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The School Counselor as Change Agent

I distinctly remember my friend Patty, a high school counselor, excitedly telling me she'd gotten a job at one of our school district's specialty magnet schools. She was a 25-year veteran counselor who previously had worked in two large, demanding comprehensive high schools.

"Now," she said, "I'm going to a school where I'll really be appreciated and not relegated to some corner as the testing coordinator. This school is a place where I can shine as a professional and be part of a successful group of educators!"

Sadly for Patty, the new job at the exciting magnet school did not result in a new role for her as a counselor. Soon after taking the job, her student load averaged more than 300, and the majority of her time was spent creating or changing class schedules, monitoring test administrations, and attending discipline committee meetings where her opinion and insights were rarely tapped. In short, Patty's vision of joining a team where she would be a vital contributor fell far short of her expectations, even at one of the district's more elite schools.

That was about 15 years ago, before a new approach to counseling, the Transformed School Counselor, advocated by the Education Trust, was created.

Peggy Hines and Karen Crews introduced me to the Transformed School Counselor concept during a presentation to education leaders whose organizations, like Learning Forward, have projects funded by the MetLife Foundation. To summarize, the Transformed School Counselor approach changes the way school counselors are educated so that they become full partners in a school's educational pursuits. According to the Education Trust's website, "The National Center for Transforming School Counseling (TSC) works with a network of organizations, state departments of education, school counselor professional associations, higher education institutions, and school districts dedicated to transforming school counselors into powerful agents of change in their schools and in the lives of students...by arming school counselors with the data and knowledge to help schools raise achievement and close gaps." These Transformed School Counselors are no longer marginalized staffers but included in the day-to-day decisions, logistics, and planning at the heart of a school's program.

As I listened to the presentation, I thought how happy my friend Patty would have been to be part of that process, how integral she would have felt working at the center of a school's mission rather than on its periphery.

And, as I considered the concept through the lens of Learning Forward's definition of professional development, something else struck me about the idea of a Transformed School Counselor. What if these counselors were regular members of their school's professional learning team? What if the school teams tapped the deep knowledge counselors have about child and adolescent behavior and development, counseling strategies, affective data, and personal insights about students to help them make adult and student learning decisions? What if the counselor's holistic view of students were regularly included in team dialogue about learning and learning options?

I don't have an inkling how many schools have counselors on their professional learning teams, but my guess is it is far too few. What the Education Trust presentation taught me is that these newly minted counselors could be brought into the inner workings of a school even more intimately if they were part of learning teams. In that role, the transformed counselor could have the potential to help create the transformed school.

Unfortunately, it's too late for Patty's story to have a different ending since she recently retired feeling somewhat unfulfilled in her career. It's not too late, though, for a new generation of counselors to avoid Patty's trap. No doubt, Education Trust's Transformed School Counselor coupled with the Learning Forward philosophy about the power of teams and team collaboration could be one way to achieve that.

Carol Francois
Director of Learning, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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