School counseling and ethical empowerment
Thursday, April 25, 2019
This article originally appeared in the NJSCA Counselor News.
"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson
According to the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors, school counselors have an essential role as social justice advocates who affirm and support students from diverse populations. They are central to servicing students so that students may move toward self-determination and self-development.
Standard A.10 speaks of underserved and at-risk populations, for whom school counselors strive to contribute to a safe, respectful, and nondiscriminatory school environment.
As I reflect on the standards and my school counseling experience in urban communities, I have found that much of the social justice work with students and understanding of the laws and ethics surrounding our profession require internal balancing and self-reflection. Only when we tackle the issues that we ourselves are struggling to comprehend and reconcile can we better understand the true right and wrong that support our students in making conscientious decisions and cultivating paths toward their educational success.
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi said, "If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” Our students are often our mirrors, and this is ultimately where our relationships begin.
Consider some of the most difficult issues you have come across that have caused inner conflict within yourself, as you embarked on your school counseling career and thereafter. Have you ever had a student come to you with the same issue that you yourself have not been able to find peace with?
Many of the current legal/ethical issues that school counselors encounter are related to race and prejudice, the political climate, sexuality, technology and its impact, spirituality and science. These subjects have myriad paths that we can take when it comes to servicing students as they determine their own identities.
Students’ stances on these issues relate directly to their academic and social/emotional decisions. These are those essential moments that beg you to self-reflect and come to a place of self-development that the ASCA standards speak of. Only then can we free our students to have these evolutions themselves.
I have found over the years that I am torn on many issues affecting my high school students. The fact that the students come to me with concerns that I do not always feel secure about or have an unexplored bias toward is a reminder to go back to those issues and reflect. Only then can we deliver and model impartial ethics to our students and make decisions that are legally appropriate as well as complete.
We were taught in college and graduate school to regularly read scholarly articles about various topics and techniques through research. With the advent of social media, school counselors can find facts, details and opinions on current and trending issues in our field. We can then discuss this content professionally through consultation at coordinator, department and association meetings.
Teaming up with support staff and administrators as part of professional learning communities is another way to confer and receive the latest and most accurate information, and recent news and legislation. Seeing a counselor yourself is another way to explore your personal side and subjectivity and its connection to the world outside of you.
A wonderful leadership opportunity to learn more about particular issues and gain confidence is to run a professional development session with staff or present at a conference. This compels you to delve more into research, practices and innovation in the respective area.
When it comes to legal and ethical issues in the field of school counseling, one must constantly be open to revisiting. You may never have a final conclusion on your stance, but you will have exposure, exploration and the beginning of a stance or perhaps no stance at all. Patient expansion and a clear window of witnessing are critical with these often controversial legal and ethical issues that stir the growth of our students and ourselves.
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