School Counselors Crisis Management

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For this interview, it was chosen to cooperate with a school counselor (guidance counselor), a professional that helps students in achieving progress in academics, personal and social development, career development, as well as ensures that students in a school become well-adjusted to the society in their future. The school counselor, Debora Left, works in the setting of a middle school, during which students usually begin developing their worldview, start planning for a future career, and experience challenges of becoming older and more responsible for their lives. It is expected that the interview with a professional counselor will provide insights into the processes of crisis management as well as collaboration practices that facilitate the team’s response to crises.

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According to the interview with Ms. Left, the middle school in which she works had a crisis plan, although she was not involved in the modification program. In the school, there was a crisis management team (consisting of Mr. Hague – the principal, the security guard in charge of clearing hallways and making sure that every floor was secure and safe, the head secretary responsible for attendance, the nurse assisting with medical issues, the social worker, and Ms. Left). The crisis management team conducted annual meetings to make changes regarding the issues during previous crises to ensure that every member had a clear understanding of their responsibilities. As to the situations that required crisis management procedures, Ms. Left described a case when a parent collapsed outside the school. The kids were dismissed, and the management had to put the school on lockdown and make sure that parents waited outside while the ambulance got there; the nurse and the guard gave CPR, but a defibrillator was needed. Ms. Left went to the hospital and waited for a family member to get there to explain what had happened. Ms. Left stated that for referring a student, parents needed to be aware and had to sign a consent form. Her school cooperates with the Trinitas Hospital, which has a great program for any kind of disabilities or mental health issues. Moreover, the facility also collaborates with the True Care Children’s Mental Health Clinic, 570 North Broad St. in Elizabeth, another agency that she uses to refer students and their families.

The strength of the plan was working together as a team that had an amazing connection. The weakness of the plan was the lack of efforts to review the plan regularly, which limits its implementation. During any crisis that requires assistance, Ms. Left stated that she usually did her best to help in anything that she could handle (since there are some points, that she would feel uncomfortable with doing). The counselor indicated that she relied on the school’s principal, with whom she collaborated to make sure that they provided the best services. During the crisis meetings, the team of educators usually discussed the processes involved in emergencies such as evacuations, fire drills, and other cases. Every drill had a different protocol; for instance, in the event of an evacuation, all students had to be relocated to the nearby church. Every school floor has different exits. Ms. Left indicated that she was responsible for students with disabilities who had to leave the building first. Moreover, Ms. Left had to contact parents and tell them about the emergency. As to the recommendations for counselors in training, Ms. Left said that reviewing the crisis manual regularly was a beneficial practice. Furthermore, a counselor-to-be had to have enough leadership and collaboration skills.

Another crisis mentioned during the interview was related to the psychological state of a teacher. Ms. Left received a text from Ms. Smith (a new teacher who had worked for several months) saying that she had a panic attack. The counselor added that they had a conversation with Ms. Smith who noted that she felt some symptoms of depression and anxiety due to the workload and some personal issues. Ms. Left asked Ms. Smith to address her in case of emergency and ensured the new teacher that she would be willing to help. When she received the message, the counselor went to Ms. Smith’s class and pretended she had an urgent message for her. When the teacher left the classroom, Ms. Left said that she could go to the faculty room or any other place to relax. The counselor advised her to take deep breaths and think of something positive. She also asked if Ms. Smith understood the reason for the panic attack, but the latter said she did not know as everything was as usual. This brief conversation lasted for several minutes. When Ms. Smith left, the counselor came into the classroom and started a conversation with the students. She noted that there was an urgent issue to be resolved, nothing serious. She also reminded students about her services and different situations she could help them address. When the teacher returned to the class (within ten minutes), Ms. Left asked her to see her later. It is possible to note that this crisis management strategy was effective. The counselor shared some effective tools to cope with a panic attack and managed the class while the teacher was absent. Panic attacks can cause a lot of distress and even irrational behavior, but when the support is provided, they can be handled quite quickly and effectively (Corey, 2012). The support should include some advice on the tools to cope with the attacks as well as assistance with the students as it is crucial to make sure that they are behaving properly while the teacher is absent.

According to the American School Counselor Association (n.d.), today’s young people are living in a diverse society with expanding opportunities, so there is a need in helping them ensure that they become an accomplished generation of parents, workers, and citizens. Such support is especially needed during adolescence, which is a time for children’s rapid developmental changes; moreover, early adolescents can face a set of unique challenges in their personal or developmental areas that affect academic performance. To meet this challenge, middle school counselors should provide proactive leadership to engage the educational stakeholders in helping children achieve success in schools. The mission of school counselors is often achieved through the design and implementation of a comprehensive school counseling program. Middle school counselors are responsible for creating a supportive atmosphere in the educational facility to promote students’ learning process, support academic achievement and personal growth, as well as help overcome challenges.

Knowing how to quickly respond to crises in an educational setting is crucial for ensuring the safety of schools and students (Studer & Salter, 2010). Disturbing school events can vary from natural catastrophes to school shootings; even though they are usually unexpected and rare, there is a need for an efficient crisis intervention plan that could prepare the facility to return to its normal operations. Apart from helping students developmentally or academically, school counselors should be proactive in situations of crisis and guide students towards “recovery” after unexpected events.

The role of a professional school counselor is advocating for the emotional needs of students affected by a crisis by providing counseling services (Studer & Salter, 2010); moreover, a school counselor should take on the leadership role to collaborate with parents, teachers, administrators, students, and the community to manage, intervene, and prevent crises in educational settings. School counselor-parent collaboration is of particular importance in the context of crisis management since parents are more interested in counseling services that are delivered directly to students rather than services that help parents improve their parenting skills (Grubbs, 2013). The collaboration between parents and school counselors in crises is an essential step towards achieving success since there is a two-dimensional targeting of the problem: from a perspective of a certified professional and a view to a student’s close relative.

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As school counselors should possess a set of practical skills for managing crises in educational settings, an individual preparing for a role of a school counselor in crisis management should identify the areas of strength and areas for growth. Among the areas of strength, the ability to create a supportive environment, collaboration and teamwork skills, as well as stress resistance has been identified as the most prominent. The skills of creating a supportive environment for a caring community (Crepeau-Gobson, Filaccio, & Gottfried, 2005) is crucial for managing crises since such environments usually have a positive impact on student’s mental well-being. Without collaboration and teamwork skills, a counselor will be unable to engage key stakeholders in cooperation for a common goal; thus, having this skill as a strength is a large step forward. Lastly, stress resistance is an acquired skill that all school counselors should have to manage crises.

Apart from the areas of strength, it has been identified that lack of leadership skills, difficulties with adapting to different situations, and the lack of decision-making skills are certainly areas for improvement. Because a school counselor usually takes up a leadership role in crises, there is a high need for enhancing the leadership skills by learning from the example of other leaders, communicating with the team, and setting up goals with colleagues (The Muse, 2015). Adaptation has been identified as one of the keys to crisis response (Laurens, 2015); thus, developing adaptation skills is an area for improvement, on which a counselor-to-be should focus. Proficiency in decision-making is the last area for improvement. Although this skill does not come naturally, a professional becomes skillful in making decisions after years of experience; therefore, this ability will require determination and dedication to the counseling practice.

References

American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). Why middle school counselors. Web.

Corey, G. (2012). Case approach to counselling and psychotherapy. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Crepeau-Hobson, M., Filaccio, M., & Gottfried, L. (2005). Violence prevention after columbine: A survey of high school mental health professionals. National Association of Social Workers, 27, 157-165.

Grubbs, N. (2013). School counselor-parent collaborations: Parents’ perceptions of how school counselors can meet their needs. Web.

Laurens, L. (2015). Adaptation and attitude are two keys to crisis response. Web.

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Studer, J., & Salter, S. (2010). The role of the school counselor in crisis planning and interventions. Web.

The Muse. (2015). 7 ways to start building your leadership skills today (no matter where you are on the ladder). Web.

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