Though school counselors know some of the best counseling “techniques” are the basics – such as empathy, caring, and active listening – it can be a challenge to find time to practice these with students. But the payoff from using these skills can sometimes be noteworthy.
This Week's Storyteller
Rachel Stroop has worked in the Lakeland School Corporation in northern Indiana for the last 33 years, including four years as a 6th grade teacher, 18 years as an elementary school counselor, and 12 years as counselor at the Jr-Sr High school. She played varsity basketball in college and has coached girls basketball at her school.
Rachel has been married to her high school sweetheart (pictured here with her) for the last 31 years and has two daughters who are both in college.
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Hi, everyone. Welcome to another week of the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success.
Thanks to Lilly Endowment for underwriting our little podcast. Without their support we would not be able to bring these stories to you every week. So if you like what you’re hearing and ever want to send them a sentence of two of thanks – just send it to me – and I’ll pass it along.
Speaking of notes – we’re in the middle of our Sharing Thanks series this month featuring stories from counselors about a letter or note from a student that was particularly memorable. Rachel Stroop of Lakeland Jr-Sr High School sent us a beautiful note from a student we’ll call Angela. The note came years after Angela left school, but it referenced the time she spent with her counselor.
She came in as a freshman and was very reserved, very quiet, sometimes wouldn’t talk very much at all. But as we continued our friendship through those four years, she became much more self assured. She had been sexually abused by a family member when she was younger. Parents did not believe her. Family member ended up committing suicide, dying by suicide. So she had a lot on her shoulders.
Of course, situations like these are so overwhelming for students that often the best thing you can do is simply listen and be present.
We just did a lot of talking, a lot of healing gave her a lot of suggestions as to things that she could do. And I hadn’t really heard from her since she’d graduated until I got that letter and I’ve had contact since that letter as well. And she’s now married and has one little boy and is pregnant with a second and just doing exceptionally well.
Rachels says the student’s relationship with her parents has also improved dramatically over the years.
It was a joy to get to know this young woman and help her in her healing.
I asked Rachel, was there anything special you did or a particular technique you used?
Probably not. You know, I just listened. I gave her time to be herself, you know, gave her some suggestions. And you know, as counselors, we can give lots of suggestions. We don’t know if they really do them or not. I think that she actually did, and I think they did help her, but I think the biggest thing is I just listened and I believed. You know, I told her, I believe you. And I think that built that trust and that’s why she kept coming back.
Listening seems so basic, but it is powerful, as we all know. Rachel has a poster in her office called Listen, Just Listen, which says, among other things, “if I ask you to listen, will you listen with your heart? Not with logic. Listen with your feelings? Not with a story.”
And I tell kids sometimes, I’m like, okay, what do you want from me? Do you want me to just listen? Or do you want advice? And some will say, you know, they want help solving it or some will just say, just listen. I’m like, okay.
Believe me, I know that tension between trying to get ALL the things school counselors have to get done – with taking extra time to really listen to students’ needs. Rachel feels it, too.
And it’s hard sometimes. There are days that it’s hard. And I think, you know, God bless our students because I think they know. Like last week we were doing PSA T and ASVAB and not very many came in to see me. And I think sometimes they just know she’s busy right now. I’ll come back in two days when all that’s done. So, you know, I do appreciate our students tremendously. But it’s always amazing when you’re talking to a student and the phone rings, and they’ll say, you can answer that. And I say, no, you’re more important right now than that phone call — they’ll leave a message. And they’re like, “Oooh, you don’t answer the phone?” [laughs] But I think it’s an important message for them to hear.
It’s the message that Angela heard loud and clear years ago – and that’s why she wrote Rachel an amazing note of thanks.
[reading] “I’ll never forget the first day walking into your office. I was definitely a little intimidated, but without that day, the relationship that we have wouldn’t be the way it is now. Honestly, that day after leaving your office, I had the feeling of relief and you made it very clear that your door was always open for me when I needed it. I may have used it a little bit more than you would have thought, but you came into my life at a difficult time.”
And that, I believe, is why counselors are counselors. Thanks to Rachel for sharing her story — that takes time, too. Sending the note to us and taking 10 minutes to record the story – we appreciate it, and would love to hear YOUR stories of the most memorable note YOU have received. Just go to our online soundbooth at inspiresuccess.org/soundbooth and record a quick message there or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with just a sentence or two explaining your note and why it was so meaningful.
By the way, you can also use that address to share a note of thanks to Lilly Endowment for underwriting the podcast.
Thanks for listening! Have a great week.