As the school year comes to a close, becoming aware of the signs of burnout and protecting themselves from it is increasingly important for all school counselors. In many districts, school counselors are responsible for high caseloads, state testing, course registration and more. In years past, school counselors reported experiencing burnout at rates reaching 67 percent. Protecting yourself from burnout is an ethical decision that requires constant intentionality. According to the ASCA Ethical Standards, school counselors have a responsibility to “Monitor their emotional and physical health and practice wellness to ensure optimal professional effectiveness. School counselors seek physical or mental health support when needed to ensure professional competence.” Self-evaluation is an ongoing process as moods vary daily.
Burnout looks different for everyone, but can have a devastating impact on you, your family and the students that you care about. According to Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., many people feel physical and emotional exhaustion, experience cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Cynicism in counseling is dangerous because it can potentially lead to misdiagnosing a crisis. School counselors suffering from these symptoms can become guarded at work or even isolated at home. The signs of physical exhaustion are extensive, ranging from insomnia to anger and depression. Protecting against this downward spiral of pressure and negativity is difficult but of the utmost importance for everyone and it begins with setting firm boundaries.
Although sometimes uncomfortable, setting boundaries is necessary in school counseling. We are compassionate and empathetic in nature and for many of us, saying yes to increased workloads and extra duties feels easier. However, multiple studies indicate that counselors are at the greatest risk for burnout when they spend excessive periods of time working on duties that are not related to school counseling. Sometimes we have to “just say no” or leave that work sitting there until the next day. Staying at work for hours after school every day takes precious time away from your friends, family and, most important, yourself. When possible, leave work at work and avoid emails and work conversations outside of the school day. Personal space and down time improve your ability to serve children when you are at school.
School counselors need to take care of themselves mentally. Some counselors protect their mental health through meditation (try Headspace) and daily mantras. Others reported that listening to inspirational music and podcasts had an impact on their mental health. Multiple quantitative studies have indicated that counselors with higher self-esteem suffered burnout at lower rates. Encouraging self-talk and positive thoughts can redirect you and drive you out of dark mental spaces.
Physical health is equally important for school counselors and some achieve this through exercise and practicing healthy eating habits. Other counselors support their physical well-being with massages, facials, pedicures and other spa treatments. Maintaining your physical health is an incredible tool for refueling yourself and powering through the end of the school year. Exercise and other healthy practices can elevate your health and improve your mental well-being.
If you are uncertain whether you are suffering from burnout, many tools can help you answer this question. The internet has loads of free resources like the Burnout Self Test that serve as a quick, unscientific self-evaluation. More scientific tests are also available, like the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Counselor Burnout Inventory. Researchers typically use these tests when evaluating the mental health of counselors. Last and perhaps most important, school counselors should not feel ashamed to seek therapy if they feel their mental health declining or just need a place to vent.
TaRael Kee is a school counselor at Collinsville High School and president-elect-elect of ISCA. Contact him at email@example.com.
With many states focusing on and defining postsecondary readiness for students, the need for stronger advising is greater today than in years past. The options for students are much different today than they were 40, even 15 years ago. Today students have more alternatives to the traditional four-year university experience, such as vocational or professional skill certificates and registered apprenticeships. In addition, with the emergence of early college programs in high school, students have the opportunity to experience a non-traditional four-year experience with earned credit.
The historic role of the school counselor, which supported postsecondary outcomes from its inception, has adapted over time. The creation of the school counselor position (originally known as a guidance counselor) was intended to support the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). This act was created, in part, to identify and encourage students strong in math and science to enter the space race. From this beginning, the school counselor role quickly evolved, becoming a crucial piece in supporting all students on multiple fronts.
In recent years, the counselor role has been an instrumental piece in supporting record-high graduation rates. Graduation requirements are meticulously tracked to ensure students finish high school and enter postsecondary programs in desired time frames. Creating this college-going culture has been a major shift in the school counselor role and has required an evolution to ensure such a shift in aspirational mindsets occurs for both students and parents. Once again, the time has come to redefine the role of the school counselor.
How can we define or leverage the next evolution of the school counselor? I predict this revolution will include a major emphasis on career and college readiness and success. Postsecondary success counseling is crucial to ensure both postsecondary enrollment and successful completion. It is an ethical imperative to leverage National Student Clearinghouse and other postsecondary data to ensure successful advising toward reputable and impactful programs. It is critical that we recommend options with a record of student successful completion as we urge students to connect their learning to their ultimate vocation.
With all of the options for students to consider today, school counselors have a vast toolkit upon which to draw. For example, community colleges are developing middle college programs that allow “get ahead” programs in which students can complete their senior year of high school graduation requirements while beginning their first year of college. Such programs can greatly reduce time to degree and, consequently, the overall cost. With 80% of students changing their major in college, college and university has become an expensive place for self-exploration; counselors play a key role in minimizing costly post-secondary time spent on that.
How can we retool and reinvent our current course offerings and advising programs to support students to a greater degree while they are in high school? Start by addressing these questions:
We celebrate the tremendous impact school counselors have in helping students achieve success in school and in life. Our role will continue to evolve. A constant will be the work we do to support each student and the creative ideas to ensure each student not only succeeds in school but well into adulthood.
Shared as the original post on the @intellispark blog
This newsletter marks the month of November and I know I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for having a profession that allows an altruistic understanding of humanity and gives me the ability to contribute to a greater cause. I am thankful for all of you being part of this profession and making the conscious and sometimes unconscious decision to give so freely of yourselves. I know your students and families are thankful for your dedication – which truly has an impact on their future.
School counselors believe in helping and supporting all students, which is why I am excited to highlight the recent bill passed (IL HB346) by the State of Illinois. The law requires all schools in the state to include “the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State” in official textbooks. It is crucial for our LGBT students to see famous or historic LGBT individuals within the text they read or historians they study. Most are unaware, for instance, that Alan Turing (mathematician) and Oscar Wilde (playwright and author) were arrested for being homosexual and helped paved the way for improved civil rights.
As educators, it is important that we provide windows, mirrors and doors to our students. Windows are the activities, resources and experiences that allow students to “look through the window” and experience someone different than themselves. Mirrors are texts and resources that allow students to see themselves. Doors give students the aspirational ability to “walk through” and see themselves as part of society. I challenge all educators to review their curriculum to provide such experiences.
A new study from Harvard found that, contrary to the assumption that implicit attitudes don’t change, three out of six implicit attitudes can change. Specifically, just a ten minute conversation with someone of a different background can greatly reduce bias. The more you challenge yourself in conversation, the more you open yourself up to help all students. I challenge everyone to think of a group or demographic with which you may have limited contact, and plan an authentic conversation in the near future.
I look forward to seeing you at the many professional development opportunities we have this fall and at the Spring Conference. The ISCA board is extremely excited to be planning for the future of our organization. We have various subcommittees coming together to work on future professional development, strategic planning and advocacy. Many ISCA board members will participate in the wonderful offering of the ASCA Leadership Development Institute taking place in Lisle in mid-November, to work on said initiatives.
Never hesitate to reach out with comments or to get involved in the ISCA board. I can be reached by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Dr. Matt Liberatore, LCPC, ISCA president, at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DrLiberatore