Ep 54: The Importance of the School Counselor in Today's Schools - Katherine Pastor

Character Strong · August 22, 2019

Katherine is the American School Counselor’s Association 2016 National School Counselor of the Year. Katherine began serving as the Flagstaff High School (FHS) Counseling Department Chair in the 2008 and Student Government Advisor in 2012. Through a data-driven, comprehensive school counseling program, Katherine and her team have received both state and national recognition. Katherine joined the American School Counselors Association (ASCA) board of directors in 2017 and is an adjunct faculty member at Northern Arizona University’s College of Education where she teaches the next generation of school counselors. 

We talk with Katherine about the important role that school counselors have in our schools, and she shares some ways school counselors can be used more effectively. 


“...we are all in the business of educating students, whether you're a history teacher, you're student government teacher, you're a PE teacher, you're a school counselor, because we're really good in education of putting ourselves in silos. That's the work we've been doing, and our school is really saying this is everyone. Everyone has fair share responsibilities to how we are meeting the needs of all of our children socially, emotionally, academically, college and career wise.”

Katherine Pastor

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Hey CharacterStrong commuters. If you're listening during the summer months, that means you're most likely some of our most loyal listeners. Before we kick off season two starting in September, we wanted to ask a favor. If you haven't taken the time yet to subscribe, rate and review our CharacterStrong Podcast on Apple podcasts, we would be so grateful. These ratings and reviews help us to be able to reach more educators with this podcast. It is also just great to see who is listening and from where. Thank you for listening, and let's get to today's episode.
  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast, where we have conversations on school, culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Katherine Pastor. Katherine is the American School Counselor's Association. 2016 national school counselor of the year. She began serving as the Flagstaff High School counseling department chair in 2008 and student government advisor in 2012. Through a data driven, comprehensive school counseling program, Katherine and her team have received both state and national recognition. Katherine joined the American School Counselors Association Board of Directors in 2017 and is an adjunct faculty member at Northern Arizona University's College of Education where she teaches the next generation of school counselors. First Lady Michelle Obama has said about Katherine that she wants nothing more than to see students succeed and become the best versions of themselves. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Katherine Pastor.
  • John: All right, is so wonderful to have Katherine Pastor with us today on the CharacterStrong podcast. This has been a long time coming, but grateful that you're here with us.
  • Katherine: Oh, man, John, thanks so much for having me. I was really looking forward to connecting with you today.
  • John: Well, one of the things that brought us together was just, one, learning about the amazing work that's been happening at Flagstaff High School, then learn that you were the 2016 ASEA School Counselor of the Year. That's the national counselor of the year, correct?
  • Katherine: Yep, that's right.
  • John: And so just, one, grateful for the work that you doing. I was at the high school level for a decade, but then at the district level being the program administrator for the Whole Child, which I know you and I had a little chuckle about before this, which is like, that's interesting, this whole wave on the Whole Child because the counselor in me and the counselors that you know all around the country have been doing this work for many years. At the district level, that is who my main teammate was. My closest connection was the director that oversaw school counseling in our district amongst many other things, so, one, I think it would be very appropriate to just start here. Talk to me about the importance of the school counselor in today's schools.
  • Katherine: Yeah, so I'm glad that you're bringing that up, and I'm glad that you're referring to us as school counselors. Many times people are still referring to us as the age old guidance counselor, and it's very reactionary when you think of it in that terms. School counselors are really the glue, in my opinion, that are going around making all of these things happen in a school. I go and when I do my speaking engagements, I really think about that because if you're running a true comprehensive school counseling program, that school counseling program can touch every single student in a school. That doesn't mean that that our academic teachers and our CTE teachers and our other teachers aren't doing that. It's just they have their particular case loads of students that they teach every single day, and the school counselors are the ones that are kind of making all the waves come together in a really nice, smooth stream, if you will so the students have focused on college career, social, emotional, and really making sure that they're ready for life after high school.
  • Katherine: So we talk a lot about that and we're like, so what's after high school, and making sure that they have a plan a plan B and a plan C, because we know like. We all know we have been there. We remember what it was like. Some of us don't want to remember what it was like to go to high school, right? You're like, "Oh God, if I could not go back to my junior year, I will let that one go." So I think that school counselors are the ones that are really being able to make the program go from good to great, if you will, to steal a line from Jim Collins. I think people just need to better understand how to appropriately use school counselors, particularly administrators, and then also our faculty. I love what CharacterStrong is doing because you guys refer to everyone in the school building as educators. I really think that that's important, because we are all in the business of educating students, whether you're a history teacher, you're student government teacher, you're a PE teacher, you're a school counselor, because we're really good in education of putting ourselves in silos. That's the work we've been doing, and our school is really saying this is everyone. Everyone has fair share responsibilities to how we are meeting the needs of all of our children socially, emotionally, academically, college and career wise.
  • John: Yeah. So true. And I just, one, thank you for putting another spotlight on that, beaus not only are we all educators, because of that, we're also all leaders in the building.
  • Katherine: Yeah.
  • John: So many times when you do senior exit surveys that have questions in terms of who was the most influential staff members in the school, a lot of times it's not necessarily a classroom teacher, even though obviously the work that classroom teachers do is incredibly important, but it's someone that may be is outside the classroom. It could be anybody from a school counselor too to it could be a food service educator if we want to use that really intentionally. It could be a member on the custodial team, it could be a coach, an advisor. Everybody in that building is a part of that idea of that it takes a village, so thank you for putting a spotlight on that. Yet I feel called to go here with your response because I think it's so good when you said, like, administrators, teachers knowing how to utilize the glue, that school counselor, what are some of the things maybe then like either a tip on how they could utilize a school counselor more effectively, and/or some of the roadblocks that don't need to be there that we put in the front of counselors regularly, like that never happens?
  • Katherine: Yeah, right. I think that's a really good point, and I think a lot of times people are looking for concrete, sustainable, "What can I do? How do you want me to use you? What should we call you, where should you be?" And I think so many times in education we are so responsive to the needs of the students as opposed to being proactive, and I think that's where we need to change our mindset as to how can we do proaction approaches with our staff members so that we can meet the needs of the students. I've been at my school for 15 years and I've also had the same administrator for 15 years, so that leads to a whole different level of relationship that's being able to be built there. I just think it comes back to conversations and asking people what you don't know and stop making assumptions that counselors are sitting in their offices drinking coffee and only see students on an individual basis.
  • Katherine: We're out in the classrooms teaching, we're out in the hallways greeting students. We're not just changing schedules, we're developing lessons for the students. We're having them go through career interest inventories, so those are where the partnerships. Because if you think about what's happening in classrooms across the country, we're thinking about all the academic standards that we need to build on, and you all talk about the plate, so we're thinking about how do we look at the plate differently. For us, we can come in and supplement any of those types of lessons that a teacher might be going through in a classroom. Let's say we're going to be talking in a health classroom with freshmen. We can come in and take that a level further and talk about what does a healthy relationship look like, whether that's a romantic relationship or a friendship or a family relationship. We can take that further cause we have that specific type of training.
  • Katherine: When we go into our English classes, we know students are doing writing, so we can take that a step further and say, "Hey, how about we give you a scholarship essay prompt or a common application prompt that students can actually use when they get done with this class, and you've already vetted it and you've graded it." Those are the types of partnerships I think that schools need to look deeper at and be more intentional about, and I think it goes back to that you and I were having was silos that it's not just one department's job to do X, Y, and Z. It's the whole entire school's job, and if we go back to the really great example of JFK when he goes to NASA for the first time, love that story, right? He asked the janitor, "Hey, what's your role here? What's your job?" He's mopping the floor, right? And he looks up to the president and he's like, "Well, sir, we're trying to put a man on the moon." You're like, "Yes. That is what we're doing."
  • John: We. Yep.

“...I think a lot of times people are looking for concrete, sustainable, "What can I do? How do you want me to use you? What should we call you, where should you be?" And I think so many times in education we are so responsive to the needs of the students as opposed to being proactive, and I think that's where we need to change our mindset as to how can we do proaction approaches with our staff members so that we can meet the needs of the students”

Katherine Pastor

  • Katherine: Right? Doesn't that speak to you? I mean, think it speaks to all of us where we're like, all of us should have that kind of response about what are we doing with the roles of our students in our buildings, and we're all playing a significant role in their life, and we're all helping them think about what their life looks like after they walk through their doors and they get their diploma from an institution.
  • John: So good. So good. And I just think it's amazing, as much as we always say this is one more thing on our plate or there's so much on our plates, which in reality is very true, right? But there's also something amazing that happens when an organization, a staff, a team, a family, whoever it is, when they have a clear vision of not only why they do what they do, but a clear vision of being a part of something bigger than themselves together, and how much people can get done when they're willing to work through the adversity and the tough parts. Because that vision is so clear that this is not about me individually or this department, it is about us being a part of a greater good, something that's bigger than each of us individually, and when you have that clear common shared purpose and vision, amazing things happen.
  • Katherine: Yeah, and I think it goes back to thinking about all institutions, particularly schools have mission and vision statements, so reviewing that with a team of people including a school counselor and classroom teachers and then looking at your plate and saying, "Does this actually relate to anything that we say that we're doing?" Because I think we use the word intentional and authenticity a lot, and I think we just throw it around sometimes, but to be really intentional, you really have to say, "Let's stop for a second, and why are we doing this particular activity at our school? Is it really impacting the whole child? Does it really relate back to our mission and vision of X, Y, Z, and actually does our mission and vision actually even talk about the whole child?"
  • John: Yeah, good point.
  • Katherine: And if it doesn't, then it's time to review, right? And so those are the things where you can clear some things off your plate because you've just been doing it for 15 years. You know what I mean?
  • John: Yep.
  • Katherine: So it's like, let's work smarter not harder, because none of us are gonna have more time in the day.
  • John: Yep. So true. Well, how about this? I think you and I could talk for quite some time about many of these topics, and it's leading me to want to think through maybe a series that we could do together where we could take a certain set and dig deeper into them. But how about this for today? I thought this was pretty impressive. There was a quote and kind of digging deeper into the work you're doing and some of the recognitions you receive, but it just says, "In just seven short years, Flagstaff high school has seen a 13% increase in college acceptance rates and a 50% increase in the number of colleges that visit their campus." And then I love this. Michelle Obama said, and this is speaking about you, that you, "Katherine Pastor wants nothing more than to see students succeed and become the best version of themselves."
  • John: Man, I wish that Michelle Obama said something about me that was positive, but how about this. End with this as people are listening, many of which are getting ready for another school year, they're starting their school year out. When it comes to those kind of results, maybe it's one thing, maybe it's a couple of things, knowing that it's a lot of things that add up, but what are just a couple of practical things that were either big moves or really intentional small moves that helped to get that kind of impact happening at your school?
  • Katherine: We shared the data. We have so much data. At our school that the counseling team knew in and out, however we were keeping it all to ourselves. We empowered our administration to allow us to have some real live conversations with our teaching faculty about what our students were doing after high school, and when they actually realized that they could play a part in a student's decision and what they do for their post-secondary plans, that changed. We were only allowed to have colleges come during lunch, so we had to have that conversation about when is it appropriate for students to miss class and when is it not, and how are we expecting kids to give up their own lunch to think about their future when we should be helping them think about their future six classes out of the day? That was a philosophical change that we had at our school, but it came down to the data where we were showing the number of college visits that were happening at our school, plus the number of students that actually matriculated to those colleges.
  • Katherine: The teaching faculty were like, "Oh, wow. So our kids are actually going to the colleges that come here and talk to them?" We're like, "Yeah," so building those relationships with these admissions officers was key for our kids to actually feel like I know some of that campus, because we have close to 48% first generation college student center on our campus. They were like, "I don't know what that means. What's an admissions officer? What are you talking about?" So it was just changing. That was a real simple thing that I think at least high schools across the country can start implementing is to start thinking about when do you let colleges come? How do you get that data out to all of your people in your buildings so people realize and understand the impact that these intentional relationships we're trying to build with our community, that they can help that student get it to the next level. I think that's one simple thing that anybody can start doing this fall.
  • John: Absolutely love it. Well how about this? How can people connect with you in any different way and/or the work that you're doing? Let's send off this podcast with information today.
  • Katherine: Yeah, sure. I'm pretty active on my Twitter account, so that's at @katpastor1, Kat with a K, and you can also find me on LinkedIn and would love to connect with anybody. That's one of my jams. I love to collaborate.
  • John: Love it.
  • Katherine: Particularly with people from all over the place, because the more of us doing this work, the better our communities are going to be in better the world's going to be.
  • John: Absolutely. Well, thank you for being such a difference maker in that space. Grateful for you. Excited to hear how a new school year is kicking off for you, and I will hit you up on, I think, a followup to this. I would love to do a series with you that digs deeper into some of these pieces and more, but thank you for taking the time today.
  • Katherine: Oh, man, thanks John to you and your team at CharacterStrong. You really are making a difference. I know you probably hear that, but in Flagstaff, Arizona, you have made a huge difference in our school and our middle school. From all of my heart that I can give you thank you, because it's changing students' lives, it's changing educators' lives, and it's changing our communities.
  • John: That means a lot. Thank you so much for sharing that. All right, well we will talk soon, my friend.
  • Katherine: Sounds good. Have a great day.
  • John: Take care. You too.
  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate review and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we are supporting schools, visit characterstrong.Com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.

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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.