A school counselor’s first and foremost focus should – of course – be their students. However, to maintain a healthy, safe and resilient school community, school counselors need to include parents in the equation.
Counseling Today spoke with several counselors who have experience in school settings for a cover article on school safety. They offer the following tips to include and engage school parents:
Pick up the phone: Call parents when there is bad or good news to share about their child’s achievement or behavior, says Mark Lepore, a professor at Clarion University in Clarion, Pennsylvania who was a school counselor for a decade in suburban Pittsburgh.
For example, Lepore’s school had a “catch a student doing good” campaign in which parents were notified when a student met a goal or exceeded expectations.
“[Most schools] only call home when there’s a problem. We really put parents on the defensive,” he adds.
Zachary Pietrantoni, a licensed school counselor and assistant professor of counselor education at New Jersey City University, also suggests that counselors call parents regularly to check in.
“Having those conversations with parents is important,” Pietrantoni says. “A lot of times parents are hesitant to reach out because most of the communication [from a school] is negative. Don’t hesitate to reach out with good stuff too. Be proactive.”
Go online: Another way to keep parents connected is to ensure that school counseling programs maintain useful and updated websites that promote the program and share contact information, says Kevin Curtin, a former school counselor and associate professor of counseling at Alfred University in Alfred, New York. School counselors should be sure to include information about program staff and the services offered to students and families, he says.
Use the website to “describe the initiatives that you do,” Curtin says. “Welcome parents and families and talk about your philosophy, your goal of creating community. Describe your role. Make your program known.”
Organize events with family needs in mind: Most of all, Pietrantoni says, “Invite parents to everything.” This can go beyond the academic and social events that schools often host, such as back-to-school nights or ice cream socials, he says. A counselor’s role can also extend to organizing activities such as weekend social clubs or sporting events at the school, all with an eye toward building community and keeping families engaged, Pietrantoni says.
When Pietrantoni was a counselor at a Title I school (a school that receives federal funding due to a high population of students from low-income backgrounds), many of his students’ parents worked multiple jobs and weren’t available during the school day. Organizing events on weeknights after dinnertime or on weekends can engage parents who otherwise wouldn’t be able to visit the school, he says.
Lepore suggests school counselors could arrange to have child care available during school meetings and other events for adults as way to make it easier for parents to attend. After-hours programming could include parenting classes, anti-bullying programs or support groups for parents of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Lepore says.
Curtin is a proponent of school counselors offering occasional evening office hours, making themselves available so parents can come in to ask questions or talk about concerns. As a counselor at an alternative school for students at risk, Curtin led ongoing multifamily group therapy sessions for students and their families at the school in the evenings. He acknowledges that this model might not be feasible at large public schools, but he points out that school counselors can still facilitate extra programming for students and their families, even if the school counselors can’t lead the programming themselves. “Making [this programming] an option outside of school hours would be a wonderful thing,” he adds.
Counselors: What tools do you use to engage parents in a school community? Share your ideas in the comment section below.
Look for Counseling Today’s cover story “The counselor’s role in ensuring school safety” in the September magazine.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.