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Monday Ideas for School Counselors

Weekly articles for school counselors with ideas on how to resolve typical school situations with students, teachers and parents using the solution focused approach.

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Growing Miracles

October 09, 20234 min read

As a high school counselor, I remember a parent conference with Dana, a high school senior. A cheerleader, honor student and a volunteer at the local animal shelter on weekends, she appeared to have it all together. When her mother called me frantically one morning, furious and terrified that Dana had snuck out of her house with her boyfriend that weekend, I could tell that I needed to make time for both of them. 

As they came into my office, Dana looked numb and her mother was very upset, with tears flowing freely as she screamed at Dana in my office.  The mother started off like this:

“Something needs to be done to her, Dr. Metcalf. Something has to be done to her. She is going to get into trouble by sneaking out like she did over the weekend. It seems that she wants nothing to do with me or her family. She seems to have just forgotten about all of us.”

Dana, in return, replied to her mother with:
“Well, mom. If you wouldn’t constantly tell me that you were going to kill yourself and that I was the reason why you wanted to do that, maybe I would be home more.”

And, the mother looked at me, aghast.

“I just wanted you to know how upset you make me.”

Every day, as a school counselor, you may, at times, run into similar situations where you hear a complaint from a teacher or parent about a student, with expectations that YOU need to do something to change the student. And, we all know, that none of us can change anyone, right?  So, what is a counselor to do?

Invite the environment into your office. Without doing that, you will literally be running in circles trying to appease and help everyone involved. 

Alexander den Heijer coined the following quotation:
"When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows. You don’t fix the flower."

So, as a school counselor, how do you do this?

With this quote in mind, a short conversation with Dana and her mother went as follows, after the mother told me to do something to Dana.

LM:  Gosh, I really can’t do something to Dana, but I do have a question:    Dana, suppose you and your mother leave my office and tonight, things go better between you two, so much better that you don’t mind hanging out with your family.  What might the rest of your family notice?

Dana:  That she wasn’t on my case to do this and this and this as soon as I come in from practice. I don’t mind helping, but… I need a little time to sit down.

LM: So, instead of that, what might she do?

Dana:  Ask how I am!!! Find out what I am doing like she used to do before she had two jobs. Ask me to do something with her. We used to take walks at night when it was really dark. Not anymore. All she does is gripe. I just have to get away.

LM: What did that mean to you before when she asked how you were and took those walks?

Dana: I felt important. All I feel like now is a slave. She takes my brother and sister everywhere. Not me.

LM:  Mom, suppose this evening goes better when you leave my office and somehow, you talk to Dana like you used to and think about taking a walk later, what might Dana do from the moment she comes home from practice that might encourage you to do that?

Mom: She won’t come in, throw her backpack in the middle of the living room and stomp off into her room and slam the door.  Her brother and sister look forward to her coming home and they always think she is mad at them like I do.

LM:  Instead of that, what might she do?

Dana: Maybe… come into the kitchen where we are and just sit with us. That’s all. She used to like talking to her brother and sister. She’s going to college in the fall and I know they are wondering if she will come back.

LM:  So, Dana, and mom, suppose this night goes better. Who do you think would appreciate it the most? Who else? What difference might that make?

The conversation took about fifteen minutes, and while Dana and her mother could have talked longer, we came up with the beginning of a plan. By the time the short conversation was over, Dana’s mother looked at Dana and told her she was sorry that she said those things to her about killing herself.  Dana was quiet, and began to cry. They hugged and off then went.

This week, when a teacher complains about a class, a parent complains about a child, an administrator complains about repeat offenders, consider a fifteen minute gathering and ask everyone present what needs to happen so everyone is content.  

Work less so others do more by inviting the environment to the conversation.

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Dr Linda Metcalf

Linda Metcalf is the best-selling author of Counseling Toward Solutions and 10 other books. Linda is a former middle school teacher, all-level certified school counselor, licensed professional counselor supervisor, and licensed marriage and family therapist in the State of Texas. She is a Professor at Texas Wesleyan University.

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