As counselors, we are driven by nature to help, nurture, and solve problems. Therefore, most of us don’t like to say no to any request. This creates a problem because there are only so many hours in the day and we have more than enough counseling duties of our own to fill those hours. So, obviously there is no extra time for non-counselor duties. Below are several tips to strengthen your saying no skills in the most pleasant and professional manner possible.
HOW TO STAY IN YOUR LANE: TIPS FOR DEFLECTING NON-COUNSELING DUTIES!
Many of us have ratios that far exceed what is recommended in the number of students we can effectively serve. As a result, we are always busy- planning for students, working with students, and following up with student families. Therefore, saying no excessive duties outside of our job role is a really important skill for counselors to utilize.
1. Be preventative in saying no and lessen the amount of times you have to say no by establishing your role and duties upfront with staff and administration.
- Start the year off with a principal-counselor oagreement to set out your role and duties with your administration; Here is an excellent one for counselors from the American School Counseling Association- ASCA’s Annual Agreement.
- You can also educate staff and community about your role through staff presentations and newsletters.
- If you need information on what the counselor role entails, here is the link to national standards of professional best practice for school counselors to guide you.
2. Set clear boundaries and use every opportunity available to communicate the boundaries to staff.
- Give gentle, yet firm redirections to staff to reestablish the boundaries of your role and duties when they overstep them. Here is a wonderful post from The Counseling Geek that highlights some ways to communicate these boundaries.
- Offer to do something else instead which is within your appropriate role as a school counselor and/or something you are already doing. For example, if you are asked to discipline a student, you can instead offer to discuss with the student reasonsfor and alternative to the behavior rather than actually handling the discipline.
3. Use data to back up the importance of your boundaries, roles, and duties. Here is a link to my post on data, “Tech in the Counseling Worlds.”
4. Respond to principal requests that are outside of your role as a counselor in the following pleasant, yet boundary-setting ways:
- “I am happy to help with that, but my day is filled with students. Will you take a look at my schedule with me and help me choose which students I can take off my schedule in order to do that task?”
- Of course, this means you must actually have a daily schedule that is full with students! For help with setting this up, check out my post titled, “Back to School for Counselors.” After a few responses like this, the non-counseling requests usually lessen significantly.
5. Respond to staff requests that are outside of your role as a counselor in the following pleasant, yet boundary-setting ways:
- “I am happy to be part of the team to accomplish that task. However, I don’t have any student responsibilities that I can give up. Therefore, I don’t have the time to do that task by myself or lead a team to complete the task.”
- Say no with a smile and use the “positive sandwich”: positive comment about request+refusal with apology+positive comment about staff making request For example, “I really appreciate you thinking of me in order to help the school in this way. I’m so sorry but I just have no extra time in my day to squeeze that in. Thanks so much for taking care of our school the way you do!”
- And for those staff members that just cannot take no for an answer, you might try giving them a list of 3-5 tasks you need from them before you can do the task they are requesting of you. For example, if someone asks you to compile the At Risk report, you might tell them that first you need, in writing: a list of all students in the school, the state definitions of each At Risk indicator, and the duties expected of you as At Risk coordinator.
6. Stay busy and have your weekly calendar displayed, showing all your hourly duties.
- I use my displayed weekly calendar to show what I am actually doing at the time that someone requests that I do a non-counseling duty.
- Here is a wonderful article by former ASCA president, Dr. Russell Sabella, which you can use in support of your efforts in sticking to your weekly calendar of counseling duties.
In conclusion, know that it is fine, and even preferable, to take baby steps as you develop your skills in the art of saying no gracefully. Decide on two or three of the most important areas you need to say no to and slowly, politely, professionally work on deflecting these non-counseling duties throughout the school year.