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Counsellor’s Corner: It would be great to have a guidance counsellor who…

I’m sure almost everyone has been in the position where they’ve attended a guidance professional development session and sat across from a “Super Counsellor.” These are the folks who seem to have a handle on everything (and they tell you about it at the session). They’re good with kids, they’re good with staff, they dominate the computer, they’re exceptionally well organized, and they’re the first to throw their hand up at the session to share their expertise with everybody in the room.

And we either overly admire or irrationally hate them because they are so “super.”

Well, let me tell you, after nearly 30 years in the business, no one is really all that super. Instead we all exist on a competence continuum. In many cases, someone who appears to dominate in all facets of the game is deficient in more than a few areas. And often the people who have to publicly announce their greatness are actually hiding their deficiencies behind their bravado.

This is not to say that there aren’t exceptional guidance counsellors. I have worked with a few. The ones who were the best exhibited an unflappable air about them that combined humility and wisdom in a perpetually student-centred approach. These counsellors also knew their strengths and their weaknesses. In other words, they knew what made them super and not-so-super.

In the end, the best qualities of a guidance counsellor are probably pretty evident to the students who keep coming back for appointments. If I were to share a note with students about the characteristics of a strong guidance counsellor, it would probably look something like this:

It would be great to have a guidance counsellor who…

…is guided by a spirit of helpfulness.

…knows how to set your mind at ease.

…you can go to when times are tough.

…sits back and lets you get angry or cry – and doesn’t judge you for being emotional.

…never gives up on you when you are trying your best.

…knows when to guide and when to let go.

…challenges you when you need to be challenged.

…knows when you need extra help and has people (like the Social Worker) they can connect you with.

…celebrates your victories (whether they’re big or small).

…is candid and honest – even if they need to share something you don’t want to hear.

…knows how to help you communicate your concerns with your parents.

…sees through the chaos and moves you toward stability.

…works their magic so that you can get the courses that you want (or need).

…knows me well enough to help me transition to the next phase of my life.

…keeps the lines of communication open with teachers so that everyone understands what’s going on in your life.

…knows how to work with the school administration to implement the programs and courses that serve the widest variety of students.

Certainly, it would be great to have a guidance counsellor who possessed all of these qualities, but I have never met someone so richly blessed. However, I have encountered guidance teams that collectively exhibit these traits. And maybe that’s the point: there is no such thing as a “Super Counsellor” because it is a guidance team that helps create stability in a school and, by extension, in the lives of individual students. While one person is a sympathetic ear another is a master of logistics while another is an expert on programs and transition planning. So next time you are at a professional development session, and a “Super Counsellor” is pontificating, shift your focus away from their hyperbole and back to your guidance team.  How can your team embody the best practices that make our job so impactful? Don’t fall into the trap of allowing your admiration for the “Super Counsellor” to make you feel inferior; instead remember that an empathetic and competent team forms the foundation that builds a successful school community. In a society obsessed with super heroes, we sometimes forget that the best of who we are comes from our willingness to work cooperatively to create institutions (like schools and hospitals!) that contribute to the greater good of humanity.

By: Sean Dolan

Sean Dolan taught for 20 years before moving into Guidance and Career Education six years ago. He is currently working as a high school guidance counsellor at St. Marcellinus Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario.

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