Nancy Rapport encounters powerful moments with students nearly every day. As a school counselor at Jones Middle School, Rapport has 18 years of experience helping students navigate the pitfalls of adolescence.
“I started out as a classroom teacher,” Rapport recalls. “I just found that I was one of those teachers who was always able to develop very strong relationships with my students, and they would seek me out to talk with them.”
Rapport first felt the calling to serve as a school counselor during her third year of teaching. In the beginning of that year, one of her students passed away, sending waves of grief through the school community. Rapport worked with a large group of students, their parents, and a psychologist to help them through the grieving process.
“In the course of doing all of that, it just occurred to me that it was the kind of work I wanted to be doing – being a support person rather than a teacher,” Rapport said.
It was then that Rapport decided to return to school and earn a master’s degree in school counseling at the University of Dayton. Rapport’s program helped her gain an understanding of the theories behind individual and group counseling techniques, and working with students with special needs.
During her program, Rapport engaged in counseling sessions where her techniques and solutions were recorded. Then, with her graduate class, she would listen and analyze her responses and get feedback on her performance from her fellow classmates.
“It makes you feel a little bit vulnerable when you have people listening to your work and giving you that kind of feedback, but it was very helpful and powerful,” she said.
By learning to listen for specific problems or concerns that someone in need is communicating, Rapport gained a better understanding of how to treat her middle school students.
Middle school students are in the midst of great change. Many of them are transitioning to their teenage years, and require Rapport’s help to ease the process. Rapport says she typically focuses on individual counseling, providing quick and brief solution-focused meetings with them, hoping to erase some of the struggles they have that interfere with their school work.
“Most important, it’s just sitting back and listening and helping the kids to re-frame what they’re seeing,” Rapport said. “Adolescents in particular tend to magnify every little thing. What you want to do is try to help them come to their own solutions by using some questioning and listening skills without offering [the solution] to them.”
Rapport says allowing the students to reach their own conclusions helps to instill confidence in them, and gives them valuable problem-solving skills. Sometimes, Rapport is just there to help facilitate the process.
“Sometimes, frankly, they just need to sit, vent, and get it out and they feel better and that’s it,” she said. “It’s just kind of really paying attention to what the need is, and knowing the student. I’m really, really lucky in my job in that I get to work with the same group of kids for three years.”
Today’s middle school students face different challenges growing up than their parents did. With the advent of more widely spread technology and the Internet, Rapport says her students face an entirely new world of pressures and concerns than other generations.
“Kids are really different now than they were when I first started my master’s degree,” she said. “We didn’t have the Internet yet, we didn’t have cell phones yet, we didn’t have Facebook, we just didn’t have that stuff. So things sort of change dramatically as the world changes.
In order to work with students through some of these new changes, Rapport has needed to listen to their problems from a new perspective, responding differently, and taking into account their need for social networking.
“With texting and with tweeting and Facebook and everything else, it’s a whole new set of social skill training that needs to be done, because kids say and do pretty hideous and thoughtless things when they’re not face-to-face,” she said. “Kids will post things on each others walls that are just nasty and make comments about other kids’ pictures.”
Rapport stresses the need for counselors to constantly be bettering themselves to address changes in the lives of students. Recently, she finished post-graduate study at the Gestalt Institute, gaining even more background in counseling theory and putting them to use. In the future, she wants to continue her studies and focus on death and grieving counseling.
Unfortunately, one of the realities of Rapport’s job is addressing deaths in the community. Whether that be a student, a parent, or a teacher, Rapport must help people through the grieving process, providing support to students and family members.
By providing that support, Rapport has witnessed her students rising above their problems and challenges, taking charge of their lives, and going on to become successful young adults.
“You know, hard times are hard and struggles are challenging, and sometimes I think it’s hard to estimate the power of your time and the power of your attention and the power of your support, because sometimes you do all of that and things still don’t seem great,” she said. “But the attention and support that you give to a student or a family is very, very meaningful.”
Qualities of effective school counselors
The following are just a few of the ways school counselors can help their students:
Source: The American School Counselor Association
- Advocates for student success
- Collaborates with parents, guardians, teachers, and community members to enact student solutions
- Understanding of developmental theory, learning theory, and counseling theories
- Believes every student can learn and succeed
- Understanding of solution-focused counseling, reality therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Facilitates individual student planning
- Helps students establish goals and use planning skills