By Leigh Bagwell, Coordinator of School Counseling at the Tennessee Department of Education
This week, we are celebrating National School Counseling Week. It is a time to reflect on all of the ways that our school counselors are helping our students to be successful. School counselors know that success looks different for all students, so it is important that they get to know each of their students to determine what opportunities and support each students needs. Some students need academic help, so counselors work with their teachers, parents, and other educators to ensure that support is provided. Whereas, other students may need help developing healthy relationships or interacting with others. In addition, school counselors begin teaching our students not only about different career fields, but also what it takes to get there. With middle and high school students, counselors share information about colleges and postsecondary programs that will help them reach their goals.
As a profession, school counseling has experienced many changes in the last two decades, but our counselors always rise to the occasion to support our students. Transformed school counselors carry out the work of traditional school counselors, however, they also use data to determine student and school needs as well as measure the effectiveness of their program. They focus on both prevention and intervention strategies to support students through their academic, social, and emotional development as well as their preparation for postsecondary success.
A transformed school counselor can answer the question “How are the students different as a result of my counseling program?”
Because the activities and programs that counselors provide can be as varied as the students getting them, school counselors must have an organized approach to make sure that all students have access to the counseling program. Counselors develop these comprehensive school counseling programs by reviewing student and school data, gathering feedback from students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other school partners, and aligning their work to school goals and school counseling standards. Counselors want to make sure that their work is helping students, so they will often evaluate it and then make changes as necessary. School counselors want to provide their students with the skills, opportunities, and direction they need to follow their dreams.
As I have visited schools across the state, I have had the privilege of seeing counselors who exemplify excellence in their field.
- Shelbie Ely at Scales Elementary School received several referrals from students, teachers, and parents requesting help to deal with anxiety issues. She offered parents an opportunity to participate in a book club to learn and discuss effective strategies for helping when their children feel anxious.
- Kelli Ferguson noticed a high number of students reporting to the counseling center for incidences of bullying and unkind behaviors. Kelli developed a program at John Sevier Middle School for students to lead each other in weekly group meetings. They are learning to listen to one another, develop friendships, and grow in their ability to show empathy to one another.
- Brenda Pilant was charged with improving the numbers of students who take the PSAT so Bartlett High School could provide opportunities to showcase the hard work of the students and faculty. Mrs. Pilant went to work meeting with hundreds of students individually to encourage them to prepare for and take the PSAT. Her plan almost tripled the number of students taking the PSAT and allowed BHS to honor its first National Merit Scholar in years.
These are just a few examples of the outstanding work of Tennessee school counselors. Please take a moment this week to recognize the work of your school counselor. Partner with them to ensure your students have access to the benefits of a comprehensive counseling program. Talk to them about concerns you may have. Thank them for the many things they do to help every student find success. For more information on school counseling, click here or contact Leigh.Bagwell@tn.gov.