Cultivating strong connections with students and other staff takes time but is essential for school counselors’ success in their work.
The relationships that school counselors build with teachers, administrators, staff, students, and parents take time and are a key part of our success. We serve as an ally, liaison, problem solver, and referral agent for students (and also teachers). Considering different strategies to create new relationships and maintain current ones is important.
9 Relationship-Building Tips for Counselors
1. Take a tour with an insider: When I first arrived as a counselor at my school, a friend who lived in town gave me a tour. We drove around and she shared her best advice and her perspective on the close-knit community. I learned about wonderful resources, businesses, parks, and diverse geography, including suburban and rural neighborhoods. This gave me a good perspective on the culture of our community and where our students live.
I recently drove around the community with a counselor who lives in town and got some important updates about how things have changed. Over the years, our community has become more culturally, socioeconomically, and ethnically diverse, and many new businesses have opened to address the needs of our community. Knowing about these is important because our school has a community service requirement (20 hours) for seniors to complete before graduation. This policy creates new opportunities for partnerships and strengthens community ties.
2. Get to know your colleagues: As a counselor, I communicate with people every day. Three years ago, I started arriving at work early to walk in our building with a math teacher. The group grew over the years to include two more teachers. Speaking to them each day has helped me learn more about their families and their roles as teachers, and they’ve understood my responsibilities and interests. I also observe other teachers and administrators as they arrive in the morning and build new relationships with them. These social interactions have become very important to us—we are friends and allies.
3. Be visible: I check in with faculty in different departments to build rapport and get to know them personally. On a regular basis, I visit the library to say hello and check on students to see who is in the carrels, chatting at tables, or working on puzzles to relieve stress.
My morning routine includes popping in to see special education teachers and students in resource rooms and answer questions they might have. By regularly visiting our English as a New Language classroom, the alternate education program, the supervisors’ offices, and assistant principals, I’m able to cultivate better relationships with educators and students. Scheduling appointments when needed to meet with administrators is also an important way to build partnerships, and visibility is a big part of that.
4. Create programming to encourage partnership: A counselor in our office coordinated the new teacher orientation annually for faculty for many years, which was a great opportunity to collaborate with new community members and help them transition effectively. Last year, a number of new faculty members joined our community, and I visited them regularly and introduced them to other new teachers to help create positive connections.
Consider a counselor-hosted open house at the beginning of the year to welcome faculty and staff back and reintroduce community members to the counseling center. This is an excellent way to clarify the role of the counselor and publicize upcoming programs.
Facilitating programs and events at a school provides a good opportunity to connect with others because it takes a village to implement a program. For an evening program, communications, technology, food service, and maintenance are important partners. Collaborating with maintenance about setup and timing, discussing computer needs with the technology experts, and meeting with the communications team to plan social media and email notifications are all part of the planning process.
5. Work with the community and local businesses: Getting involved with committees and volunteering in the district can help us create new relationships. I have volunteered to serve on a number of committees over the years, including the curriculum committee, a committee to review a program at our high school, a diversity planning committee, and a K–12 diversity and inclusion committee. Think about your interests and what positions are available on committees at your school.
Our local business community is a great resource. Local grocery stores donate food, refreshments, and supplies for counseling center programs. High school graduates have returned to share their experiences for our First Gen program and visited history, English, world language, and other classes to discuss entrepreneurship. Professionals at the local Chamber of Commerce are great partners who’ve supported our annual career fair for many years. Their insights and connections with community members are invaluable.
6. Collaborate with colleagues to create extended events: As a result of participating on the previously mentioned diversity committees, I met teachers from other buildings. I was one of the Black History Month coordinators for a couple of years. I collaborated with many teachers and administrators in addition to businesses to implement a meaningful month of activities and programs. This celebration was truly a community effort that included teachers from many departments, including art, social studies, English, music, world language, and our administrative team. We also invited a local Food Network star to collaborate with our food service staff and our culinary teacher to cook Southern cuisine for the students and staff.
7. Check in with staff members who also support students: The hall monitors and staff are the eyes and ears of the building. During the day, you can see them speaking to students, comforting them, cheering them on, and serving as a valuable resource. They have wonderful connections with students, who trust them and rely on them for support. Checking in with them during the week helps me get an update on students. The secretaries in different offices also have a finger on the pulse of what is happening. I regularly see students visit the secretaries in the counseling center and main office to say hello or express concerns about something.
8. Give positive recognition regularly: We implemented positive phone calls and emails to parents a few years ago. I love this initiative because frequently as a counselor, our communication with parents involves concerns. We now try to call parents with positive news on a regular basis. We also have a “Be the Change” character awards program coordinated by an assistant principal, which recognizes students for random acts of kindness and academic or personal improvement. This is a wonderful vehicle for community members to recognize students.
9. Get feedback: There are many opportunities to build positive relationships with members of our community. Getting feedback from them is another way to connect and help us see different perspectives. “As we reflect on last year, what do you think we could do differently or better? Any suggestions?” was a productive conversation I had with our principal the other day. It was helpful, giving me a great idea to implement in this year.