When you think about guidance counselors, do these
words come to mind: isolated, unaccountable, uninvolved,
inaccessible, or out of touch? Counselors can have the
reputation of being reactive crisis workers who function
within the confines of their offices, separate from the overall
At Thomas W. Pyle Middle School in Montgomery County,
Maryland, our staff has mastered the art of counselor involvement.
In fact, the members of our counseling department see
themselves as the glue that bonds all of our stakeholders.
Here are some of the ways the counselors at Pyle work
with administrators, teachers, and parents to maximize the
academic and emotional success of all students.
Administrators as Partners
The support and collaboration of the administrators is vital
to our success. Our administrators support Pyle’s schoolwide
guidance program in several ways.
A climate goal in the school improvement plan. A school
improvement plan (SIP) provides a focus and foundation
for the work to be done for that school year. By including a
climate-focused goal on the SIP, our administration sends
the message that the school’s support of our students’
emotional health is imperative.
The climate goal at Pyle is: “Pyle Middle School will help
students grow academically, socially, and emotionally
by developing and nurturing positive relationships and engaging and motivating all students to improve their
academic achievement in a positive school environment.”
The development and implementation of this goal sends
a clear message that everyone is working toward this goal,
not just the counselors.
A voice in administrative decisions. At our school, the
counseling department chair participates in administrative
team meetings. This provides the counseling department
a voice when key school-wide decisions are made and
ensures administrators hear how these decisions might
affect the counseling department and the students. These
weekly meetings also provide an important opportunity
for the department chair to discuss innovative counseling
programs with the administration.
In addition, when implementing new programming,
such as school-wide activities and lunch discussions,
administrators routinely partner with counselors to
introduce new ideas to staff, providing the administrative
backing and support many staff need.
Protecting the role of the counselor. The administrators
at Pyle honor the primary role of the counselor, which
makes counseling the priority. At our school, counselors are
not primarily involved in disciplinary roles such as bus duty,
lunch duty, and alcohol/drug policing. Counselors are not
assigned to be testing coordinators, stand-in administrators,
or substitute teachers. By clearly establishing what our roles
are and are not, the administrators lay the groundwork for
what our department is hired to do.
Teachers as Copilots
Pyle Middle School serves more than 1,300 students and,
like typical young adolescents, they all need some sort of
counseling-related services. This need cannot be filled by a
handful of counselors meeting students individually in their
offices; more time and personnel are necessary.
We’ve implemented many strategies to work with
teachers to implement counseling services throughout the
building during the school day.
The team concept. The team is comprised of academic
teachers, a counselor, and an administrator. This team meets
weekly to monitor student progress. The counselor and team
leader guide these meetings, with the counselor bringing pertinent information about the students from previous
grades, report cards, teacher reports, or parent contacts.
Often, the team creates an action plan that outlines a
detailed set of steps the team will follow to help a certain
student. This action plan usually includes counselor
follow up, such as meeting individually with a student or
contacting a parent to communicate team feedback. The
counselor then reports back to the team the following
week. If the team determines a parent conference is
warranted, the counselor sets up, attends, and many times
facilitates the meeting.
During the conference, the counselor ensures the parents
feel like they are part of a team and, most importantly,
keeps the adults in check to make sure the student’s
perspective and best interest are in the forefront. Clearly,
the counselor is a vital member of the team, not an
Classroom lessons and activities. Counselors provide
teachers with guidance-related, scripted lesson plans and
activities they can implement easily in their classes. Topics
may include cyber bullying, academic integrity, stress, and
self-esteem. At Pyle, counselors provide four school-wide
lessons, usually at the beginning of each quarter. A specific
date and time are chosen for the lesson to be taught to
ensure all students receive the information.
School-wide events. The counseling department at
Pyle hosts activities that provide students with handson
opportunities for emotional growth. One of the most
popular activities is Diversity Doors. After homeroom
teachers facilitate discussions about diversity and
acceptance, each homeroom decorates its door. A panel of
judges (teachers, administrators, and students) chooses the
most creative Diversity Door.
Parents as Collaborators
Parents are vital partners in ensuring their students’ success,
and we involve them in a variety of ways.
Communication and connections. At the beginning of
the year we reach out to all of our parents with our “Meet
the Counselors’ Breakfast,” where we describe all of the
counseling opportunities for the year.
Committees provide endless opportunities for counselors
to communicate with and support parents. Some examples of the committees at our school include: Counseling
Advisory Committee, Academic Advisory Committee,
International and Newcomer Committee, Character
Education Committee, and Cyber Connection Committee.
Our Counseling Advisory Committee provides the
counseling department with a key tool to communicate
with parents about upcoming counseling programming,
but also gives parents a voice to let the department know
what needs parents see in the community. The notes from
the Counseling Advisory Committee meetings are put in the
monthly newsletter to reach an even larger population of
The counseling department also frequently uses our
e-mail listserve to contact parents about upcoming events.
This provides parents with information about counseling
programs and events and also gives them a quick and easy
way to ask questions and give feedback.
Career and culture lunches. Pyle’s parent advisory group
collaborates with the counseling department to organize
monthly career and cultural lunches. Community members
volunteer their time to speak about different careers and
cultures to students who sign up to attend during their lunch.
Participation is approximately 175 students per month.
And the Counselors
Teamwork is at the foundation of our school and our
counseling department. Student caseload is structured by
team assignment; all students on a given team have the
same counselor. Counselors work together on grade-wide
programming such as lunch discussion groups, career development,
and classroom lessons, and share responsibility for
each other’s students as a back-up support team.
Because we want to reach as many students as possible,
one of our counselors has a reduced caseload so she can
devote half of her time to special programming and schoolwide
Consistency. Each year, counselors and administrators
move with their students to the next grade. This system
promotes consistency for the students, fosters communication
between the counselor and administration, provides
teachers with background knowledge about the students,
and helps ward off counselor burn-out.
Confidential, not mute. While confidentiality is at the
heart of a counselor’s role, not everything a counselor does
should be kept a secret. At Pyle Middle School, students and
parents often want other staff members to know about their
situations as part of the problem-solving process. We routinely
ask parents and students, “Is this something I can share
with the teachers?” or “What part of what you just told me can
I share with the teachers?” We explain the benefit of everyone
being on the same page in terms of helping the student.
Bragging rights. Counselors must demystify their
position to the staff and reveal how they are using their
time. Marketing strategies are a great tool for this. Our
counselors make a targeted effort to inform parents,
students, and staff about our programs and services. We
visit every classroom in the beginning of the year and
conduct a needs assessment with all students that helps
guide our programming. We announce upcoming groups/
programming to students, parents, and staff via e-mails,
listserves, bulletin boards, and PA announcements.
All about relationships. Relationships are the why and
how of what we do. Colleagues who trust and like us are
more likely to accept our programs. We are friendly and
approachable to teachers and other staff members so we
can more effectively work with our students. We even have
a sign in our office that proclaims: “Warm and Fuzzy.” We
strive to get to know our colleagues so we can work with
them to help students achieve.
Plan, plan, plan ahead! We try to do as much advance
planning as possible. Prior to the school year, we put our
school-wide events on the master calendar so teachers have
the information as soon as possible. We also hammer out
the details such as rooms and space for programming. The
more we think ahead, the less we inconvenience others.
Instead of being isolated and inaccessible, the counselors
are at the center of a bustling community center with
outreach to every classroom in the building. With teamwork,
vision, relationships, and communication, our counseling
department helps guide the academic, social, and emotional
middle school experience of our students
Rebecca Bloom is a school counselor, Jennifer Goodstein is a teacher and team leader, and Erika Huck (Erika_A_Huck@mcpsmd.org) is a school counselor and department chair at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Previously published in
Middle Ground magazine, April 2011