Happy School Counselors' Week to all the PSCs out there! We appreciate you! Here at BL, we always say that our posts are about the latest developments in the ESL and counseling worlds. Well, in the last few months, there’s been a real flurry of activity on the topic of professional advocacy. So, for our first official post of 2014, I’d like to talk about this- both as it applies to counselors and to teachers. Let’s start off with 2 very powerful articles to show how this is a B-I-G issue that resounds throughout the teaching and counseling worlds. As always, I've included a lot of links below as helpful resources- just click on the blue lettering links and we'll take you right to the article, resource, or product you can use.
First of all, what is professional advocacy? Well, since both teachers and counselors are in professions that tend to dump huge caseloads on individuals and expect more time given than is compensated for, there is a big need for advocacy or the practice of educating those in power about what duties our profession entails and what conditions we need to best teach or counsel our clients. The hope in advocacy is to bring about positive change by creating more of a balance between the reality of our jobs vs. what we can reasonably do in a work day with the resources (including salary) with which we are provided.
Here's an article from counselorsoffice.org which is an amazing piece on the importance of counselor advocacy and how our duties are being taken over by less qualified personnel because our counselor:student ratio is too high for us to effectively advise on college/career choices. The author mostly focuses on the unsettling situation where the College Advising Corps are replacing the college/career advising aspect to the professional school counselor's (PSC) role. My own personal example to add to this is how I see counseling agencies like Communities in Schools being contracted by school districts to take over many of the ACTUAL COUNSELING duties of the PSC like individual and group counseling, which then frees up the school counselor’s time for more administrative or (gasp!) clerical/data entry duties. Instead, I ask: why not give us counseling secretaries or data clerks who can take care of the system support aspects of our jobs that should only take up 10-15% percent of our time anyway, according to the ASCA model. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally for school districts bringing in a family/crisis counselor to be employed by and housed on campus for the serious counseling issues that require therapy, which PSCs don’t provide. It would be so wonderful to refer a child/family in need right down the hall to say, Room 305, when they are in crisis…rather than have to send them to the overcrowded psych emergency room 30 minutes away or have to refer them out where they may have to wait weeks for an outpatient appointment.
Now I’d like to share an article from the National Council of Teachers of English that highlights some key issues in teacher advocacy. I especially like the part of this piece that talks about obstacles to teacher advocacy and the think-outside-the-box advocacy ideas #17 and #18. As for my take on teacher advocacy, I didn’t really have one until I started teaching on the international school circuit 10 years into my educator career. Wow! What an eye opener! I was treated (and compensated!!) like a valued professional with housing and airfare provided, and there was a real sense that our time was valued and we were compensated for ALL the time that we worked with lots of planning time/staff days built in so we didn’t have to work for free at home planning our lessons. For example, students had a half day every Friday so staff could meet for the first hour (negating the need for afterschool staff meetings) and then plan in their professional teams for the rest of the day. That being said, my return to public education stateside in 2008 was a bit of an unpleasant shock. I learned a lot, spoke up for myself, and tempered some of my higher ideals.
And so the million dollar question becomes: how do we get to this professional Utopia? Well, ironically enough, Edutopia gives us counselors an excellent tool for facilitating this (check out this article in #2 below). And so that brings us to some ideas about how to advocate for yourself as a teaching or counseling professional:
1. Join a professional organization that has a great reputation for speaking up for its members- there is so much strength in numbers and attending a rally at your local government or having a chat with their legal staff if you find yourself on the dark side of the moon is priceless and VERY empowering. Here are links to some of my favs: ASCA, NABE, TESOL, NEA, ACA
2. Meet regularly (monthly, or even better, weekly) with your administration or with your team of colleagues and:
- Follow an agenda.
- After the meeting, send the agenda minutes to your admin with points about: the great things you are doing, struggles you are having as a result of lack of resources, links to professional articles that advocate for your profession, and data points (see #3 below).
- Bring and refer to your state, national or accreditation manual on how you should be carrying out your job duties- offer to give your admin a copy of this manual, too. For example, I take my Texas Education Agency Model for a School Counseling Program wherever I go and I call it my Bible.
- Share professional articles that advocate for your profession- here’s the Edutopia one I was referring to above. And make sure that the links to the articles or the actual articles themselves make it into those minutes that you send to admin.
3. Send your admin weekly or monthly data reports- nothing speaks truer than hard and fast numbers and administrators LOVE to see numbers. Here are some ideas for how to keep your numbers:
- If you are a teacher, this might look like a spreadsheet of your students weekly assessment scores (either district or state driven if you have these OR just send a spreadsheet of your student’s assessment scores on your own test instruments that you use in your class). Always link your needs and requests to any problematic scores you provide.
- If you are a counselor, I can’t recommend EZAnalyze enough- it’s an easy, FREE downloadable! I’m not going to lie- it definitely takes a bit of time and effort to learn it and set it up (maybe a half day to a full day’s worth of time), and you do have to keep up with it daily which can be tedious sometimes, but all these minor inconveniences are NOTHING compared to the amazing data reports it generates with the click of a button…I share it with my admin monthly so they can see that I am spending my professional time effectively.
- If you are a counselor nervous about jumping into the tech world with both feet to use EZAnalyze, you can also visit my link (once there, just scroll down and click on the first free downloadable called "Weekly/Monthly Counseling Reports") to see the simpler, less techy data charts I used very effectively before I started with EZAnalyze
- I’ve heard glorious rumors that there is EZAnalyze for teachers now too- check out this link to see if it will work for you.
4. Take care of yourself! Leave work at work, make time for yourself and your family, and carve a bit of time out EACH DAY to do what you enjoy whether it’s a short walk, watching your fav sitcom, reading that trashy novel in bed, or just some deep breathing. Here are links to great articles on self-care from the experts who explain avoiding burnout and enjoying your job a lot better than me…Teachers Slowing Down and 10 Ways to Slow Down.
5. Put your state or accrediting agency education code of what teachers/counselors do on your office or classroom door. Here’s mine and pic of it on my door, my bulletin board, and my counseling lobby (yellow-green poster). I point to it often when people ask me why I’m not disciplining a student, or in charge of testing, or creating the master schedule, etc. It’s so nice to be able to point like that.
6. And last but not least- just say no. Like my wise and retired educational administrator Dad used to tell me as a child- NO is the easiest word to say. Of course, you’ll have to pick your battles and you can’t say no all the time. But if you have stellar workmanship that follows the framework set by your professional organization and you have a few examples up your sleeve of how you have recently “taken one for the team,” it’s ok to say no. Here are professional frameworks from some of the big guns, if you need them: TESOL and ASCA.
And that brings us to the close of our Feb post. We'd love to hear about your experiences with or opinions about advocacy, so please leave us a comment below. Just an FYI if you are one of our weekly readers- we will be changing from weekly Saturday posts that alternate between ESL and counseling issues to first-Saturday-of-the-month posts that combine the two. We are revving ourselves up for the Spring rush of new counseling and ESL guides to unleash on the market and so we will be spending less time blogging and more time writing guides and creating other new products such as counseling kits, ESL song books, and more! You can look forward to Cope Into Hope Grief Counseling Guide- Spanish Version, Girl Power! Group Counseling Guide, ESL for Beginners Lessons Guide Vol 3 and other products to start appearing on our products page, our Bilingual Learner FB page, and Twitter page sometime in March!
We hope to see you back here the first Saturday in March for our next post on strategies for dealing with text anxiety/life stress and related ESL & guidance lessons! In the meantime, you can find out about our latest promotions, free stuff, or our counseling/ESL adventures by following us on our Facebook Page or Twitter Page.
Happy Early Valentine's Day!