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An Interview with the 2019 School Counselor of the Year

The following blog is reprinted with permission from the ACT Center for Equity in Learning. The blog first appeared here

What are some of the challenges in school counseling today?

The most persistent challenges I see are: Imbalanced counselor-to-student ratios. The absence of school counselors in school environments. School stakeholders’ confusion/misunderstanding as relates to the school counselor’s role and potential in school communities. Gaps in the educational outcomes for marginalized student populations. Inconsistent buy-in for social and emotional learning and holistic student development in schools. Limited pre-professional training as relates to diverse learning supports, career and post-secondary advising. Real and perceived divestment in public education at the local, state, and national levels.

What impact can school counselors make on students today?

School counselors can impact students in a variety of ways across the academic, person/social, and college/career areas of students’ lives. Impact can include everything from increased self-esteem and self-advocacy to improved attendance and access to a viable post-secondary program. More than anything, I think school counselors can give students opportunities to be seen, heard, and affirmed in ways that may be difficult for students to find in other areas of their lives.

What life lessons have you learned being a school counselor?

Be yourself. Failure is a wonderful teacher. Vulnerability is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Invest in activities and people that contribute to your happiness! Therapy and counseling support isn’t just for the students that you serve - commit to your own work, too! Find the fun and joy in each day. Laugh often. Self-care doesn’t just happen, it requires intention, patience, and action!

What ONE thing do you want your students to know?

You are worth love, dignity, empathy, and compassion JUST as you are. (So, why not be yourself?)

If you could change one thing about school counseling, what would it be?

All school counselors would receive at least two years of ongoing supervision/consultation after transitioning into the profession. Unfortunately, the expectations placed on a school counselor can vary so wildly from school to school. So, I think it would be helpful for new school counselors to have more structured support around the cultivation of a strong professional school counselor identity and appropriate expectations for the work (as supported by the American School Counselor Association!).

What did it mean to you to be chosen as the 2019 School Counselor of the Year?

Representation matters! I am the first Black winner of this prestigious award, and that means so much to me (especially on the tail-end of Black History Month)! I hope to show school counselors near and far that they can do this work in a variety of ways while staying true to themselves… and having fun! Be different! Through our words and actions, we can show students how to be different and celebrate their uniqueness! Let’s model authenticity and bravery and love for our students so that they can then pay it forward!

Brian Coleman is the School Counseling Department Chair at Jones College Prep High School in the Chicago Public Schools district and is in his fifth year there. He was named the 2019 School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association. He also received the Upstander Award from the Human Rights Campaign in early 2019. His professional interests include comprehensive sexual health education, peer mentorship, gender and sexual identity development, counselor consultation and supervision, and comprehensive counseling programming at the high school level. Coleman is a graduate of Northwestern University and DePaul University.

Learn more about Brian.

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About ACT's Center for Equity in Learning

ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning focuses on closing gaps in equity, opportunity, and achievement for underserved populations and working learners. Through purposeful investments, employee engagement, and thoughtful advocacy efforts, the Center supports innovative partnerships, actionable research, initiatives, campaigns, and programs to further ACT’s mission of helping people achieve education and workplace success.

About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.