How the principal-counselor relationship can improve student success

Panelists at the annual ASCA conference provide five solutions to help administrators promote and empower their counseling departments.

As students prepare to return to school in the fall, it’s important for district leaders to come prepared to address the issues that linger as a result of the pandemic. Students have become more agitated as fights in schools have surged. They’re also struggling to find comfort in their own schools as safety becomes an increasingly critical issue.

One way schools can help shine a light for students in this time of recovery is by establishing relationships between principals and their counselors.

“A school counselor to me–based on my experience–is a key level in transforming change in school if you allow it to happen,” said Anthony Hamlet, former superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, during a panel session at the American School Counselor Association’s annual conference on Sunday. “I know the power of giving them their time to do what they need to do. It can move mountains for students.”

During the session, Hamlet and counselors provided five strategies for counselors and administrators to implement that will improve student outcomes:

Encourage communication

Monika Pugh, director of student support services for school counselors at Pittsburgh Public Schools and former counselor at Palm Beach County School District, said counselors should be proactive in establishing a relationship with their administrators.

“You are the heartbeat of the school,” said Pugh. “The school cannot function without you, and you have to believe that, and you have to make everybody else believe that.”

It’s also important to start building a foundation of trust early on.

“If you do not have mutual trust in a principal-counselor relationship, you may as well have nothing,” said Fabion Vicks, an 8th-grade counselor at Dutchtown Middle School in Hampton, Georgia.

Encourage regular check-ins

Administrators should meet with their counselors on a regular basis. From an administrative standpoint, principals should always ask how they can support their counselors during these check-ins and encourage their counselors to be specific when addressing their needs.

It’s common for counselors to have a difficult time defining the type of support they are looking for, according to Pugh. By scheduling regular check-ins, rather than waiting until the of the semester, principals can more effectively address their counselors’ concerns.

Establish clear duties

Each member of the panel agreed that both the principal and counselor should communicate the roles and responsibilities of the counselor from the start. For example, Diana Virgil, school counselor for Daleville High School in Alabama, was asked to produce individualized education programs for students with disabilities, although she had no prior experience. While it’s normal for counselors to occasionally carry out tasks outside of their contract, creating a clear outline of their responsibilities from the start will allow for more effective communication in the future.

Promote your counseling department

“Principals greatly impact the school counselor program,” Vicks said. They “shape and promote awareness of the school counselor program and school counselor.”

Promoting school counselors should start with the front desk staff, according to the panelists. Social media can also be an effective tool to help familiarize students with these resources.

Administrators can also help increase their counselors’ visibility by keeping them notified about school activities. Football games are a great way for counselors to be seen by students, suggests Pugh. “It allows us to be more present on campus… We’re not sitting in our office with the door closed.”

Use data regularly

Counselors are using data to communicate with their principals, according to Virgil. “Make data your friend, not your enemy,” said Virgil. “Principals talk in numbers… We have to utilize different tools to be able to relay the information to principals in [a way] they know.”

Principals should also encourage counselors to share student-related data with teachers, parents, advisory councils and the students themselves. By encouraging counselors to dive into data, administrators can target weak areas in their schools and implement strategies to address them. For example, the number of fights declined by 30% after Vicks collected and shared data to implement a monitoring system in the school.

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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