The beginning of school is always so frantic! If you are a high school counselor, you are quite aware that the first two weeks of school are dedicated to nothing but SCHEDULE CHANGES....urggghhhh!!! Although, I am not directly changing schedules these days (I am working with our virtual school and the home school counselors take care of that task for me...bless them!), I am flooded with questions about changing classes all the time. So, it was no surprise that I had copious students and parents calling about their classes not being changed from a face to face to virtual class. One day last week, a student and parent walked into my office unannounced (nothing unusual) and wanted to know if I could help them with their schedule that did not involve going into a virtual course. Politely, I asked them if they had seen their counselor as I didn't want to give them incorrect information. Quickly, the student chimes, "First, I cannot get into see him/her and when I do he/she dismisses me like I am unimportant. My friend told me that you may could help me because her sister had you as her school counselor." Although I felt honored with the referral, it made me sad to think that one of my colleagues could have just waved off a student to the point that he/she jumped into the car and drove across town to meet a person based on another student's referral. Now, I don't know if what the student was telling me was totally true, but I do believe there could be some truth to the story. First of all, it is scheduling season and who really has time to answer a million questions when schedules have to be completed. Second, I am sure that the student and parent descended on the counselor like locust and he or she may not have been in the best position to meet with them at that moment. Now here is the sad reality, the student and parent will quickly announce how unhelpful the counselor was to them and it will probably spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, this type of news spreads whether we like it to or not and it can be difficult to defend yourself against that type of insult. Since I am aware of the game (whether the story was true or not), I insisted the student and parent make an appointment with the counselor to make sure the information I shared with them was appropriate and I emphasized that I would personally reach out to the counselor to let him/her know that I spoke to them. The last thing I need is to get into personal feud with a colleague!
Now to the point of this blog. This whole situation had me thinking about my own reputation. How many times had people gone behind my back to speak to another counselor and gotten information that may have been erroneous? How many times had a colleague innocently or intentionally joined in insulting my professionalism? With all those thoughts in my head, I decided to write a post about our reputations as school counselors and how important it is to protect our professional integrity!
What is your work reputation? Typically this is not a question school counselors ask themselves on a regular basis. However, in the business world, professionals are always evaluating their effectiveness by looking at their reputation. What exactly is your reputation?
Simply put...reputation is your actions + what others say about you = your reputation.
Source: Forbes Magazine
Although I am not a proponent of worrying about every little comment I hear about myself, I do get concerned if the feedback I receive on a regular basis is not helpful to my students or school community.
If you want to damage your reputation as a school counselor, there are some work habits you can maintain to accomplish this status. In fact, Forbes Magazine outlines seven ways you can hurt yourself at work and gain a reputation that may follow you for years (I am only going to give you six).
Habit 1: Make excuses for not doing what you promised to do for a parent, student, or colleague. Making excuses may show your lack of consistency and willingness to help.
Habit 2: Miss important deadlines for students, parents, and colleagues. This includes missing important deadlines for college applications, recommendation letters, documentation for meetings, and even failure to show up to meetings.
Habit 3: Be consistently unprepared for meetings or with the knowledge you need to deal with certain situations. This may result from a lack of training, lack of skills, disorganization, or just being passive.
Habit 4: Be unresponsive to parents and students by failing to answer emails and voice mails in a timely manner.
Habit 5: Affirm your faults to others by complaining about your school, your lack of resources, or how you just can't do your job because of others.
Habit 6: Be defensive when others give you negative feedback.
Source: Seven Ways to Ruin Your Professional Reputation
If you find yourself in a situation where you may not have the reputation you desire, it is not too late to change it. In fact, here are some suggestions of how you can change!
1. Do what you say you'll do...It is important to always follow through on a commitment. If you cannot do it, let that person know. Unfortunately, I tend to be a "yes" person and I have to be careful that I do not over commit to making promising I cannot keep. So, if your voicemail says you will call someone back in 24 hours - do it. If this is not realistic, then change that voice mail to a time that meets your hectic work schedule. If you cannot reply to an email in a timely manner, set a automatic response with a projected response. If you are going to out of your office for a extended period of time, but have a flexible drop in policy, put a sign on your door. These are very simple things that you do that you save you and your students/parents a lot of frustration.
2. Go out of your way to help others reach their goals...This can be as simple as mentoring a new counselor or teacher, helping a student who lacks the needed resources to apply to college (I have paid a many a college application fee for students), attending a extracurricular event to support a student, or just LISTENING to someone who needs an extra ear
3. Make other people look good...As counselors we have the opportunity to make others shine. I think this especially goes for our colleagues and administrators. Often, we have meetings with parents and students that quickly become a bash down of a teacher, assistant principal, parapro. social worker...well you get the picture. It is important that we do not get caught up in the negative conversation in order to be liked or accepted. When I meet with parents and students about a teacher, I never talk about the person. My first rule that I lay down is we are here to speak about the issue and not the person. If you can apply this in your parent/student conferences, this will not only build trust with your staff, but it promotes respect from your parents as well.
4. Go a step beyond what is expected...I know many of you do this already...good for you! However, believe or not, I have spoken to many counselors who make it quite clear that they are going to put in their eight hours or say, "that is not part of my job." I am not saying you should overextend yourself or wear yourself out, but going the extra mile from time to time makes a difference. I have seen some incredible ideas from other school counselors when it comes to collegiality. Some examples include: hosting Welcome Back to School socials for their staff and new teachers; recognizing and appreciating staff during National School Counselor Week; hosting a counselor coffee for parents; helping out a colleague or student in need; visiting a parent after the death of a student; and taking food to a family after the loss of their home.
5. Look the part...For the love of all that is holy, dress professional. Looking professional says a lot about you and your confidence level. Also, consider buying some counselor swag. Jeff Ream, Danielle Schultz and Carol Miller have some great swag on their websites you can buy which also goes to supporting the School Counselor Community Scholarship
6. Consider your body language...Non-verbal communication is 55% of communication (according to Albert Mehrabian). As school counselors, it is important to know that we have the power to make or break our students just by how we react to them nonverbally. I feel that it is important for us to take care of ourselves emotionally and physically so that we have the strength to deal with our students in a kind and compassionate manner. Check out my post on End of the Year Tips for the Overworked School Counselor for more tips.
7. Be consistent...It is important to do your best for your "awesome" students and parents and "salty" students and parents. Okay, I am going to admit it...this is not easy for me. I have some real winners and it doesn't help that I have an avoidant personality. However, I am a big believer in sowing goodness in others even if I never see the results.
8. Act with integrity...I can't overemphasize this enough. As a school counselor, you are the heart of the school. If you cannot be trusted to keep information confidential, act in the best interest of students, or follow your ethical code then "Houston we have a problem!" It really bothers me when professionals are not so professional. Also, I wrote about working with not so professional counseling colleagues that you may enjoy (I hope).
The Enemy Within Killjoys in Your Department
I hope this post resonates with you and that you will not grow weary in doing the right thing even if it seems you are not appreciated. Believe me, you make difference!!! I want to leave you with this article from Education World on the what makes school counselors so effective.
See you next time!!