By Susan Riddell
Crittenden County Elementary School recently had a few problems with bullying in one of its grade levels.
“We have a zero-tolerance bullying policy in our district and have programs set up that teach anger-management skills,” school counselor Trudy Bramblett said. “This grade level just needed a little more help understanding how to relate to each other when they were angry and how not to have bullying behavior.”
Bramblett, who has been the counselor at Crittenden County Elementary for 18 years, spent time in each classroom at that grade level teaching lessons on anger management, how students can identify bullying and what to do when it happens.
“The teachers were diligent in following up on any bullying behavior and used those incidents to re-teach skills students needed,” Bramblett said. “Since then we have seen a significant drop in office discipline referrals for bullying in that grade. With better understanding of what bullying behavior is and how to manage it, our students have not been exhibiting the behavior and have spent more time learning.”
It’s not unusual for counselors like Bramblett to enter classrooms to help students get the most out of their educational experience.
Tamra Parker is another example. She is in her second year as a counselor at Fulton County Elementary/Middle School.
“Recently, I taught life skills training (LST) to 6th grade,” Parker said. “This curriculum was incorporated into their related arts or specials time. LST is a research-based program designed to promote health and personal development as well as prevent school violence. Such lessons are decision making, self-image, coping with anxiety, learning how to be assertive and say ‘no’ to an unhealthy lifestyle, and my favorite – social skills.”
Both counselors have classroom teaching experience and are drawn to the familiarity of the classroom.
Bramblett has been a counselor for 21 years. Prior to that, she taught grades 4-7, with most of her time teaching 6th grade. Parker taught high school special education for six years prior to becoming a counselor.
Both agreed that their reason for going into classrooms and working with students is to better advocate for them.
“It is my hope that by aiding students in social and emotional growth, their learning will be positively impacted as well,” Parker said. “Often, I will ask the student to come to my office and bring work from his or her classroom. It gives me an opportunity to talk with them individually. It makes for a very non-threatening environment, and perhaps they will eventually open up.”
“If children are hungry or have emotional issues going on, they can’t fully concentrate or give their best effort in the classroom,” Bramblett added. “I work with the teacher and the student to help get needs met and then to motivate the child to do his or her best. I work with outside agencies also as a referral and support agent to get the best-quality services for our students.”
Having welcoming teachers greatly helps when counselors try to reach students in a classroom.
“The classroom teacher is the person with whom students have the most direct contact,” Bramblett said. “When teachers get to know their students, they can begin to assess needs and then act upon that assessment. Once an area of concern is determined, the teacher can consult with the counselor, and a plan of action can be established.
“The counselor can have a direct impact on classroom management and the school climate,” Bramblett added. “When all of the staff in the building is working together to create a calm, positive, focused environment, lots of learning can take place. Counselors can work as consultants for teachers to help them be aware of a wide variety of management practices, current trends in education, new information in the mental health field and new services that become available to the them and the students.”
Parker will collaborate with teachers to plan lessons and schedule events.
“The teachers here are so flexible and welcome me into their classrooms,” Parker said. “I also try to work with teachers and offer strategies that would be helpful for working with specific students in their classrooms much like I did as a special education teacher.”
Both counselors advise other counselors who are interested in delving into classroom assistance to do their homework first.
“It is important to stay current with academic trends and practices,” Bramblett advised. “It is also important to foster a positive relationship with your staff so that when the opportunity presents itself, effective collaboration can take place.”
Parker advises counselors and any teacher who might be interested in a counselor position to discuss with administration what is expected of them prior to accepting a position.
“I know how typical it is for counselors to get caught up in administrative duties,” Parker said. “My principals have done such an awesome job at protecting me from this, and I want others to know that it is possible to counsel students and really focus on helping them first and foremost.”