Counselors Learn to ‘Reach Higher’

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by Leigh Bagwell, Coordinator of School Counseling at the Tennessee Department of Education

In 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the Reach Higher initiative to ensure that all students understand what they need to successfully complete their postsecondary education. An integral component of this initiative is the call for improvements to school counseling and school-based college and career counseling systems. I recently led a team from Tennessee who participated in the White House convening on ‘Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising’. The convening was sponsored by the Reach Higher initiative, in partnership with the National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success. The cross-sector dialog included school counseling practitioners, postsecondary leaders, non-profit college access organizations, as well as leadership from the department of education.

UntitledThe convening provided state teams with the opportunity to strategize with states across the nation, review best practice models, and receive technical assistance to advance Reach Higher goals. These school counselor leadership and collaborative partnerships hope to dramatically increase the number of traditionally underserved students prepared for, entering, and succeeding in postsecondary education. They aim to do so by focusing on ways to strengthen, align, and expand the college-going pipeline at the local, state, and national levels.

Tennessee’s team heard about strong practices in other states, developed specific goals for school counseling and postsecondary readiness, and networked with experts in the field. For example, we learned that the state of New York recently completed a multi-year collaborative effort that led to reforms around the reduction of counselor to student ratios and school counseling preparation and licensure programs.

Another example we learned about was the Iowa Student Learning Institute that gives students an opportunity to take an active role in their own education through the power of their voice. IowaSLI focuses on organizing opportunities for students to network with each other and share the passion and tools they need to make a difference in their schools.

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The convening afforded our team an opportunity to align the transformative work of school counseling in Tennessee with the goals in the department’s strategic plan as well as the national goals of Reach Higher. With a focus on increasing postsecondary attainment, ACT composite score growth, and early postsecondary credit attainment, our team’s next steps include gathering feedback on the revision of the state’s school counseling standards and model of practice, collaborating on high quality professional development for school counselors and college access professionals on college access and success, and identifying additional key stakeholders to partner with on this important work. This ongoing collaboration will help educators overcome barriers to “inspire every child to reach higher and give them an opportunity to fulfill their boundless potential,” as said by Michelle Obama.

Stay tuned for additional information on next steps shared through the new School Counselor Connection newsletter. For more information, please reach out to