NLTA Vice-President

Dedicated to my grandfather, Baxter Langdon; small in stature but walked tall with integrity...

Friday, 15 February 2013

An Article re: Guidance Counsellor Roles (2007)

The View from the Inside:
An E’value’ation of Guidance Counsellor Roles

As a means of providing some context, I am writing this article wearing two hats: that of an Elementary / Junior High School Guidance Counsellor and a proud, new father of twin boys. Though being clearly different roles (but equally scary at times), the similarities become blatantly evident over a cup of cold tea, a couple of biscuits, and a repeat performance of Saturday morning cartoons.  There are a multitude of keywords that characterize both roles however it is the ‘bility’ words that appear to be most prominent: responsibility, liability, accountability, common-sensibility [sic]…; the primary, startling point being, I am responsible for 700 students during the school day as opposed to the two that are crawling before me this morning.

During a false sense of quiet time, my mind wanders to the expectation that I am to theoretically play a direct and active role in addressing the “educational, personal / social, career growth, and developmental needs” of all 700 students in my school and providing support to their 1400 care-givers during the course of a school year; I use those descriptors as they are clearly outlined within the Department of Education’s Guidance Policy.  Now, we are all very much aware that a large number of students and families do not avail of direct guidance intervention or programming on a daily or even weekly basis; BUT, is this the key point? Do we need to re-direct our attention back to the masses and move toward the expansion of effective Guidance services for all of our students? Does it require a re-direction of focus or the addition of sufficient human resources that allow for effective responses to the demonstrated needs within each of our school communities?

In taking an active, preventative approach to my Guidance practice, one would assume that a great percentage of time is spent offering school-wide guidance programming, classroom-based guidance initiatives, and entering formal counselling relationships with a significant caseload of students. To the contrary, the reality within the current model sees comprehensive assessments (requiring 30 plus hours on average per assessment, with numbers reaching 30-40 annually in certain schools), daily social support for students and families (not unlike that expected of a social worker), and crisis response as related to discipline and safety concerns, monopolizing the time of Guidance Counsellors. When considering that Guidance Counsellors are allocated to schools based on a ratio of 1:500, that they are often responsible for multiple schools, and commonly have teaching duties, the true effectiveness of these school-based social agents is compromised.

Though we all do our part to encourage safe & caring environments, recognize positive behaviors, and nurture positive work ethics, the reality appears to lie in a deterioration of ‘values’ structures and commitment on the part of many students as it relates to personal achievement. Though still relatively young, with my reminiscing going back all the way to the 1980’s, I can recall junior high kids lining up to assist with the most menial tasks of putting out chairs (after-school!) for the Christmas Concert that night; then those same kids all having parts in that concert. Or the only students sitting on the stage during Phys. Ed. Class being those with casts from toe to hip; and they would be sneaking a basketball shot or two when the teacher wasn’t looking. Though our pedagogical approaches have been re-vamped and modernized, a lot can be said for ‘what used to be’.

Prioritizing ‘values-based learning’ and championing preventative measures (e.g. group and individual counselling) that meet the developmental challenges of our students would combat the lack of responsibility for learning that has invaded our schools and has created a culture of learned complacency, ultimately resulting in an increase in discipline referrals, absenteeism and behavioral incidents. Educational frameworks cannot be limited to working our way through waitlists and maximizing the effectiveness of response protocols, but rather need to be viewed as an opportunity to invoke personal growth, critical thought, and achievement at the most basic level; that of each individual student.

An investment in teacher / specialist resources is essential to academic achievement however one needs to look to the daily, life functioning of our students before any major advancement can be made in terms of academic performance. In its simplest form, the situation manifests itself when a student or parent approaches my office and I end our discussion by making the following statement, “I have to apologize however, my caseload is full but I can make a referral for counselling services external to the school if you are interested.” Though Guidance Counsellors find themselves involved in highly important tasks, further investment in the developmental needs of all children and families would serve to address the many underlying circumstances that lead to behavioral difficulty and underachievement; at a stage where significant change and intervention is possible and effective.

 A quote that I often use to guide my practice and daily interactions is “Values are Caught, not Taught!” (Lawrence Kohlberg). As a Guidance Counsellor and a father, I place a great deal of credence in this philosophy and promote values-based learning as a means of attaining personal and academic advancement. Guidance Counsellors find themselves in a valuable, strategic position to influence and impact individual student growth and values structures, given that the time and resources are available to do so. It is through such student development that achievement, positive behavior, safety and advancement follow in due course. Ultimately, it is a case of using our common-sensibilities [sic] to provide effective intervention, guide decision-making, and initiate long-term change.  

 Trent Langdon      M.Ed., C.C.C.