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School counsellors

2011

Hello,
 
My name is Ashley Nussbaum and I am a second year student at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Currently I am doing my practicum as a Family School Wellness worker (in school counsellor position) in a middle school that hosts students in grades 5-8. My previous practicum was also in a school setting which has lead me to compare the two to find conflicting beliefs about the roles in the school.
 
For my observation practicum in my first year I was working with someone in the same position but in a different school division and they use the position in a very different way. In this school the counsellor was mostly sent children who got in fights on the playground or argued with the teacher several times. I saw the position as more of a disciplinary role in the school in that she saw all the children who got pink slips. However instead of disciplining the children she would work to teach them and have them practice different skills for if the child found himself in the same position at a later date.  At the time I thought that it would be very effective use of the counsellor because instead of just telling a child what they shouldn't do they are modeling and teaching skills that I think will be more beneficial than having the child sit in the office for a few days at a time.
 
I was discussing the idea with my current supervisor and she explained to me that she stays as far away from the discipline area as she can because she feels that if you discipline a child they would not want to be counseled by you and would be less receptive to what you would have to say.
 
I found the two opinions to be quite different and interesting. My question is what do you believe the role of a counsellor should be in the school system and should they have involvement in the disciplinary area of the school?
 
I look forward to hearing your opinion.
 
Ashley Nussbaum
...

Hi Ashley,
 
I too had an observation practicum in my first year and it was in a middle school in a smaller town.  The CDA (Child development Advisor) at this school sounds like she was similar to the first you had shadowed, she was a counselor that included discipline where it was needed and on an appropriate level. When a group of young girls got into a rather large vicious fight that extended onto face book and started to ripple out through the whole grade, the CDA at this school took on both a disciplinary role and a counselor role. She approached the subject with caution and care and was able to touch upon the discipline issues within the fight but also was able to add counseling skills as well. She used logical examples and consequences to show the girls what their fight had caused but also highlighted on positive strengths that she knew about the girls and their friendship. In this she did not come across as an authoritarian discipliner. She set up a friendship group for the girls to meet once a week with her and in these groups they would go over view perspectives, listening skills, empathy and stress management to name a few things. The girls knew they had done something wrong but did not feel belittled or negative about being held accountable for it because of the way she approached them.
 
I agree that the skills the counselor is able to teach the children and youth are very valuable. I found that within the school I was at, the teachers were stretched thin and often had a “no nonsense” view of the children in their classes. As soon as the smallest thing happened they would send the child out of the class and to the CDA or principle. They simply did not want any interruptions in their classes. I understand that yes, they have specific goals and plans they need to accomplish and with class sizes expanding it can be quite stressful but quickly dismissing a child for being restless or loud does not teach the child anything. For most of these children, the walk to the CDA and simple chat about why they were acting up was cleared up in minutes. The teachers could have easily diffused these situations by discretely pulling the child aside and conversing with them, instead of publicly dismissing them in front of their peers. The CDA when speaking with these children, asked for their opinions on what had happened and then got the child to brainstorm ways to prevent the incident from happening again. She also touched on the other side of the story and asked the children how their teacher might feel. She worked with the children, rather than against them. Most of the suggestions were simple things like “I could ask to go get a drink of water to stretch my legs” If the teachers approached situations like this it would strengthen the communication and respect between them and their students. I definitely saw the respect that was gained for the CDA from these children when they were approached in a calm respectful manner, included in solutions and reminded of other strengths they had. As well to point out, almost all these interactions were quick and did not take much time at all, so if teachers say they don’t have the time, I would not agree at all. In building relationships and respect with students classrooms could be a much more positive space. If a teacher does require the CDA’s assistance I believe it would be beneficial for the teacher to at least check in with the student later or after class, to ensure they leave school with a positive note between them. The school year is long enough without a child resenting or feeling bitter about their teachers.
 
When your current counselor says that the children would be less receptive, I agree it can happen, but only if they are approached in a manner that makes them respond negatively. The approach to discipline that I experienced in my first year is the complete opposite, again working with the children rather than against them. Teaching them skills to communicate (skills they can use throughout life) highlighting on their strengths to increase their self-esteem, being firm but being kind. The CDA office at the school in my first practicum was very busy, the children liked talking to her and were much more likely to come back to her in the future to get assistance with problems including those outside of school.  I think that discipline the word itself, holds such a negative connotation, and it seems to go far back to the days when a child was smacked with a ruler for their indiscretions.

It may be that this is the current turning point for such beliefs.  Which makes it that much more important for the role of the child and youth care counselors within schools to use counseling and discipline skills together.
 
Sadly the school I was at did not have the funds to hire a second CDA. If they had, I believe that meetings between the CDA and the teachers could help to highlight some of these points and maybe share tips and skills to help the children in their classes. I also see the benefit of the possibility of a CDA being able to visit classes periodically and assist teachers. An amazing thing that I did see was that the principle herself was open to learning from the CDA and did not hesitate to ask her to be present in the times that children did find themselves in the principal's office (There is hope!). Between those two women I saw the successful combination of being firm but respectful.
 
Having shared these thoughts, a question I might ask is, if the counselor is not willing to discipline and the teachers are too busy or stressed to even attempt it (which I have found to be the case in many schools I have visited) where are these children going to learn discipline? What if acting out is cry for attention, or a sign of needing help and direction in their lives that they might be lacking at home? Maybe their actions are the result of a bully that the school is unaware of? (Something the school needs to address). If it is ignored then it is likely to grow and get worse, helping them when they are younger is the best way to help prepare them for their future.
 
These are just my thoughts of course and they come from my limited experiences within the schools I have visited! I am interested in hearing the thoughts of my fellow CYCC associates. Hope this helps or gives you some ideas!
 
Stacy den Hollander
Mount Royal University
...

Hi Ashley,
 
My name is Sherry Robertshaw. I am also a student in second year at Mount Royal University. I was a volunteer in a school with a Child and Youth Care Counsellor. I had the opportunity to work closely with this counsellor and in this school the counsellor also worked with the children who got pink slips. The counsellor worked with these children by helping them to develop strategies and skills to resolve their conflicts in more productive and positive manners. In most instances the root of the behavior was unveiled within this process giving opportunity for the cause of the behavior to be treated.
 
The counsellor helped the children identify their personal strengths and provided them with resources for positive change, growth and healing.The children were required to take responsibility for their actions. Discipline does not have to be negative or punitive when the time is taken to develop the knowledge of positive strategies and skills for coping and changing.

These are some of the skills CYCW's acquire through their education and practical experiences. It is my opinion this is the best form of discipline and essential to effective counseling. 
 
The counsellor was well liked and respected by the children and I believe his empathy, fairness,understanding and caring attitude allowed the children to feel safe to approach him with any situation. The counsellor at this school was also involved with all the students by organizing recreational and social activities in which he engaged the students participation with some of the planning. He also took the time to recognize and acknowledge desired behaviors of all students.
 
This counsellor had effectively developed positive relationships with the majority of the students and created a caring safe environment for everyone. This counsellor had a great deal of influence on my choice to pursue a career as a Child and Youth Care Worker. I hope this helps with your question and I would be curious to know your observations and comparative opinion of the two very different styles and ideals.
 
Sherry Robertshaw
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