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-counseling 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
Many of us have ratios or class sizes 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 families. Therefore, saying no to excessive duties outside of our job role is a really important skill for all counselors to utilize. Below are six of the most effective ways to deflect those non-counseling duties.
1. Be preventative.
Lessen the number of times you have to say no to non-counseling duties by establishing your role with staff and administration upfront.
Start the year off with a principal-counselor agreement to set out your role and duties with your administration. Here is an excellent one from the American School Counseling Association – ASCA’s Annual Agreement.
You can also educate staff and community about your role. I do this through staff presentations- you can download a free presentation template on my blog or check out my previous post on Confident Counselors. I also educate staff on my role through newsletters.
If you need information on what the counselor role entails, check out the national and state standards of professional best practice for school counselors to guide you.
2. Set clear boundaries.
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 reasons for and alternatives to the behavior rather than actually handling the discipline.
3. Use data.
Back up the importance of your boundaries, roles, and duties with data! Here is a link to my Bilingual Learner post on data, “Tech in the ESL and Counseling Worlds.”
4. Respond to principal requests effectively.
Your principal may ask you to do duties that are outside of your role as a counselor. That’s ok, it’s all about advocacy and education here! Respond to your principal’s non-counseling requests 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 of 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.
Keep in mind that in all professions everyone has a few fair share duties that may not relate to their job role. This is fine and actually is an important part of being a team player in the workplace. However, your fair share duties shouldn’t take up more than 5-10% of your time. Also keep in mind that when you first start working with your principal to lessen non-counseling duties, you may have to pick your battles. If your counseling job is full of non-counseling duties when you take the position, common sense tells us that no principal is going to respond well to you trying to clear all of them off your plate at once.
5. Respond to staff requests effectively.
Use the following pleasant, yet boundary-setting responses to staff non-counseling requests on your time:
“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 an 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 advertise it!
Display your weekly calendar that shows all your hourly duties. This calendar will show others what are actually doing at the time that someone requests that you do a non-counseling duty. You can click this link to get my freebie weekly calendar (and yearly curricular calendar).
Here is a fabulous 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. Onward and upward!
With over 20 years of teaching and counseling experience, I am currently a bilingual school counselor in a Central Texas public school system. When I’m not counseling, writing, or presenting, I enjoy ranch life with my husband and our menagerie of pets—all of whom practice healthy coping skills, of course!