Today I'm delighted and grateful to welcome school counselor Heather Thomas, who has some super suggestions for bouncing forward amidst challenge and change. Thank you, Heather, for this gift to our readers.
Hello! I’m Heather – author of the blog The Helpful Counselor. I love connecting with other counselors and educators through my blog and social media.
My blogging journey began 3 years ago out of my desire to connect with others school counselors. You see, I was the only elementary counselor for 3 buildings and 1,500 students. While my district has 5 fantastic (and supportive) school counselors at the secondary level … I felt isolated professionally. I often joked that I WAS the elementary counseling program.
Last year, I met with our superintendent, and with the support of my 3 principals, we attempted to write a grant for more elementary counselors. I was thrilled about the possibilities!!!
I must admit that it felt great knowing that my superintendent and principals were in full agreement that we needed more coverage at the elementary level. They valued what I did and wanted more school counseling support. After 8 years of advocating for more elementary counselors, I was finally getting some serious traction! Long story short, our attempt came up short and I remained the only counselor at the elementary level.
Fast forward to the 2014-2015 school year. Our budget fell waaaay short and my position was cut … leaving no elementary counselors to help my kiddos. My heart broke as I thought about all of my “frequent flyers” and the support they would no longer receive. Luckily, I went back to school about 7 years ago and received my special education and secondary English certification. It took me 3 ½ years of taking 2 classes a semester…fall, winter, spring, and summer. I drove twice a week for 1 ½ hours (each way) and I took a year off to complete my two semesters of student teaching.
Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! Not only did I have 3 young kids (2, 3, and 5) but I also worked full time. There were times that I felt like it would never end, but I was chugging along – one semester at a time. Looking back, while the struggle was real, my decision to improve my skill-set is one of the best choices I have ever made. As fate would have it, a special education position opened around the same time my counseling position was cut. But, it wasn’t easy.
Besides teaching Young 5’s- 5th grade counseling lessons, I had no experience teaching academic topics at the elementary level. I was unfamiliar with the content and teaching children with disabilities how to read, write, and solve math problems was intimidating to say the least. However, I love a challenge. I’ve always pushed myself to grow professionally. I viewed my new position as an opportunity to get an insiders’ perspective of the inner workings of a classroom and the challenges that special needs students face in the academic setting.
My goal in writing this post is not to share how difficulties of my new placement, but to remind everyone who reads this to make the most of tough situations and bloom where you are planted. Your situation might not be as radical as mine, but blooming where you are planted is solid advice no matter where you are in your career (or even personal life). I love this Zig Ziglar expression:
|Click graphic to download a pdf ~ Thanks, Heather!|
It’s simple but true! Below you will find key steps in keeping your spirits up and improving your situation. I hope you find them as helpful as I have.
1. View the challenge as an opportunity to grow. There is something to be said for the adage, “that which does not kill you, will make you stronger.” Working outside your comfort zone will allow you to sharpen skills. Adding new skills to your bag of tricks will only help you along your professional and personal journey.
2. Magnify the good and shrink the bad ... at least in your thoughts. Our thoughts shade how we view the world around us. When we spend a lot of time thinking about what is wrong, we sabotage the rest of our thoughts. Like attracts like and that definitely goes for our thoughts! (You can read more about keeping a positive frame of mind here.)
3. Remind yourself about the root of your career choice -> to help children ... right? Isn’t that what we are in this for to begin with? If you are able to work in a position where you help kids, you are still able to meet your ultimate goal.
4. Look for the next opportunity. When we become comfortable, we tend to overlook chances to find our true calling. There was a time I believed that I was meant to work for Michigan Department of Human Services. I interned with Protective Services and loved the rush I got knowing that I was truly protecting children and families. To put it mildly, I was overly confident in the interview and didn’t get the job. I was devastated. However, it pushed me to find a different job which turned out to be Whaley Children’s Center, a residential and foster care agency. My experience at Whaley pushed me to get my Masters degree, which led me to obtain my school counseling endorsement. I was later told that my experience at Whaley is what made the difference when I applied for the counseling position at my current district. (You can read more about seizing the moment here.)
5. Be open to new experiences … aka get out of your comfort zone. While at Whaley, I worked with preteens and teens who were diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and RAD. Most of the children I worked with came from extreme family situations that would break your heart. Others were one step away from the juvenile justice system. Working in the inner-city of Flint and Detroit made me feel needed and valued to the point that I vowed to always work in the inner-city with the neediest of the needy. Imagine the culture shock when I was placed in a rural Young 5’s-K and elementary building for my school counseling internship. I fell in love on Day 1!!!
6. Share some of your experience with the kids you serve. My students struggle to overcome diversity every day. Learning about some of my challenges in life helps create a safe sense of community where they are more likely to take risks and open up to me.
7. Use your struggle as an opportunity to let your professionalism shine. Administrators are inundated with complaints about what the staff in their building doesn’t like and they are often forced to make tough decisions. It’s important to be honest and advocate for your preferences, but just think about your admin’s reaction when you inform them that you plan on making the best of your current situation and then continue to put forth your personal best in your role.
8. Create a mental image of you being successful. Envision yourself achieving great things. What does it look like? What would it take to achieve that level of success? Now start making SMART goals and taking steps (no matter how small) toward your new definition of success.
9. Say kind things. Counselors are great at being supportive of others, but we don’t always do such a hot job with ourselves. We need to stop and we need to stop now! Belittling our accomplishments and not practicing self-care put us on the fast track to self-doubt…which is never a good thing! (Read more about practicing self-care here and here.)
10. Watch out for self-sabotage. It’s not always easy to spot, but it usually takes the form of justifying our actions when we don’t make the best decisions. Self-sabotage is when we feel we deserve an extra scope of ice cream because we worked out today. Self-sabotage is when we refuse to sign up for committee’s because we’re upset about our new placement. I know I’ve been guilty of both in my past … neither got me any further toward my goals.
Ultimately, the only constant in life is change! Like it or not, it’s true. In order to find peace within ourselves, we must come to the understanding that there are factors outside of our control and that nothing in life is guaranteed. All we can do is enjoy the ride! I would love to hear about how you overcome challenges in the comments below.
All my best on your journey! Be sure to catch me on the web for more ideas on how to bloom where you are planted!!! Need help teaching kiddos to bloom where they’re planted? Be sure to check out my counseling games and activities on Teachers Pay Teachers!