So you have been posted as a counselor in a school and you’re wondering how best you can make your input effective.
In this article, I will be sharing strategies, tips, and tricks you can use to make your stay in the school both worthwhile and effective.
It is focused on how to get the students to open up to you and receive your services as a counselor because the major challenge counselors face in schools is that students do not see a need to meet them with their needs.
So this post is a guide that will help you in winning the heart of your students. I have not only learned the skills I have practiced and I’ll be sharing my experiences with you throughout this piece.
How to Become An Effective School Counsellor
1. Establish good relationships with other members of staff
The worst thing you can do as a school counselor is to go into any school and begin to portray yourself as a superhero who every other member of staff must worship.
Even if other members of staff do not intentionally fight against your effort, their missing contribution will greatly reduce the effectiveness of your work as a counselor.
Be open to suggestions from them, greet them, and give them respect. Do not always try to exalt your opinion above that of others in meetings. Do not turn the back of the administrators against the teachers and the list continues.
Even when you are right, allow them to be wrong while you continue doing what you know to be right. With time, they will come to understand where you stand instead of always painting their wrongs to them. Your work will be a whole lot easier when you have the full support of all members of staff. You are not their slave and not their boss— you are all equal colleagues.
2. Uphold good character
Before we begin talking about working on any skills, you must first work on yourself. Before you try to help anyone, they must not see you as a person who needs help himself.
What I’ve noticed about being a person of character is that on the surface it would look like you are old-fashioned but deep down within their heart, people respect you so much and know that it takes a lot of sacrifices to be a person of character.
As a male counselor, you are a person of character when females clearly know that you won’t touch them. They know you don’t tell lies and pretend to be what you’re not. They know you upload your standard and will always stand by your words.
This will earn you their respect and they will want to listen to someone like that when there’s a serious life issue as against someone who obviously doesn’t have his life all together.
Don’t confuse character with being strict. Character simply means, “I am who I am no matter what or where” — not shouting or beating.
3. Become competent
Nothing turns people off faster than coming to a person who looks very loaded but turns out to have nothing to offer.
If you are good at your job, students know. If you have solutions to offer, they know. If your guidance is truly helpful, they know. But the only way they will tell you is through their response to you.
If they stop coming, it means they are not getting the value they expect from you. Therefore, you should improve your skills and get better as a counselor.
Go and acquaint yourself with what is common among students: relationships with the opposite sex, emotional disturbances, conflict resolution, academic challenges and study habits, hatred for teachers, peer pressure, difficulty in making friends, low self-esteem, conflict with parents, etc.
These are the common issues that will be brought to your desk. But that is not all. In extreme cases, you will be faced with issues like rape, masturbation, bullying, cultism, addiction, PTSD, and so on.
If you do not have above-average knowledge about these things, you will soon lose relevance, so be committed to continually increasing your knowledge so students know that whenever they come to you they will leave helped or enlightened.
4. Prioritise confidentiality
This is one of the skills you will develop as you commit to getting better as a counselor. When students trust you, they will tell you things they have not told anybody else and they don’t want to tell anybody else.
The moment you begin to tell other teachers or other students about issues that were brought to your table, you have lost the heart of the students. Remember that all the points we have been focusing on so far are things you should do to win students’ hearts. You can only be an effective counselor when you have won the heart of students over.
The only exception to confidentiality is in cases where there is a need for other parties to be aware of the situation for the intervention to be successful. That is cases like rape, bullying, or cultism. But for issues like boyfriend/girlfriend or low self-esteem where you can give intervention without external help, there should be 100% confidentiality.
Don’t forget, nobody must hear about it except that person is in a position to help the issue.
5. Engage in student activities
As much as you want to make the students know that you are on their side, don’t just tell them, “I am here for you.” Live it, and let them see that you are truly there for them.
In one school where I was, I was very surprised how many students became open to me because I started attending their fellowship. This was a school where no teacher attended the Students’ Fellowship. Teachers usually had their own fellowship separately.
The moment I started attending, they started coming… “Uncle, this is what we are facing,” “Uncle, what should we do,” “Uncle, Rachel is not happy,” and so on.
Yours might not be through fellowship. It could be clubs and society, cultural day celebrations, or even games. You must not necessarily participate. Your presence there is more than enough.
PS: You are not going there to monitor their activities. Don’t go there to scold them or witch-hunt them. Allow them to be totally free in your presence. That is how you can know their true character and challenges.
6. Avoid flogging as much as possible (and no insults, please)
I have already started talking about this one. Remember I said being a person of character is not the same as being strict. If you’re a person of character sticking to your personal values, your presence alone is enough to make people readjust when they are doing something wrong.
It seems almost magical but committing to your values as a person influences people to join you in what is right rather than trying to enforce your values on them. Prioritize influencing over enforcing.
When you influence, the person is making their decision to join you in doing what you’re doing but when you enforce, you are the one making the decision, not them. They will do otherwise once you leave.
This does not mean you won’t enforce at all. When students (people in general) are sure that you are for them and have seen that you have a track record of not enforcing your desires on them, they will be more receptive when you want to enforce since they now trust that you are always working for their best interest.
7. Set boundaries
The thing about relating with people is that you don’t want to fall to any extreme. I just talked about not enforcing decisions on students but if you give them total liberty around you, some people will take advantage of it. So you must set clear boundaries.
For example, students shouldn’t play with your hair (for God’s sake!), your phone should be out of their reach as much as possible, there should be no playing or hiding in your office, proximity between you and students of the opposite sex should be minimized and so many others.
Part of committing to your personal values is that you will caution any person that tries to break your values.
Let students know you don’t support exam malpractice as much as you don’t shout it on the rooftop when a student tells you they were engaged in it. Students can have respect for you and your presence while still being your friend.
If there are no boundaries, there will be no respect and your counsel might become just as feeble as the words of another classmate to them.
8. Maintain good grooming
You don’t want to be an object of ridicule among students. Instead, your entire life should be something they’re looking up to. Several students should be able to point to you as a role model or mentor. This, however, cannot happen if your grooming is poor.
You should dress nicely, smell good, have a fresh breath, and always look presentable. Your students should be proud of walking with you— not behind you.
I know of some boys who will naturally not be attracted to me because they felt I was too moral for them. (I don’t want to say bad boys). But they began to draw nearer because of the way I dressed. Some would come and say, “Uncle, I like this your sneakers,” and I will use that as an opportunity to smile at them and make them feel I was not condemning them in any way. It was not sudden but with time they started to get freer to open up to me.
Every area of your life should be an admiration. Being a counselor shouldn’t just be a role you play but a life you live.
9. Share personal stories
Share stories! Who doesn’t love stories? But I don’t mean lengthy, unrelated stories. Share personal stories that can help explain what you’re communicating. After all, self-disclosure is an important counseling technique.
I was talking to a group of female students (average 15.5 years old) about how to manage their emotions (and not have boyfriends yet). Some were paying attention but some were just hearing. It was obvious on their faces.
The moment I said, “There was this girl I liked very well…,” you needed to see the way all of them fixed their eyes on me. Some even said, “Hmmm…” The expressions on their faces were saying, “so uncle too can like a girl?” Then, I was able to drive home my point and they listened better.
Even you, aren’t you enjoying the story I am telling? (lol. I caught you). But only tell relevant and relatable stories— keep it short and sweet.
As we can see, being a skillful counselor is only one of the nine factors that make you an effective school counselor. If there is one thing you should take from this post, it is that you make sure the students know you are on their side and teachers know you are not against them. Then, effective counseling will do the rest.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.