In order for educators to reach students, they must reach each other first. That was the central theme of the American School Counselor Association’s annual conference in early July, in Austin, Texas, and it was stressed by one of those who appeared, Dr. Anthony Hamlet, former superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“A school counselor to me, based on my experience, is a key lever in transforming change in school if you allow it to happen,” Hamlet said in one session, according to K12dive.com. “I know the power of giving them their time to do what they need to do. It can move mountains for students.”
Hamlet, an educator since 1994, has often spoken about the importance of collaboration, cooperation and communication among educators – of how vital it is for administrators and counselors to be on the same page, so students can be better-served. He has said that culture, teamwork and consistency are vital. As he put it in an interview in early 2022:
“So everybody does their job, understanding that ultimately, if one link in the chain breaks, that’s going to break down the whole process. So making sure that everybody understands and has the buy-in when it comes to the rituals and routines, when it comes to the adults in the organization (is crucial), but also (for) the students as well. Having everybody buy in and have input into that process and the expectations of the organization helps develop a positive culture, because everybody has a voice in the whole process.”
Others who appeared at the conference were of the same opinion. Consider the words of Monika Pugh, director of student support services for school counselors at Pittsburgh Public Schools. She worked with Hamlet not only there but in the Palm Beach County School District, where she served as a school counselor, and said counselors are “the heartbeat of the school.”
“The school cannot function without you,” she added, “and you have to believe that, and you have to make everybody else believe that.”
According to the K12dive.com piece, Hamlet cited data from his time as principal at Palm Beach Lakes High School (2011-14) that in his mind reflect the importance of involving school counselors in school-wide improvement initiatives: Counselor referrals dropped from 186 to eight, and the number of days devoted to student suspensions plummeted from 1,725 to 120.
Data was one of five points mentioned by Hamlet, Pugh and two other counselors in the course of the ASCA conference, as they emphasized the manner in which improved administrator-counselor collaboration can boost student outcomes. Specifically, Diana Virgil, school counselor for Daleville High School in Alabama, stressed that counselors can make a point quickly and easily with a principal by sharing data – which is important, given principals’ many responsibilities.
Also, Virgil said, data is a language they understand. As she put it, “Principals talk in numbers.”
The panel’s other recommendations involved principals and counselors communicating regularly, and thus building trust and empathy; the two parties establishing what support is needed, and when; the definition of roles and responsibilities and increased awareness of the counseling department, whether through the principal’s efforts or social media.