School Counselors Connect Students to Opportunities

School Counselors Connect Students to Opportunities
Posted on 02/03/2021

For Tanisha Williams, it’s “the best job in the world.” For Rob Miller, it’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” And for Brandon King, it’s “such a cool profession.”

Williams, Miller, and King are three of MNPS’s 234 school counselors, a group we celebrate during this year’s National School Counseling Week, which runs through Friday, Feb. 5. The celebration arrives on the heels of two MNPS counselors, Connie Hensley and Shanielle Keesee, being named among the district’s nine Teacher of the Year finalists, a testament to their impact on the lives of their students.

“I love what I do,” said Keesee, a nine-year MNPS veteran who works at East Nashville Magnet Middle School, which her own children have attended. “Counselors to me are the heart and soul of the building. We’re that bridge, that connection between all stakeholders. It’s ensuring that students do have the best learning environment they can, even virtually.

“So it’s working with the teachers, meeting with them because they need support, too; working with the principal and the administrative team on planning things for the students; reaching out to the student, to the parent. It’s trying to bring everyone together to make sure students have the best opportunity to achieve at school.”

New Techniques, New Skills

Like their co-workers, school counselors have reached new levels of creativity and productivity during the pandemic, finding novel ways to connect with and engage students and parents while learning technology skills that will serve them well for years to come. Keesee said East has used Navigator check-ins and home visits to support families and help parents increase their engagement in virtual learning.  

Miller also has enjoyed making home visits to students at Glengarry Elementary School to help them set up their computers for virtual learning, and he said the entire Glengarry staff has enthusiastically worked to provide social-emotional learning supports for students.  

“Building relationships with students and parents is the thing I enjoy most,” said Miller, a former Spanish teacher and high school counselor.  

Hensley, the college and career counselor at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School, said the virtual learning environment since the pandemic began 11 months ago has required more intense social-emotional outreach. Students have had “deeper anxieties,” she said.  

But her work with seniors has always involved navigating some anxieties as students ponder the right college or the right career path.  

“The relationships we develop are so unique, so personal, so individualized, that I thrive on getting to know them on a personal level and helping them figure out what’s their best fit,” said Hensley, now in her 25th year with the district and third at MLK. “A lot of times they come into our work together thinking there’s one best college or one best group of colleges. We can figure out what they’re really looking for and find a school that fits them. I like to help them look at possibilities they’ve never thought of before. 

“No matter how you cut this college planning process, it’s stressful. It’s an anxious time. I like being the walk-alongside-you person. They know that there’s somebody at school, and every step they take, that person’s going to be stepping with them.” 

Helping Students Use Their Voice 

At the other end of the MNPS age spectrum, Williams works with students in grades Pre-K-2 at Eagle View Elementary School. She can already start to see the people they’re becoming.  

“I get to talk with them about their feelings. I get to hear their opinions on the different topics we talk about during our SEL lessons. For me, it just shows me that our kids are listening, they’re smart, and they want to use their voice and have a voice,” said Williams, who is in her third year with the district. 

Those SEL lessons cover everything from empathy and diversity to safety, coping, and following rules at school and home, Williams said. She said everyone has learned to be more creative during this time.  

“We had to figure it out,” she said, “and we did it!” 

School counselors meet students as they’re learning, growing, and coming to understand who they are, what they’re good at, and how they see themselves fitting into the world. King, a school counselor at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, said he loves having the opportunity to see students “truly become the best version of themselves.” 

“We get to assist students with academics, social/emotional situations, and just try to help overcome the hurdles of life,” he said. “We get to see a student apply lessons taught to them! Being able to witness that growth is amazing. It goes beyond any data that can be gathered.  

“When a student contacts you years later and they reflect on conversations you had with them, they tell you what impact you made and thank you for taking the time to listen, that brings joy and strengthens my love for this wonderful profession!” 

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