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Monday, August 14, 2017

How School Counselors Use Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood means that we should listen to others before we speak. While school counselors use all of the 7 habits, Habit 5 is a huge part of what we do as school counselors.

School counselors use Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood by:
  • Individual Counseling: When a student comes to see us, we listen to them. We ask open-ended questions (and sometimes closed) to get the details and listen some more. Before any advice, suggestions, action plans, solutions, etc. can be provided by us, we listen to understand what our students need and what the problem is. 
  • Empathy for our Students: Habit 5 isn't just about listening. It's also about using empathy. We don't just listen to our students and shrug our shoulders nonchalantly. We empathize with them. We listen to the problems they are having at home that are affecting their behavior at school. When we understand what our students are dealing with and we partner with them becoming their ally, we can advocate for them. While school counselors must respect confidentiality, with a student's permission, we can share relevant information with their teacher, which has Legitimate Educational Interest (LEI). If the student doesn't give permission to share information with their teacher, you can vaguely tell their teacher that the student has a lot going on and to cut them some slack. 
  • Empathy for Families: As school counselors, sometimes we need to do have difficult conversations with parents and guardians. You may need to tell a parent that their child is considering suicide. You may need to ask permission for a SAP referral regarding drug or alcohol abuse. You may need to tell a parent that their child disclosed that they were sexually abused or assaulted. Maybe a parent calls you to tell you about issues that are occurring in the home, such as recent job loss or financial problems, the death of a family member, a divorce, etc. Empathy may also be needed in evaluation and IEP meetings. School counselors don't just listen and use empathy with students, we use Habit 5 with their families too. 
  • Empathy for Staff: Some of our students can be tough cookies. Some students require considerable effort and attention. Think of that student that uses their fist instead of their words or the student elopes from the classroom. You may be spending a lot of time observing students and then making a Positive Behavior Support plan that the teacher will be required to carry out each day. This PBSP also takes time. Externalizing behaviors are difficult for teachers to cope with for 7 hours per day. There are 24-29 other students in the classroom and some of those students may also have behavior problems. It's a lot for anyone to handle. Sometimes staff may come to you exhausted and in need of support. We listen and are there for them, but we are also there to support their student and their family. 
  • Listening to the Data: When we do a needs assessment or review the school data profile, attendance data, or discipline data, we can understand the needs of our students. We review and understand data, which enables us to make data-based decisions on how to best address the needs of our students. 
School counselors use Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood with students by: 
  • Teaching Students Empathy: There are so many opportunities to teach students about empathy. I personally dedicated a month to teaching class lessons on empathy. In one lesson, we did bucket filling. We teach students about empathy in friendship, social skills, anger, coping skills, and transition groups. When a student comes to us for individual counseling and they talk about a conflict they are dealing with, we remind them to use empathy. My favorite way to talk to students about empathy is using teachable moments. If a student comes to me about a conflict with a peer (or even an adult), I always try to get them to understand how the other person might be feeling. 
  • Teaching Students Conflict Resolution: Conflicts involve people's feelings. Maybe two friends are mad at each other because they both said some things that weren't really nice. Maybe one student is bullying another. When there is a power differential, we should not conduct mediation. Rather, in this case, we would talk to the everyone involved separately. You may try to get the student that is engaging in the bullying behavior to think of how the student being bullied is feeling. This isn't always an effective intervention though. 
  • Mediation Between Students: When it's two friends having a conflict, you might ask both students if they would be willing to do a mediation. If the students agree to it, you teach them to take turns speaking while the other person listens. You also need to remind them to listen without thinking of how they plan to respond.  You may use restorative practices to ask students questions about what happened and how they felt or currently feel. After listening to each other and understanding how the other person feels, the students will be encouraged to come to a resolution that everyone is happy with, which is Habit 4: Think Win-Win. 

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