Counselling is a huge part of being a teacher but no one teaches us how to be counsellors. Teaching training institutions certainly fall flat on their faces here.
Teachers spend a lot of their day counselling pupils and their colleagues so it is madness that we aren’t given training opportunities to understand even the basics.
Counselling is central to managing classrooms, playgrounds, corridors and staffrooms and an everyday activity teachers just do. Listening, understanding and communicating is the bread and butter of teaching but that doesn’t mean teachers are good counsellors. Many situations involve counselling parents and teachers being social workers.
But the just doing part is far from easy for many colleagues because they have to rely on their own resources as to what they think is right. This might be watching and listening another colleague ‘live’ in the moment of dealing with a situation or by thinking on the spot and hoping the right words spill out. Often those words are hard to find and it can be very challenging knowing what to say. Teachers need training and guidance because they might say the wrong thing and make matters worse.
So what are the counselling skills teachers need? Armstrong (2011) suggests the following:
1. Problem identification – recognising that the problem exists.
2. Open questioning – probing by open-ended, non-directive questions to identify the real focus of the problem rather than concentrating on its symptoms.
3. Listening – the ability to listen actively to obtain the full picture by probing, evaluating, interpreting and supporting.
4. Sensitivity – to individual beliefs and values.
5. Reflecting – being able to restate the problem from the individual’s point of view.
6. Empathy – having regard for the feelings and anxieties of the individual.
7. Impartiality – the ability to remain non-judgemental and to refrain from prescribing solutions.
8. Sincerity – having a genuine attitude of interest and openness to the individual’s problems.
9. Belief – having the belief that individuals have the resources to solve their own problems (with some passive or active help)
The reality is, most teachers don’t have any counselling skills training and are ill-equipped to deal with many of the problems they face especially mental health issues. They can point people to those outside the school that might be able to help yet we need people on the inside who can do it.