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Principals and Counselors Can Team Up for Student Success

By Tory Potter, Eric Semler, Dawn De Koker, and Ben Fishman
Principals and Counselors Can Team Up for Student Success

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” — Phil Jackson

Having a strong, positive partnership between school administrators and counselors is critical in supporting student success. Concordia International School Shanghai has taken intentional steps to strengthen the partnership between administrators and school counselors. 

We had the opportunity to sit down with each member of the Concordia Elementary School team to learn how they are building strong partnerships. We talked with Dr. Ben Fishman and Mrs. Tory Potter, Elementary School Counselors, as well as Dr. Eric Semler and Mrs. Dawn De Koker, Elementary School Administrators, about how they are building a strong partnership to ensure student success.

What are some key things to consider when building a strong partnership between counselors and administrators?

According to the counselors, working in collaboration to build a cadre of support is key. Ultimately, by working together, we can better support our students and help them be successful. Also, it is important to take a holistic approach when supporting students. We do this in order to maximize the potential of each child.

The team agrees that each member has an integral role to play to ensure student success. Our roles require that we have both a proactive approach and that we are advocating for our students.

The principal notes that although we are all on the same team, we each have a specific and differentiated role to fulfill. There is a strong overlap between our roles. Each of us cultivates relationships and advocates for our students within our designated roles. 

Can each of you give us a specific place to start in developing a stronger program?

The ES counselors explained that meetings between counselors and principals have been helpful in sharing and discussing the International School Counselor Association (ISCA) model and role of the counselor but also when it comes to learning, listening, and understanding the role of principal and assistant principal.

“One of the best things that we did was to look at the ISCA model,” agreed the principal. “Spending time building a common vision has really benefited our program. I would also encourage school leaders to have a clear vision about how things should work.”

Furthermore, it’s also important to spend time recruiting counselors who share your values and your vision. Finding the right fit for your school beliefs is essential to the overall success of the team and the students. 

“I would agree that the recruitment of administrators and counselors is critical. Those responsible for recruiting should consider how the candidate will fit into the team.”

Do the candidates share the same vision, philosophy, personality, and communication style? We all know that we do our best work when we are surrounded with a “winning team” of educators with whom we will work well and can problem solve collectively. Counselors and principals work closely together; therefore, it is helpful when creating a team to consider not just how an educator can perform individually, but what they can bring to the team and how they can make the team better, remarked Dr. Fishman. 

Lastly, the team concluded that it is important to establish an open dialogue and encourage learning about both roles to prevent misunderstandings, conflicts, and strategically position the team to work more cohesively and effectively. Having an open-door policy promotes healthy dialogue and collaboration. 

What is something that you are working on this year?

Our counseling and administrative team goal for the 2020-2021 school year is to reduce conflicts division-wide by 10 percent by using the conflict resolution program entitled Kelso’s Choices.

What exactly is Kelso’s Choices?

According to the counselors, Kelso’s Choices teaches students nine basic strategies for solving smaller problems independently. Students are encouraged to try two or three options from among Kelso’s Choices prior to seeking help from an adult. Also, students are taught that when they are in a situation that is scary, dangerous, or where someone may get hurt, to report the situation to a trusted adult immediately.

“We are utilizing Kelso’s Choices as a school-wide and community approach and expect to be able to reduce discipline and conflicts at school by training teachers, teaching assistants, parents, and students. Our aim is to strive towards students’ proficiency in being able to demonstrate and model strategies,” explains Tory. 

What are the desired outcomes? 

With the team approach to training we hope to see students using these strategies with increased independence and success. We believe that as we reinforce these conflict-resolution strategies in our lessons and meetings with students, we will see a change in behavior. 

We will use qualitative observations by teachers, teacher assistants, counselors, and principals and the number of office referrals will determine the effectiveness of the program.

Counselors will collate student input from Social Emotional Learning (SEL) classes and students will have a voice in the objective of decreasing conflict and bullying at our school. 

Additionally, the counselors will continue to enhance the home-school connection and partner with our parent community to boost awareness of the conflict-resolution strategies. 

At the tail end of the school year, the team will compare data and statistics from last school year and this school year and determine if our goal of a 10 percent reduction of conflicts was achieved and then decide on a way forward for improving our collaboration in order to help students succeed, the assistant principal explains. 

We’ll then review the data as a team and then decide on next steps to support our students. Using Kelso’s Choices throughout the division, whether you are a homeroom teacher, a teacher assistant, a counselor, or an administrator, will help the division as we work towards the goal of reducing student conflicts and supporting our students.

Suggestions from the Concordia principals and counselors to team effectively:

  • Student-centered weekly meetings to stay connected, be proactive, and stay a step ahead. 
  • Maintain flexibility and help to support each other when team members may not be available.
  • Keep student interests foremost when making decisions.
  • Cultivate collaboration, co-present, co-author, and work in unison.
  • Aim to anticipate, be proactive and preventative to support students, teachers, parents, and the community.
  • Work together to create a needs assessment for the school.
  • Consider team member strengths when taking on best practices for students.
  • Celebrate successes by recognizing others’ contributions, i.e. offer weekly “Shout Outs” and be specific with praise.

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