Outside the Classroom with a School Counselor
Outside the Classroom is a series of interviews with professionals who work in education settings. From social work to occupational therapy, library science to administration, many jobs become a whole new ball game when students and academics are involved. Here are a few of our burning questions for the professionals that classroom teachers find themselves working alongside, and their advice for those who’d like to join them.
1. What’s your name, location, current profession?
Barbara Gruener, Friendswood, TX, School Counselor.
2. Where did you earn your certification(s) and where did you go to school?
I earned a BS in Education, English major/Spanish minor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a teaching certificate in Wisconsin. When I moved to TX, I got a Texas Teacher Certificate, then went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Education followed by a Master of Science degree in Counseling, both degrees from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
3. How long have you worked in your field?
I am starting my 20th year as a School Counselor and my 15th year as a Character Coach. In 2014, I also added author to my career fields when my book What's Under Your Cape? was published.
4. How long have you worked in an education environment, and in what capacities?
I have been in education since I graduated with my undergrad degree in 1984. I began as a HS English and Spanish teacher, then I moved to a Jr. High where I taught grades 6-8 Spanish and ESL classes. I then went on to teach HS Spanish for 8 years before moving into HS Counseling.
I worked for 5 years as a HS counselor before moving to a 5th and 6th grade-level school and becoming a middle-school counselor. In the Fall of 2001, I moved to an Elementary school where I worked as a school counselor and character coach for 14 years with grade preK through 3rd.
Just last year I was transferred with my third graders to the intermediate school next door, so now I'm a school counselor and character coach in grades 3rd-5th.
“I became a school counselor rather than choosing to work in an office first and foremost because I'm an educator at heart, but also because I prefer prevention work to intervention work.”
5. What’s the most rewarding part of your job now? What do you find most challenging?
The most rewarding part of my job right now is working with and positively inspiring learners of all age to help nurture a growth mindset so that they firmly believe that they have the power to change the world.
6. Why did you decide to perform your current profession in an education environment?
I became a school counselor rather than choosing to work in an office first and foremost because I'm an educator at heart, but also because I prefer prevention work to intervention work. I always believed that if we were to give our children tools preventatively then we could avoid some of their desperation when they're in crises.
In a the school setting, we can also support teachers and help them to grow alongside of the young superheroes in their class families, so every day is about modeling, encouraging, reinforcing, advocating, shaping, and connecting. Counseling work in a school setting focuses on building relationships and nurturing growth.
7. What skills did you have to acquire to allow you to adapt to that environment?
When I was a high school teacher, I often found that students wanted to share their stories with me, but I was trained to teach Spanish, not to actively listen and problem solve. So I did what I knew how to do: I offered to write them a pass to the counseling center. When I realized that they might be seeking me out for a reason, I decided to pursue further training to sharpen my active listening skills, become familiar with counseling theories and turn those theories into practice to help our students become the best version of themselves that they can be.
8. What advice would you offer a person with an education background who is considering entering your field?
Make sure that you spend a significant amount of time as a teacher before jumping into counseling. Teachers rely on us for encouragement and support almost as much as the students do and it helps if you've walked in their shoes before taking on that leadership role with your school family.
Work hard and soak in all of the book work; seek out a mentor who will help you go beyond the pages of your professional journal articles and learn the craft of reflective listening, showing unconditional positive regard, and connecting with the heartbeats of your clients, and offering options as you walk alongside of them during times of stress, chaos, uncertainty, grief, loss, or confusion.
Practice your own emotional literacy so you get really good at your own self-regulation and feelings management. Take good care of yourself to keep compassion fatigue at bay. Seek out a counselor for yourself as needed; you can't serve from an empty vessel.
9. What advice would you give to a person working in your field about working in an education setting in general?
Be ready to work hard. Be present and stay in the moment with everyone who crosses your path. Step into their story with a joyful heart. Delight in their presence and show them that you care. Be kind and show empathy. Listen to understand, not to respond.
Be a lifelong learner and a connected educator. Work on loving what is and always be willing to share what you know. Stay humble, be trustworthy, and be vulnerable. Stay authentic, laugh a lot and enJOY the journey.
Barbara Gruener is a connected educator and a lifelong learner who enjoys positively inspiring people who cross her path and influencing change for a better tomorrow. Her roots are on a family dairy farm in Wisconsin but she now lives in Friendswood, TX with her husband, John, and their three children.
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