School Counselor Leadership~
Over ten million members of The Learning First Alliance include the likes of the Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation, state education alliances, and every leading education association out there. LFA is dedicated to improving public education, and has awarded one very special person every year since 2002 as School Counselor of the Year. The School Counselor of the Year and the the award finalists and semi-finalists attend a ceremony in their honor at the White House each year.
Learning First Alliance Deputy Director Anne O’Brien blogs regularly on topics adjunct to LFA’s precepts. A particular article she wrote for the Edutopia website in 2013, Celebrating School Counselors, is about the White House award ceremony. In that article, O’Brien introduces some of the mainstays of school counselor duties:
“Counselors often lead a school’s work in conflict resolution, and can play an important role in substance abuse education…They can play a huge role in building the culture and climate of a school. They…do much…to remove barriers to learning and help students succeed.”
O’Brien’s article tells about 2013 School Counselor of the Year Mindy Willard at Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Arizona. “She has created a counseling program that…focuses on guidance lessons.”
School Counselor Ratio
Although the White House has recognized the important duties of school counselors since 2002, O’Brien points out in 2013 that nationwide, one in five schools completely lacked a school counselor, and in schools that did have them, each counselor averages 500 students they alone are expected to guide to success.
To catch you up to more recent statistics, I found an article published on September 16, 2016 in The Atlantic online magazine. The Undervaluing of School Counselors, an article by James S. Murphy, tells us the national average at the time of his more recent article was 491 students per counselor.
Not a lot of progress in three years, especially considering the fast growth in substance abuse deaths despite the US Surgeon General declaring heroin addiction an epidemic back in July of 2015. Many of the growing numbers of addicted are students, while many are young adults who found themselves in even less happy circumstances after they left school.
If school counselors often provide the guidance that supports conflict resolution and substance abuse education, and these lead to the quality of the culture and climate of a school that can take students to successful life outcomes, then why does there continue to be a dearth of school counselors nationwide?
Substance Abuse Statistics
It’s no secret that school counselors come face-to-face daily with many problems posed by kids who make poor decisions and engage in risky behavior. My heart goes out to teachers and school counselors at the front lines because of numbers like this:
- 80% of new heroin users are under the age of 26 (an old statistic for which I cannot find an update other than that younger and younger ages are becoming statistics).
- In 2013, the Denver, Colorado Coroner’s Office reported 28% of all deaths in that city were heroin-related. (Updates for city and county heroin death statistics are also hard to come by.)
- It is expected the US 2016 death number related to heroin overdose will push upwards of 65,000 from 55,000 the previous year.
I know these numbers because I have studied the problem. I used to ignore it until it hit home. One of my sons had gone down that dark path of drug addiction, yet with certain support he turned his life around and became a champion in his field. I thought all was well.
Four years later my other son, who did not have the same support his older brother did because programs were dismantled or overloaded, died with a heroin needle in his arm. That’s when I started researching the heroin problem.
Identifying Risk Students
It seems with the statistics I listed above, parents, teachers and counselors must consider that the large amount of exposure to risky behavior today has put ALL of their charges “at-risk.” The good news is there are strategies, or techniques, for swiftly and easily improving the culture and climate at schools despite ever-tightening school budgets. These can be used by parents, teachers, school counselors and of course, the students for whom they are intended.
The Importance of Positive Values
What needs to change in at-risk situations is values. Because of the human propensity toward negativity, good values require positive guidance, which requires a structure that promotes the cultivation of high values.
Negative students, and negative people in general, don’t know that negativity can be overcome with positivity. They are entrenched in their negativity and usually they would rather be right than be happy. I admit I was like this most of my life. It was a habit in the way that I regarded life itself. I valued complaining because I believed most problems were hopeless. Besides, commiserating can be fun. We stupidly like drama–until we smarten up.
Negative people don’t know they are promoting their own negative circumstances with their focus. They are unhappy because they focus on what’s wrong while they are clueless that they could turn things around with a positive focus. They don’t know any better that they are hindering their own advancement with their negativity. They don’t know they have poorer brain function while thinking negative thoughts, and good brain function while thinking positive thoughts.
But positivity is not what comes naturally to us humans, given our survival mechanism of fight-or-flight. Just like all relationships, from marriage to countries engaging in war, a school’s culture and climate depends on how happy or unhappy its students are. The trick is to override our negative thoughts with positive.
The Impact of Positive Attitude
Despite the overwhelming numbers of students who veer off course, parents, teachers and school counselors have witnessed kids who have kept a positive course within the at-risk environment. Many risk students do become successful. How? From what I’ve learned in my journey with my children as well as in my personal journey, I believe the primary reason is that successful kids–and adults–have learned how to be happy regardless of circumstances.
They are those who have faith that things are always working out well, no matter how bad things might look. Kids acquire this attitude from the adults who guide them. With an attitude of happiness in living their life, they are empowered by knowing they have some control and can solve problems in ways that make their life better. They can solve problems because a happy brain is a smart brain.
They don’t lose hope, and are inspired to add value to their lives instead of the temporary high of using drugs. They learn they can mitigate and even turn around the negative effects of their problems. They can even use this to turn an addiction around. That’s how happiness leads to success. My thriving son did it by living two things he learned: how to think positively and discovering and living his passion. These are two of three important things I live by and teach.
My next blog features 3 Things Every Parent, Teacher and School Counselor Can Do to Help Kids Stay Positive and Succeed. The title of the blog is, Found: A Substance Abuse Education Curriculum.
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Wishing you your best possible life,
Rori O’Hara earned the coveted Youth Speaker University Speaker Certification. She is also a workshop facilitator and author. Her focus is to expose kids, youth and young adults to proven techniques for success that will sustain them throughout their lives. To ask her for a media interview or to speak at an event, please email her directly at RoriOhara@SuccessSystemsInstitute.com
Smith, L. (2013, October 21). Heroin Use, Deaths On The Rise In Middle ClassÂ America – CBS Denver. CBS Denver. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://denver. cbslocal.com/2013/10/21/heroin-usedeaths-on-the-rise- in-middle-class-america/
Ph.D., B. M. (2013, May 7). Shyness Is Nice. Stop Fighting Your Negative Thoughts. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is- nice/201305/stop-fighting-your-negative-thoughts
Newberg, A. B., & Waldman, M. R. (2012). Words can change your brain: 12 conversation strategies to build trust, resolve conflict, and increase intimacy. New York: Hudson Street Press.