How Do You Use Your Power? Thoughts from a first year school counselor

Use-Your-Power-For-Good-smallBy Sabrina Bong — While at the Wisconsin School Counselor Association (WSCA) conference this past week, I was inspired by the words of wisdom from our keynote speaker, Jamie Vollmer.

Vollmer, an advocate for public schools, began his speech with this question: “How are you using the power you have? Because every single person in this room has power, but it all comes down to how you use it.”

All of us were silent as we pondered this question. Maybe some people came up with an answer. I, however, continued to think about this question through the rest of Vollmer’s upbeat, thought-provoking speech. (Side note: if you ever have a chance to hear Vollmer speak, please do so. It will change how you view public education.)

As a new school counselor, this whole concept of power is something that both terrifies and elates me. When I was in grad school, we spent a lot of time talking about how we are catalysts for change. We are advocates for students who have no voice. In my job, I know that I am sometimes the only voice these students have. I do what I can to stand up for them. I give them advice, help them make safety plans, and do my best to keep them safe at school. At the same time, there are days when I feel as though I am completely powerless. This is especially true when I hear about my students experiencing situations that they should never have to deal with: parental drug use, abuse, the death of a parent or sibling.

I hate those days when I feel powerless, because then I worry about what will happen to my students at the end of the school day. Sure, I did everything in my power to help them, but was it enough? Did I really help them? Is me listening to them enough?

As I was walking to my first session after Vollmer’s speech, I got a text from a friend of mine: “How is work?” I responded that I was at a conference, and then asked her the same question Vollmer had posed to me, “How are you using the power you have?” Her response was as follows:

Sometimes, power isn’t about everything going your way. Sometimes, power is empowering others. That’s just as powerful. You can teach others how to help themselves, or how to ask for help. That’s power right there.

Her words really hit me. Empowering others can be a form of power, even if it’s more indirect. I may not always be able to get my students out of a home environment that I feel is toxic; however, I can listen to them and provide them with resources. I can continue to reassure them that I am always there for them. My most popular phrase recently has been “Just because your parents do this DOES NOT mean that you will follow that same path.” That phrase reminds my students that they are in control of their destiny.

I have written Vollmer’s question down on a notecard and taped it to my computer at work. I hope it is a reminder to me about why I do what I do. I hope it reminds me that I am changing students’ lives. And ultimately, I hope it reminds me that power, however you use it, will always make a difference.

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