School counselors are cringing nationwide as they watch Mr. Porter, the counselor in the book and Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, fumble through his role as the school counselor at Liberty High.
Time and time again, Mr. Porter failed those who came to him for help.
Now I get that characters need to act a certain way in order to further the storyline. They do things that don’t make sense, like investigate spooky noises by themselves in the middle of the night or camp out in haunted forests. It’s ridiculous behavior.
I argue that Mr. Porter’s behavior was even MORE ridiculous…primarily because a true professional school counselor would respond very differently to just about everything Mr. Porter did (and didn’t do).
Schools Need Counselors & ASCA’s Program Framework
Unlike Mr. Porter, in 13 Reasons Why, school counselors are trained to catch students that may otherwise fall through the cracks. More importantly, school counselors are trained to identify and address the needs of students BEFORE they become a major problem through the use of a comprehensive developmental counseling program.
As with many professions, tv shows and movies depict school counselors in a false light in order to advance the plot. I argue that the producers of 13 Reasons Why could have allowed Hannah Baker to slip through the cracks simply by giving Mr. Porter an average size caseload of 470 students…It would have made the show far more believable.
Anyone who’s “in the know” knows that school counselors don’t just sit in their office waiting for students to pop in.
Competent school counselors follow the guidelines set by the American School Counselor Association for program development, implementation, and evaluation.
With the current push to defund school programs, I think it’s more important than ever for school counselors to speak up and advocate for the work we do.
Let’s take a look at 13 qualities Mr. Porter was lacking as a professional school counselor!
#1 Students Need Support
Schools need counselors that can work with ALL students…not just 10-20% of students who meet some sort of qualification guidelines.
Kids can encounter a wide variety of problems, but they don’t have the resources or experience to handle the situation(s) effectively. School counselors teach students how to process problems and identify solutions and/or positive coping skills.
It should also be said that school counselors are often the ONLY mental health resource available to 10 million+ school-age kids with a mental illness.
#2 Proactive Programming
School counselors are proactive, not reactive. Putting up drunk driving posters AFTER a student dies might feel like a step in the right direction, but it does nothing to stop the death.
Identifying issues and implementing programming BEFORE a tragedy is the
goal hallmark of the school counseling profession. Reacting after the fact is merely “putting out fires”…the damage is already done…school counseling programming aims to prevent the damage in the first place.
#3 Needs-Based Programming
School counselors help with ANYTHING related to their students’ social, emotional, behavioral, and academic development. Conducting a needs assessment by surveying students, staff, and parents school counselors can allocate their time and resources effectively by addressing the identified needs through programming such as classroom guidance lessons and small group interventions.
#4 Out of the Office & In the Halls
My office is a place for privacy and to store supplies. That’s about it. School counselors spend about 80% of their time directly with students all over the school campus.
Greeting students as they walk through the doors in the morning, checking in on students during lunch and recess, and seeing students off as they leave for the day is extremely beneficial. Working these activities in whenever possible builds rapport and provides school counselors with a ton of useful information.
Observing students as they interact with their peers is vital in obtaining accurate context when helping them with social issues. Insight from context is gained from being amongst students, not hidden away in an office.
#5 In-Roads with Students
Connecting with students in a meaningful way improves the likelihood that they will come to you when there’s a problem. Students are far less likely to report a problem if they don’t think the adults will help them….they are even more unlikely to report a problem if they think the adults’ response will make the promise worse.
When school counselors take the time to foster relationships (with students, parents, and staff) they increase the likelihood that students report issues that affect them and their classmates.
#6 Safe/Anonymous Reporting Systems
Savvy school counselors have some type of a system that allows students to report issues anonymously. Sure, an anonymous reporting system has the potential to be abused but it pales in comparison to the advantage gain by removing the (perceived) risk of retaliation.
#7 Check-In Process with Staff
Even teachers with the best intentions can become swamped and overwhelmed. Instead of relying on the memory of 40+ teachers, school counselors schedule regular times to check-in on teachers to monitor student progress and issues that pop up.
#8 Support System for Teachers
Teachers are under a lot of stress lately. Creating a system where teachers are able to request help and/or resources when needed is essential.
#9 Structured Student Support Process
Creating and maintaining a process for student referrals is an essential part of a school counselor’s day.
Making sure the students, staff, and parents have an easy way to make referrals is only the first step! Identifying outcomes, monitoring progress, and follow-up are also crucial in the referral process.
Each one of these steps plays a part in providing a system for school counselors to follow to ensure that the support given is needs-based AND comprehensive.
#10 Supportive School Climate
#11 Suicide Prevention
Professional school counselors know the importance of establishing and following a protocol for suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts, and suicide completion.
Prevention and getting the right support to the people who need it are key.
#12 Community Collaboration
School counselors call on professions outside the school system when additional support is needed. Calling in additional mental health professional after a suicide helps the students process the death while also helping the school counselor keep up on their other counseling duties.
Counselors are taught early on to get assistance from a supervisor or experienced mental health professional when they are dealing with a tricky situation.
Nobody is 100% all the time. Counselors have good days and bad days just like everyone else.
The difference is our training. Our training prepares us to handle a variety of issues, including when we are in over our heads. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of professionalism.
After all, if we can trust in the help of others how can we expect other people to trust us?
In reality, counselors are human beings and we’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. We make mistakes but thankfully the ASCA comprehensive developmental counseling program model gives us the framework to maximize our effort and put students first!
What are your thoughts? Have you seen 13 Reasons Why? Anything I should add to the list above? I would love to hear from you in the comments!
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