By: Neeti Sarkar

'Guidance counselor.' Do you also cringe whenever you're called that, especially by a colleague? If I had a nickel for the number of times I've corrected staff members who've referred to me as the guidance counselor, I'd probably have enough money to furnish my hygge dream office!

But seriously, what are some misconceptions teachers have about you regarding your role at school? I'll go first. They expect me to 'discipline' students. Erm, no, I'm not going to be the bad cop. That's why we have principals and deans, right?

Considering a bulk of teachers are confused about what we do and how we go about it, what we don't do, and everything else in between, I am thrilled to be leading a presentation for faculty at our staff orientation in August. While the focus of my training would be on effective behavior management in the classroom, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be fielding questions that relate to other aspects of my job and how I liaise with and support teachers.

Do you also have the opportunity of training the teachers at your school? Unsure of what to talk about? Some pertinent topics you could present could include:

1. Meet the Counselor

Yep, teachers need this too, the existing staff members just as much as the newbies. And here's why. In this presentation, they will get to know a little more about you as a person and not just you as the school counselor.

This is where they will also have the opportunity to understand what your role is and what a typical day looks like for you. Take staff and faculty through how you support all students via classroom lessons and school-wide initiatives, how often you do these, how teachers need to sign up for them, details on topics you cover, etc. Next, give them details of what tier two small group support looks like, who should be a part of small-group interventions, how referrals are to be made, what you typically do in group sessions, and most importantly, how teachers can support you in this process.

While speaking about tier three support, make sure to clarify that it is short-term support, talk about when and why referrals are made outside, and that despite being a mental health professional, making a clinical diagnosis and offering therapy does not fall under your scope of work, and of course, explicitly talk about confidentiality in counseling. I would also include examples of when to send a child to the counselor versus when to send them to the principal, and what can be handled by the teacher versus what needs to be handled by the counselor.

When teachers have a better understanding of your role, and the procedures and protocols of school counseling, they are more likely to utilize your services better.

2. Managing Student Dysregulation in the Classroom

Given the number of 'emergency' calls I get through the day, on my cell phone, I'm almost certain a lot of teachers have me on their speed dial! Jokes apart, it can be pretty unnerving for teachers when a student has a meltdown or becomes dysregulated and they have no idea how to calm the child down while also not losing their cool.

screaming child

I would recommend starting with a Y-chart of what escalation in a child looks, sounds, and feels like. With many adults passing escalation off as 'attention-seeking' behavior, it is important to bring some clarity. I would suggest explaining the hand model of our brain and why we (adults too) flip our lid. At this point, it's also important to talk about triggers, what not to do when a child is escalated and why not to do those things, and also get an understanding of how teachers are currently managing situations like this (group discussions work like a charm), so that you can then share ideas and strategies they could use for effective de-escalation. Once teachers can comprehend all of this, you will be able to explain when and at what point they need to reach out to you for support.

Make sure to use case studies and role-plays to make a session like this truly successful. There's a good chance many teachers will want more in-depth training on this topic!

3. Restorative Practices

Unfortunately, many teachers I've interacted with haven't heard much about restorative practices or at least they don't get how it could be more effective than punitive/disciplinary action in the long run.

In a presentation on this topic, it would be pivotal to explain how restorative practices differ from traditional discipline, what restorative practices are and are not, strategies for creating a positive classroom culture, and uncover details such as what restorative circles look like in practice, building empathy, restorative conferencing, etc. As with the other counselor-teacher workshops, I would encourage you to make this an interactive one with discussions and role-playing. However, you know what would work best in your setting so take a call accordingly.

While we've touched upon only three teacher training topics, there is so much more you could do to educate teachers and bring awareness to issues that are common to all schools and specific to your own. From helping them create a plan for their self-care and working with them on strategies to help students build a growth mindset to training them on how to incorporate mindfulness in the classroom, there are several ways you as a counselor could support teachers with relevant staff training programs from time to time. Of course, to ensure more buy-in from this bunch of stakeholders, make sure to be well-prepared with ample research, evidence, and statistics to help substantiate what you are asking them to consider doing differently.

On that note, I hope the new school year brings with it better collaboration from teachers and positive changes in your school climate, culture, and community!

About the author: Neeti Sarkar is a Primary School Counselor at an IB school in Bangalore, India. Over the span of almost 10 years, she's worked with students aged 3-18, but enjoys working with the littles the most. Neeti's also a seasoned journalist, so when she isn't making behaviour plans, teaching guidance lessons, and supporting her school community in various other ways, she makes time for her other passion- writing.


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