Summer 2024

Peace of Mind: You’re better than you think!

This Peace of Mind column is dedicated to boosting the morale of the lonesome guidance counsellor: anchored to their desk, buried in paperwork, seemingly cut off from the hustle and bustle of school living. It is a column that recognizes the gifts that counsellors bring to the lives of their students and the way they shape a school community, often with little recognition for what they’ve done. It is also a column that represents the last installment of the Peace of Mind feature and an end to this writer’s tenure with Canadian School Counsellor.

It’s the job

As a guidance counsellor, you get a bad rap. Teachers think you are in your office sipping cappuccinos all day. Administrators download tasks that are clearly under their portfolio. Students think you don’t believe in them. Parents wonder what you’re doing to help their kid. Of course these are blanket statements, but we’ve all heard them. It’s true: a guidance counsellor can hide in their office, they can become the whipping post of the admin, they are often accused of being dream killers by students, and they are sometimes accused of ‘wasting taxpayers’ money’ by parents.

However, we know the truth.

As a real guidance counsellor (and if you’re reading this column, you must be one) you have developed a thick skin in terms of the empty chatter surrounding what others think you do. You are an organized, compassionate, student-centred professional who does your best with the skills you have. You collaborate with teachers when they are concerned about a student. You push back when the administration is soft pedalling around significant issues like bullying. You give students the hard truth when their goals don’t line up with their classroom performance. And you let parents know that education is a partnership involving both the home and the school, and that you always have the student’s best interests at heart. This is what you do as a guidance counsellor; day-in and day-out, month after month, school year after school year. And, you know what, you don’t get any credit for it. This is why you sometimes struggle to maintain your peace of mind.

Greatest hits

None of this information is news to you. Despite any feelings of insecurity, you know that you are doing your best to have an impact on the lives of the students under your charge. If you want to fine tune your performance, here are a few suggestions based on what I have learned over the years as a guidance counsellor and as a writer for this publication.

Beware of the ‘isms’

Racism, classism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism, all of the biases that can unwittingly creep out of our unconscious and into our thinking. While we feel we don’t possess any bias surrounding certain people in our lives, our unconscious mind may have other ideas. What we can do is be aware of the existence of the ‘isms’ and be cautious of how they might present themselves when we are dealing with others. I learned a lot about this when I wrote articles dealing with white privilege and racial bias. I remember crafting articles about the educational impediments affecting BIPOC students and was particularly affected by the information shared with me by Indigenous people. I learned even more when I was asked to explore the transgender issue and had the opportunity to interview a trans youth whose insight and candour helped me be more conscious of the way I view the world.  The ‘isms’ are there. You’re not perfect. Keep a close eye to see if they even hint at showing up. Awareness is the key to identifying your bias.

Remember ‘the counsellor’s curse’

Do you every feel like, even though you are certain what you are saying is true, the recipient thinks you are completely out of touch with reality? This is the essence of ‘the counsellor’s curse.’ You are the guardian of the real. You assess and evaluate situations and, based on your professional judgement, you give excellent advice. And often that advice is summarily rejected. Worse, there are times when you get accused of killing a dream or thwarting the development of a student.

This is absolute nonsense.

Guidance counselling is about getting to the dream (which is the destination), not killing the dream. Keep giving that advice and live with the curse of being a truthteller. And when a student or parent tries to say, ‘See, I told you I could do it!’ because they got into the program you told them was out of the question in grade 10 (when they were barely passing their courses), just smile and remember the ‘counsellor’s curse.’ Do this with the knowledge that, if you hadn’t told them the truth, they wouldn’t have mustered the motivation to change their approach to their education. Remember that you are the unsung hero (among a collection of heroes) of many stories.

Find solace in the silence

The lack of recognition for the outstanding work that you do is deafening. Sure, there are times when you get the odd pat on the back, but there are more times where you are plugging away and no one is even noticing. Like the time you got that student into a club because they desperately needed friends. Maybe there’s the time you found a struggling student a peer tutor and saw them turn the corner on a troubling academic period. How about the student you referred to the school social worker when suicidal ideation surfaced in their thinking. What about the time a student confided in you that they were being bullied and you worked with the administration to bring an end to the actions of the bully. How about the time you fought to save a course that served at-risk students that was being arbitrarily thrown to the scrap heap. All these actions shape a school community in a subtle and sustaining way.  As the summer break comes along, take stock, and recognize that the things you do have an impact on your students and, in fact, you are better at this job than you think. This should give you some peace of mind.

Final Thoughts

I am obviously a fan of guidance counsellors. I have worked with so many gifted counsellors who have proven instrumental in the lives of their students and in the school communities where they share their gifts. With the pace of school life often dizzying (I am sure you are in the midst of the race to the finish as the end of the school year looms), the poise, composure, and resilience of these professionals—professionals like you—has been truly inspiring. I am certain that this inspires many of your students as well.

And with that, we come to the end of the Peace of Mind column and my time at Canadian School Counsellor and MZP Inc. When the late Trevor Shirtliff hired me to write Counsellor’s Corner back in 2013, I had no idea I’d be hanging around for over a decade. But here we are. I’d like to thank Donna Billey and the entire staff at MZP Inc. for making my writing pop and accompanying it with first rate photos and graphics. I’d especially like to commend the group for their work during the transition after Trevor passed away suddenly a few years back. I’ve learned a lot writing for MZP Inc. It is amazing how an educator can get so much of an education writing for an education publication. The previous sentence might be awkwardly worded, but it sure describes my journey.