Monday, February 6, 2017

Reflections on Celebrating ASCA's SCOY at the WHITE HOUSE with MICHELLE OBAMA!

Rebecca Lins is a school counselor at Peet Junior High in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

If someone would have told me 11 years ago, at the beginning of my school counseling career, that I would have the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and represent Iowa as the School Counselor Of the Year national nominee, I would have said, “You’re dreaming!” Events from the last year and a half have been just that, a dream and an honor I could have never imagined for myself in this profession. A profession where you serve kids without a “thank you” or any recognition because we just care about kids and work behind the scenes to help them excel to their highest academic and social/emotional level.

It started in June of 2015 when I found out that my principal had nominated me for ISCA's Middle-Level School Counselor Of the Year (SCOY). I was surprised, humbled and excited by his nomination and worked all summer to finalize my extensive application to be considered for such an honor. In October, I was surprised by close colleagues that I had been awarded this honor by our state association. I felt so encouraged and spurred on by my fellow counselors as I received my award at the ISCA Conference in November.

In the Spring of 2016, the ISCA board chose me out of the four winners to be Iowa’s state representative in applying for ASCA’s SCOY 2017! When I received that email I think I froze and just re-read every word, asking myself, “Is this really happening?”

State SCOY reps on their way to the White House!
I was given the chance to update my application and re-submitted it in August 2016. Although I was not chosen as one of the five finalists, I was able to participate as Iowa’s state representative in ASCA’s SCOY events in Washington D.C. in January 2017. 

Michelle Obama’s final address as First Lady was recognizing our group of school counselors! I cannot express the feeling I had looking out over that room, standing just over Michelle’s shoulder, and seeing so many respond to the work of school counselors. Her work with #reacherhigher and #bettermakeroom catapulted the profession and authentic work of school counselors and I was deeply affected by seeing the room be moved by her call to action! Her support raised our efforts in advocating for our profession and she aligned with us in our genuine work to propel students to the next significant and successful level. I reflect on that experience as a once in a lifetime event I will never forget, one that truly was a dream. 

Becky is in the top row5th from the left. 

But my work continues, our work continues, and I close inspired with words spoken by Michelle Obama during her keynote at ASCA’s 2014 conference. She believes that we as school counselors,   “ we all have an impact that is truly beyond measure. Think about the extraordinary ripple effect of your work, because it’s real. Think about the impact you have, not just on every child that is transformed, but of the family that child will raise, on the business where that child will work, on the community that child will one day serve. How long after those kids graduate your work lives on in their hearts and minds and those they touch.”

Becky and ASCA Executive Director Richard Wong and ASCA Board Member

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ISCA Involvement with ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act)

In December, members of  ISCA were invited to a round table discussion at the Iowa Department of Education with Director Ryan Wise and other Iowa DOE staff. The Iowa DOE staff shared with us the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) draft and we discussed how school counselors play a role in student academic success. ESSA is what was previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). States will submit their plans to the federal government. In this meeting, we discussed the integral role that school counselors have in schools K-12. The group advocated for lower ratios to allow school counselors the ability to help students be college and career ready as well as the importance of social-emotional health for students to be successful in school. We described the role that school counselors can play to ensure that all students are able to achieve.

The Iowa DOE described the ESSA plan as an overarching document to shape education in our schools across Iowa. The implementation of the ESSA plan will be done locally. With that being said, it is imperative that school counselors familiarize themselves with the Iowa’s ESSA plan and give feedback on the draft plan. Iowa’s ESSA draft plan can be found at:

The Iowa DOE is currently taking feedback on the plan. Information on ESSA Statewide Tours can be found at: Participants can listen in on sessions if not able to attend in person. Please attend a session if possible.

Feedback can also be submitted via email at or by mail: Iowa Department of Education, Attn: Deputy Director David Tilly/ESSA Feedback, Grimes State Office Building, 400 E. 14th St., Des Moines, IA 50319-0146. The deadline to submit feedback is on February 15.

The ESSA plan will shape education in our state for years to come. It is important for school counselors to advocate for their place in the plan with local school administration.

The group of ISCA members who attended the meeting will be working on a feedback plan to submit to the DOE.  Please let us know if you have any comments or suggestions.

Casey McMurray
Bondurant-Farrar High School Counselor
ISCA Immediate Past-President 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post Election Updates

2016 Elections
Special Update

Image result for election 2016


A series of upsets of Senate incumbents has ushered in a change of party control in that chamber.

For the first time since 2006, the GOP will hold the majority in the Senate by a margin of 29 to 19 with one independent and one open seat following the death of Sen. Joe Seng.  Last legislative session the Democrats were in the majority by a slim 26-24 count.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, Ag and DNR Appropriations leader Mary Jo Wilhelm, Education Appropriations head Brian Schoenjahn and Judiciary Committee chair Steve Sodders were all defeated.

The House of Representatives will remain in Republican control.  The GOP gained two seats giving them a 59-41 advantage.

New committee chairs in the Senate will likely be appointed before Thanksgiving.  As soon as they are announced, as well as any changes to House chairs, we will let you know.

Please check out the all of the winners from Iowa at this link. Send the folks in your district a congratulations and introduction email. Let them know they will hear from you during the session!

Thanks to everyone who attended the ISCA conference! It was such a wonderful learning experience and it is always so good to visit with other school counselors from around the state!!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

SCOY=School Counselor of the Year-It is an Advocacy Thing!

SCOY stands for School Counselor of the Year. We are excited in Iowa to name three SCOY finalists for 2016-2017. Being chosen is a GREAT honor and everyone who is nominated is a winner and deserves recognition. This year's nominees and finalists are all outstanding school counselors in Iowa.

 Please join me in honoring and recognizing the 2017 ISCA SCOY Finalists:
  • Middle-Level Counselor of the Year - Paula Baumann - Dubuque CSD
  • Middle-Level Counselor of the Year - Tina Chaplin - Indianola CSD
  •  High School Counselor of the Year - Suzanne Schrader - Clinton CSD
  •  ASCA SCOY Iowa Representative - Becky Lins - Cedar Falls CSD

We will recognize these school counselors at our annual ISCA Conference on November 7th during the awards luncheon. Once the Iowa School Counselors of the Year are announced, ASCA will accept three of those counselors for consideration as the Iowa Representative to participate in the ASCA School Counselor of the Year White House recognition ceremony. ASCA chooses one counselor from each state as either a representative or finalist. Finalists are interviewed, and one interviewee is selected as The School Counselor of the Year. Candy Reed, an elementary school counselor from Davenport, was selected as Iowa Representative and attended the White House Award Ceremony. Please read Candy's reflections from her visit to the White House as she represented Iowa at the ASCA SCOY Recognition in January of 2016 in Washington DC.

There were 48 counselors from across the nation gathered in the Blue Room of the White House. We were surrounded by so much history-United States Presidents walked the halls and sat on the very furniture on which we were sitting. Looking out of the window, I saw the Washington monument. Counselors and their guests came to the window to see the "First Dogs" on their daily walk. Through all the sites and sounds of the White House prepping us for what was about to begin, it became apparent that this event was the greatest form of advocacy for the profession of School Counselors. The School Counselor of the Year program brought us to this point. The process is not just about the counselor and his/her work. It is about teaching those that are listening about the students and their environment of learning. It is about addressing the subjects of poverty, suicide, LGBT, ADHD, equal rights and many more topics that school counselors work within schools and take home with them at the end of each day. The White House supports our work because we have an impact on students so that they are career and college ready. Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative recognized the fact that counselors have a large part to play on both elementary and secondary levels in preparing students for their future paths.

 Although I experienced this great program, it wasn't about me. I represented the 432 Garfield Elementary students, the 16,000 Davenport Community Schools' students, and the 448,319 Iowa students. I was called on to speak to community groups, school board members, the media and other professional organizations. I highly recommend the SCOY program as a vehicle to advocate for the work of  school counselor's work. When  FLOTUS recognizes school counselors, it is a big deal.  Michelle Obama endorsed the program as she invited us to her house to discuss the issues that our students face. Who could be a greater advocate for the professional school counselor than the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama?

Candy Reed getting to shake the hand of the First Lady.

Candy Reed is an elementary school counselor at Garfield Elementary in Davenport, Iowa.  Candy was the 2014 Iowa Elementary School Counselor of the Year and represented Iowa at the ASCA SCOY Recognition in January of 2016.  Candy has also been a RAMP recipient and RERAMP recipient.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Role of the School Counselor: Advocating for Change

 Sheryl Kline is a high school counselor at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa.  Previously, she worked at Central City CSD for two years as a Grades K-12 and one year as a 4-12 School Counselor.  Sheryl is also a former ISCA Board Member.  

I recently came to the somewhat startling answer to the question I have asked so many times before, “Why do administrators care so much why we change our title?” I am not sure about the rest of you, but this question has nagged at me since graduate school five years ago. I could not wrap my head around why administrators, or anyone who has a say in what school counselors’ titles are, cared so much about a name change. Today, I realized that the name change means that administrators also will have to shift their ideas about what we do. Just like those die-hard “guidance counselors” out there, administrators are afraid of what this title change might mean for their schools and who will do the miscellaneous things that often fall into the laps of a school counselor.  Many of these tasks don't fit into what a school counselor should or could be doing to be effective in helping all students achieve. We all know those duties: testing coordinator, scheduler extraordinaire, and expert student lunch and recess supervisor. How do we effectively advocate for change? How do we get administrators beyond this anxiety that our role has changed?  This blog post will give you some ideas about how to begin the process of change that many of us are striving to make in defining our role as a school counselor.

Below are some tips you can use to start making changes in your building and with your administrator.

1. Start small. I had a professor in graduate school who repeatedly told us not to expect huge, sweeping changes in the first year as a professional nor should you attempt them. I took this advice seriously and spent most of my first year relatively quietly infusing the term “school counselor” into my conversations and lessons in the building. I corrected teachers, parents, and administrators politely when they called me a guidance counselor.  My first lessons in the elementary were used to introduce what a school counselor does with and for students. When the administration decided to put signs up outside the offices around the building, I asked to have my sign say “School Counselor.” People began to notice and slowly shifted their vocabulary as well. This, however, didn’t happen without some playful jabs from teachers and my principal about how adamant I was about being called a school counselor, but I took it all in stride. In my current school, my first encounter with the district administrator in charge of school counselors was to ask her to call us school counselors instead of “guidance counselors” after repeatedly cringing in an orientation session with her. I still have to remind people, and it sometimes annoys me, but without this small piece of advocacy, there will be no change.

2. Get administrators on your side and follow the chain of command.   This is so important, and I share it whenever I make a presentation. I will repeat this mantra until I am blue in the face. I think this is the key to any change in your building. Administrators are the decision makers, and you NEED them on your side. There are several things you can do to make this happen: take on extra duties (within reason – don’t burn yourself out), align your goals and the counseling goals with your district, principal and building goals.  Meet with your principal on a regular basis. There are most certainly going to be administrators that don’t seem to budge.  As with any difficult student, you should build rapport with them and approach them in a way that is open and complimentary. You want to find a way to “scratch their backs so that they will scratch yours.” Think of those resistant administrators as a resistant student.  What things do you do to win those students over and apply the same techniques to working with administrators.

Also, principals get annoyed when staff members bypass them by to talk to the superintendent or another district level person to get any change to happen. Principals want to be involved, and since they are often your direct supervisors, you should keep them privy of your plans rather than blindsiding them with news from someone higher up. Your principal can often also help you make the changes you are wanting and help you align your goals to district goals. Principals also seem to know how to word things to get them through other administrative approval, whether it be with your superintendent or your school board. The district level administrators also seem to give their opinion a little more weight.

3. Use data.  School counselors know the vast amount of tasks we do on a day to day basis and about how many kids we may have impacted. However, our stakeholders don't always understand what we do or what value we add to our schools. It is important to share this information using data. Whether you are using process, perception, or outcome data, these numbers and direct quotes can have a powerful effect on your audience. In our presentation to the school board, we made sure to include the number of students we worked with and information about what parents and students said they wanted from us.  We always included data about the impact of our program. School board members and administration can hopefully get behind you when you have this information readily available in a meeting or discussion. It is also a very good idea to share the data throughout the year in a quick email to those stakeholders who are critical in helping you deliver part of your program, especially administrators. I have found that my administrators often want to know things in black and white, so be prepared to talk about your program using a results report that has specific data.  How are students different because of what the school counselor did?

4. Work with teachers and parents to make programming changes they support. To go along with the "Use Data" advice above, survey your parents and students about what they need. Then, find people to help you make the changes necessary to deliver the programming. Because I often have a hard time letting go of big projects and delegating work, this tip was difficult for me. In my second year as a school counselor, I started a Career Day with grades 7-12. I found all of the career speakers, developed a schedule for the day, and assigned each student to their career speakers on my own. Doing all of the work was stressful, so when a teacher approached me about having her junior high students do all of the work as part of her class, I was happy to share the duties but reluctant to give up something I worked so hard on. The day didn't go exactly as I had planned, but I was able to focus on other programming, and it wasn't far from my original design. I also used connections with the PTA to help start a Girls on the Run program. They helped me get the word out about the group, coach, and get other girls involved with our program. Without the teachers and parents in our buildings and districts, things often don’t get done or work as well as we want. We need a team to support us and give access to students that are sometimes difficult to reach because we don’t have a classroom or set time to meet with them.

5. Realize that there will always be resistors. Everett Rogers explains the distribution of people who adopt a change in "Diffusion of Innovations." We all know those people that seem to want to stand in our way or tell us it won't work - the late majorities and laggards. These people are always going to be around. Don't let them discourage you. Resistance will mainly happen with those traditional events that have been happening for years before you and will occur years after you have gone. My principals have been my biggest supporters and my biggest critics. They seem to have all of the most annoying, but important questions every time I wanted to change something or try something new. I have found that the best way to address resistors is to come to the table with a plan and contingencies for things that could go wrong or that others would resist. This gives your resistors choices and control in what you are changing. Also, if you have everything planned out, your principal won't have to do as much. They have plenty going on besides figuring out how you are going to deliver your program in a way that will jive with the rest of the school’s plans.

6. Change takes time! This is the most important thing to remember. Change does not happen overnight. It can take years. I spent my first two years as a K-12 counselor working my tail off. I wanted to prove that I could do everything in the district on my own.  However, this demonstrated how much more we could get done with two school counselors. I had a lot of ideas.  I wanted to change a lot of things, but my high school principal knew I couldn't do it alone. By the third year, the district hired a second counselor. Besides my comments about needing another person, I didn't do much more than the things above and doing my job as a school counselor. Once I was able to start putting a program in place, the two principals and superintendent knew we needed to add another counselor to best serve our students. I can't say that this was all because of me because the operational sharing bill that allowed for districts to share counselors happened in the same year.  The bill certainly made it easier on the district’s budget to add a counselor. We were able to find a way to share with another district to bring in the second counselor. Though this wouldn't have happened without the sharing agreement, it also wouldn't have happened if I hadn't asked for a second counselor, repeatedly.  Even now, as budget cuts are being made, the district has maintained the two positions. This change was in the best interest of the students, and they are lucky to have both school counselors. I hope that the new counselors can continue working on building the comprehensive and developmental program because there is still more to be done.

Overall, I would encourage all school counselors to make your voices be heard. You can't get what you want if you don't ask for it. These tips can help, but advocacy is going to look different for each person and each school. There may be some things that work for you that just won't work in other school environments. It is important to get a good picture of what is possible and not possible in your building. Tackle those things that you know you can change first, and take the time to make slowly the changes that are best for your program.  Remember, the change may only directly affect you, but it is also going to impact others, especially if it challenges their mindset about the role of the school counselor.