
Kent McIntosh and Steve Goodman. (2016) Integrated Multi-Tiered Systems of Support: Blending RtI and PBIS. Kent McIntosh and Steve Goodman. The Guilford Press.
Kimberly Kendziora and Nick Yoder (2016). When Districts Support and Integrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Findings From an Ongoing Evaluation of District Wide Implementation of SEL. American Institutes for Research.
Obama, Michelle (2018). Transcript: Michelle Obama Remarks at American School Counselor Association's 2018 School Counselor of the Year Award.
Seligman, Amanda. (2005) Encyclopedia of Chicago: North Lawndale. Site: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/901.html
UChicago Impact: The 5 Essentials System. Website: https://uchicagoimpact.org/our-offerings/5essentials
Author - Lisa De Gregorio
With the onset of COVID-19, the world has never experienced a school shutdown on such a scale. Most predictions indicate we’re in it for the long haul – anywhere from the next 12-18 months – until greater testing and a vaccine are available. As a former school counselor who now provides professional learning and consultation services nationally, I understand the legitimacy and identity issues that school counselors may face, especially in the midst of this crisis, where so much focus has been on the role of teachers in a new virtual learning world. By recession-proofing school counseling programs now, school counselors can secure their job relevance later.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), students are out of school nationwide in 177 countries, representing over 72% of the world’s student population. Edweek also reported that as of May 2, 2020, 45 states, four U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year. This impacts approximately 47.9 million public school students.
The efforts of educators across the country to navigate and make rapid transformations in response to this global crisis has been nothing short of extraordinary. In addition to a total revamp of operations, schools have also been providing “grab and go” meals, electronic devices, and/or instructional packets to millions of students and families. With much persistence and grace – even as fellow staff, volunteers and parents have contracted COVID-19 – educators have been shifting to online learning at most schools and working hard to adapt to this new normal.
For school counselors, this means delivering curriculum and other program activities in more creative ways. This is an incredible opportunity for school counselors to not just adapt, but go even further by reimagining what their role is in a remote learning world and what it could become in the long term.
The past few years have seen improved ratios and more earnest commitments from states and school districts to solidify the appropriate role of the school counselor. Yet with schools now bracing for a recession that will be exacerbated by a number of additional factors, school counselors could be facing uncertainty when painful decisions on budget and staffing need to be made.
John Fensterwald, editor at large of EdSource, recently published, “The coming storm: big budget cuts, rising costs for California schools,” stating, “Unlike the Great Recession, the pandemic has imposed unprecedented expenses, from food to computer purchases. A return to school could compound staffing needs and add to expenses. Addressing learning deficits and issues of trauma will demand more counseling, after school programs or perhaps an extended year, adding cost pressures for districts looking to cut costs.”
In order for school counseling programs to continue to thrive during this crisis, school counselors have to predict, prepare, and innovate.
Our students deserve access to comprehensive school counseling programs that promote success and achievement for all through imperative social/emotional, academic development and post-secondary support. When implementing such programs, now is an especially important time to find opportunities for growth – both big and small – and make the most of them.
Although the world has never seen a crisis quite like this, the fallout from the “Great Recession” of 2008-2009 offers much insight regarding what might be expected in our school system. Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat’s national education policy and research reporter, provides key takeaways from research by the University of Washington and others in his outline of “12 Ways the Last Recession Changed America’s Schools — And What That Means for the Years Ahead.” These include:
The Great Recession resulted in lasting damage to school budgets. Even years after the initial downturn, the three states with the largest cuts – Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina – were still spending 20% less than they had been before.
Ultimately about 4% of the education workforce (approximately 300,000 school employees) lost their jobs. States that relied more heavily on state taxes to fund schools were hit harder than those which relied on local tax revenue to fund schools.
The last recession sparked a major debate about how to determine which educators got laid off, though years of service was often a key factor since novice teachers are usually paid less.
Greater stress and job uncertainty likely prompted a drop-in morale and a decline in job performance.
Private school enrollment declined, resulting in the loss of tuition dollars and public schools bearing the cost of educating additional students while budgets were strained.
States made drastic education policy changes and reforms in order to receive federal funding.
Students’ academic performance declined, with home displacement and the amount of school funding being factors. Existing disparities in school districts serving more low-income students and students of color widened.
As we attempt to predict what a return to school might look like, we can turn to measures taken by other countries. The Hatching Results Podcast recently featured two episodes with San Diego native Rachel Pekin, an Upper School Counselor at the Hangzhou International School near Shanghai, China, who offered fascinating insight into what’s ahead. Rachel discussed the transition and protocols enacted as students returned to school in April:
Documenting temperatures of students at checkpoints to assess safety when entering campus;
Maintaining about three feet of distance between students in the classroom;
Providing no group bathroom breaks;
Utilizing plastic dividers between students in the cafeteria; and
Using window ventilation procedures to allow fresh air since heating and cooling systems are not used while students are present.
Within this context, Rachel said she focused on addressing behavioral concerns and supporting her students to meet graduation requirements. She stressed the importance of school counselors having flexibility, self-care to aid your own recovery, and giving yourself permission to have an “empathy hangover.”
Encouragingly, Rachel reported of her students, post-return: “They are doing okay. They are so happy to be back with their friends. They are very resilient.”
Similar planning guidelines for reopening schools are being considered by education leaders in the United States. For instance, the San Diego County Office of Education identified the following as possibilities:
Modified operations where restrictions are lessened in phases, including measures where students and staff are proactively screened for symptoms, all are required to wear face masks, frequent disinfection measures of school property, hand-washing regulations, and physical distancing practices in all settings.
Modified operations with a hybrid model to learning. Think distance learning as a complement to in-person schooling a couple days of the week, or a half-day model to limit the number of students in school and in classrooms at any given time.
Decreased classroom size to allow for physical distancing.
Increased need for mental health supports due to the strain on coping skills, unhealthy home environments, and possible exposure to (or death by) COVID-19 of family, staff, and friends.
Altered school calendar with modified attendance policies.
Altered school day with staggered start times, multiple recess and lunch periods to limit group size, modified bell schedules, and implementation of a block schedule to reduce student movement and cross contamination of classrooms.
Established contingency plans for virtual school events and ceremonies.
Decreased student and staff attendance rates due to parents’ efforts to mitigate exposure as well as a result of fears and rumors.
Content-area deficits as students begin the next academic year.
In his Forbes piece, “What Will It Take for Schools to Reopen?,” Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) stated, “The challenges are daunting. Two shifts of students each day would place an unimaginable strain on school transport, and might well prove unworkable. There would be questions relating to contracts and job descriptions. Districts already struggling with ugly revenue projections and outlays related to virtual learning could face new costs. And, of course, schools would need to ensure that teachers and school staff feel safe ... we also need to be thinking hard about what comes next.”
Educators are already bracing for a vast range in students’ remote learning experiences, social-emotional learning needs, and readiness to learn. While creating an individual learning plan to assess and address these issues can counter this, others like Superintendent Alberto Carvalho of Miami-Dade County Public Schools (the fourth largest district in the country) is rolling out “a massive effort that includes virtual tutors and mentors, an earlier school year start date for its most fragile students, and the continuation of its blended learning program.”
These are extraordinary times, but it doesn’t mean that it’s time to panic! School districts and county agencies are outlining precautions in preparation for recovery as state governors begin to unveil their roadmaps to revitalizing economies. In the just released A Blueprint for Back To School, AEI sketches out a path for addressing the challenges ahead and reopening schools in a manner that is safe and responsive to the needs of families and communities. It outlines six areas of work: school operations, whole child supports, school personnel, academics, distance learning, and other general considerations. Reassuringly, it calls for districts to assess the need to employ more school counselors and other student services personnel, especially in terms of whole child support.
This is a critical time for school counselors to assert themselves as essential members of the educational team. School counselors can work toward recession-proofing their programs by examining what is known about the consequences of past economic recessions and the plans that are being developed.
How? Consider these six key strategies as opportunities for growth:
1. Build Your Knowledge Base and Skill Set. There are always more skills to learn – new tools, new approaches, and new ways for delivering the school counseling program. The top three skills currently needed are technical skills, data proficiency, and supporting the mental health and social-emotional learning needs of others (as well as your own).
Remote work is here to stay, so it's time to embrace it and recognize that the added benefit of these skills will undoubtedly broaden the geographic landscape of job searching in the future. Here are some things you can do:
Gain knowledge in Web 2.0 applications, which offer creative ways to connect with your students digitally and will help modernize the delivery of school counseling lessons.
Create a free YouTube channel to upload videos of all curriculum lessons and get comments from students or set up a free Google Classroom, a relatively simple web-based platform that seamlessly integrates with all G Suite services like Google Docs and Google Forms. Google has compiled a Teach From Home Toolkit as a step-by-step guide, complete with screenshot visuals to help educators teach virtually.
Try Educreations or Explain Everything, interactive digital whiteboards that make virtual collaboration and lesson delivery more engaging, if you are most comfortable with tools like a SMART board and chart paper when delivering instruction.
Explore Padlet and Storybird as tools that might prove helpful in psychoeducational small counseling groups as both offer ways students can visually represent their lives and emotions. Storybird can be a great journaling tool too.
Flipgrid provides an outlet for students to share their stories and interact with one another’s videos (or not to allow for more privacy). The "grids" serve as an icebreaker or message board to facilitate video discussions on questions called "topics" that students respond to in a tiled grid display.
Discover more than 70 ways e-learning can be more fun and effective with DitchThatTextbook.
Check out the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) for helpful online resources for school counselors specific to this time.
It is no longer optional for school counselors to know how to use data in multiple ways – they must be data-proficient. This includes a) ensuring every student receives the required instruction; b) monitoring progress; c) signaling the need for an intervention; d) measuring the impact of instruction and interventions; e) sharing what was learned; and f) improving the school counseling program.
If training on accessing, collecting, and/or analyzing data in the school counseling program is needed, seek out training and answers to the most pressing questions you have now. The Use of Data in School Counseling: Hatching Results for Students, Programs, and the Profession (Hatch, T. 2013) text is a great reference point with practical examples of how a data-driven, comprehensive school counseling program operates. You can even connect with some colleagues to start a book study group that discusses each chapter together or take an online course as self-study.
Social-Emotional Learning & Development
As a result of their world being turned upside down, the loss of their peer and teacher connections, and the loss of special school events like prom and graduation, millions of students are currently experiencing mass social regression in addition to an academic lapse. A priority for school counselors should be increasing their own knowledge and skills to ensure that students have the social-emotional skills and coping strategies required to face any trauma and manage their emotions. School counselors can take advantage of this time to read new books and participate in professional learning to expand their “toolbox” of activities related to growth-mindset, coping with grief and loss, building resiliency, emotional health, trauma-informed care, and mindfulness and meditation techniques.
Make sure to build transferable and soft skills, too. From communication to time management, identify areas to improve and put in an effort to build these skills. Examine productivity levels and professional competencies to identify areas for growth. Then take advantage of the abundance of podcasts, YouTube tutorials, free software for educators, webinars, and free or discounted online learning that are currently available. For instance, #SCCHAT held a special webinar on March 25, 2020, about virtual school counseling, which identified opportunities for professional growth, like free online courses, guides, and more.
2. Be Resourceful. In the face of challenges, how one works through problems, communicates with others, and determines creative solutions when resources aren’t readily available, will draw attention from the supervising administrator. During difficult times, it’s easy to get distracted by excuses and technological mishaps. Instead, think outside the box to make things happen. For instance:
Investigate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and our ASCA Ethical Standards for confidentiality parameters to remain ethical in your service delivery.
Seek technical assistance from someone on staff who is more experienced with video conference platforms or view online tutorials for tips in setting up meetings with students effectively.
Collaborate with teachers to drop in to their classroom meetings and make announcements about the school counseling program. Offer to be the next “Mystery Reader” in their class and select a book or excerpt that would be a good segway to highlighting school counseling support.
Coordinate school-wide events like “Mindfulness Mondays” and “Wellness Wednesdays,” inventive ways to remind students that their school counselor is still available.
Take advantage of twitter feeds and private Facebook groups for school counselors at all levels to exchange ideas, be inspired, and get answers to your top questions.
Turn to family mental health professionals in the community to coordinate a series of virtual presentations and discussion groups to equip parents with strategies to identify their locus of control, manage their own fears, and keep themselves healthy, so they can better care for their children.
Utilize Google Voice as a free U.S. telephone number that will forward calls and messages to a personal phone number. This way parents and students never need to know your real number.
Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) in Indiana is a prime example of inventiveness in that they utilize resources available at local community agencies and communicate school counseling program activities where parents and students are active. EVSC has partnered with PBS to record a combination of K-12 quality lessons taught by teachers, school counselors, and SEL specialists, which are available on YouTube. For instance, school counselors Mr. Allen Woodruff and Ms. Stephanie Smith discussed teamwork and growth mindset, respectively. Through teaming and collaboration, EVSC school counselors have a collective bank of shared lessons that students across the district can benefit from. The district and individual schools actively post upcoming programming with an “On Air” schedule to their Facebook pages, as both enrichment and to support the learning of students and families with limited access to the internet.
3. Stand Out as a Leader. School counselors should reflect on the degree to which they have been involved in the decision-making process at this time and how they can become more involved. In “Planning for Virtual/Distance School Counseling During an Emergency Shutdown,” ASCA calls us to actively participate in a multi-disciplinary team to create virtual learning plans, which outline how the school counseling services can continue and identify equity and access issues of students. Be sure to include clear processes for staff to follow when a student or family needs crisis counseling or follow-up support and offer contact information. Advocate for ways you can best assist the school and district in preparation for potential operational and programmatic changes once reopened. Refer to the ASCA Virtual Elementary School Counseling, Virtual Middle School Counseling, or Virtual High School Counseling toolkits for ideas in developing the various components of the plan.
Likewise, if your teachers’ union has issued an addendum to the contract-- either as an interim agreement or Remote Teaching Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)-- that outlines the working conditions of union members during school closures, be sure that it accounts for the work expectations and specific roles of school counselors as well. If not, push for school counselors to be included.
Moreover, look for opportunities to advocate for school counseling and the futures of millions of young people across the country on an even broader scale. We need to make our voices heard by writing and contacting state representatives and the U.S. Department of Education, so that the nation’s schools receive the funding necessary to offer summer acceleration programs, expand the school day offerings, implement independent study programs, retain staff, stabilize our most vulnerable students, and narrow the digital divide.
4. Be A Partner. There is no one-size-fits-all for remote learning. While some parents and kids are annoyed by daily Zoom classroom meetings, others depend on them. Children who once were active participants in the classroom may now find themselves disengaged. Students must understand how to learn in an entirely new way so ask what can be done to support them in being independent learners responsible for managing their time, checking off their assignments, and even raising their hand on a computer or typing into a chat box if they need a question answered. This means finding a way to accommodate all students during this global crisis, including those with special needs or a 504 Plan in place or who are English language learners. In accordance with state and district regulations, consider how to be a partner to parents and teachers in these circumstances such as:
Offer assistance in scheduling review meetings with parents or reach out to ask if they have questions or need ideas for how to apply modifications at home.
Utilize Talking Points, a multilingual website platform (free for individual users and currently free for high-need schools and districts), which sends text messages to parents with language translation without using a personal phone or WiFi.
Consider ways to support parents and guardians in their use of technology, from collaborating with a technical colleague on staff to record how-to webinars to preparing a Q&A document or a one-pager with helpful troubleshooting resources.
Assist in mailing weekly assignments with contact numbers for the teacher or someone who can verbally walk parents and guardians through how to complete those assignments, along with a prepaid envelope to return them, or instructions for sending photos of the work via a mobile phone. Use this opportunity to include relevant information about activities of the school counseling program.
To a greater extent than ever before, school counselors are dependent on teachers and parents for access to students, especially at the elementary school level, where connection often relies on a parent handing over the phone to their child – and confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. Elementary students in particular are more challenged with remembering meeting times and may not even have an email address. Without a private office for an in-person meeting, school counselors need to consider that at any point someone could walk in on a session or a family member may be sitting nearby listening to the conversation, either of which can impact a student’s comfort in opening up.
To help combat this, be an ally to teachers and others on the school team to keep a pulse on how students are doing. Collaborate with the administrator to develop a plan of action for how to deliver and communicate the available school counseling services. Since students are most likely in contact with their teachers, partner with teachers to collect data; join classroom meetings to talk about ways that students and families can reach out; include a school counseling activity in their weekly assignments; and identify who needs additional outreach. Depending on the classroom platform teachers are using, ask if you can be added as a co-teacher to communicate frequently and send lessons and resources.
Also, think about the ways collaboration and assistance is needed from others. What can others on the team do to step in and support you? After all, we’re all in this together.
5. Brand and Promote the Program. When marketing the counseling program, it’s important to communicate its purpose and the desired outcomes, and provide evidence that shows the goals are being met with a positive difference being made for students. Examining and sharing student outcome data and results is at the core of a data-driven, comprehensive school counseling program. Data can help create a sense of urgency for change, serve as a catalyst for focused attention, challenge existing policies, engage others in accountable conversations, and focus resources where they are needed most. Now more than ever, track your use of time and be intentional in capturing data on the impact of your activities.
How can you articulate the relevance of the school counseling program to the educational team? Consider the following:
Develop an “elevator speech” to help clarify program goals and services provided, demonstrate how school counseling supports the mission and goals of the school, get people excited by what is happening in the program, and communicate the results.
Create a brief visual slide presentation or one-pager that provides an overview of the program activities and results for this past academic year, including a “thank you” message to staff, parents, and students for their support.
Utilize the many amazing, free and user-friendly communication tools available, like Smore, Canva, or Adobe Spark, which can provide impressive visual templates to market the school counseling program more professionally.
6. Be Indispensable. Now more than ever, make sure that the school community and stakeholders see the unique contributions of school counselors and how much we are needed. This can mean completing work early, volunteering for tasks, proactively suggesting solutions, or simply being the go-to-person who will make something happen. School counselors need to go beyond this and remain relevant by providing wraparound support to students, families, and staff. Some suggested strategies:
Survey to get vital feedback. Develop a wellbeing “check in” form or needs assessment and see what bright ideas come out of it.
Create ready-made downloadable resources for parents, like reward and behavior charts for home, a visual schedule for primary aged students, or a sample daily routine or e-learning checklist to keep students engaged in online learning.
Prepare and post resource pages that include financial assistance sites, domestic violence helplines, suicide prevention hotlines, food banks, free face mask distribution sites, etc. American University has compiled a list of resources during COVID-19, much of which could be useful to share with stakeholders in this regard. My Undocumented Life provides current information and resources that can help mixed-family and undocumented immigrants and families whereas the Human Rights Campaign offers suggestions and resources for meeting the needs of LGBTQ students, including a specific tipsheet for school counselors.
Likewise, there is an incredible need to focus on the social-emotional welfare of students right now, so ask yourself how you can provide mental health support. “Developmental experts agree that disruption from the pandemic constitutes an ‘adverse childhood experience’ for every American child,” wrote Anya Kamenetz for NPR.
If morale is low, think about what might help everyone feel more connected to school, such as a Virtual School Spirit Week. If check-in survey data shows there is a need for an outlet to assist students, families, and staff in managing emotions and coping with stress, replicate something like the Virtual Calming Room, a website developed by Independent School District 196 Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan in Minnesota, which contains resources for meditation, drawing, visual relaxation, and other stress management techniques.
When schools reopen and students return, have a plan to help them heal and bring back a sense of security. The repercussions of this virus will span health, grief and loss, and employment. Many students may face displacement as a result of the economic impact or other changes in their family situations. As school counselors, we need to be ready to assist with this recovery, even as everyone is feeling the impact. Give some thought to the experience of students and families when schools reopen and how to help them feel less anxious and better prepared for the new precautions and changes to the school day. Perhaps you can participate in a “Welcome Back to School” video normalizing the new expectations and protocols in place while highlighting school counseling program services.
There is no denying that the COVID-19 global pandemic is leaving a permanent impression on the hearts and minds of multiple generations of children and adults and that the financial realities ahead are daunting. The aftermath is too vast to comprehend at this moment, yet the need to innovate and rise above the crisis is undeniable. So take a deep breath. Grant yourself extra patience and time for circumspection and self-care. Apply what is known about past economic downturns and current recommendations being made for future school reopenings so that you as a school counselor are able to be there for your students and communities later.
With these simple strategies, the time to start recession-proofing school counseling is now.
Republished with permission and compliments of Hatching Results blog: