Fulfilling my purpose as a school counselor by seeking National Board Certification

Photo of NBCT teacher Sharon Coleman.I am honored to announce that I am a Chicago Public School Counselor who has achieved National Board Certification (NBC) and joined the ranks of only 3,300 school counselors nationwide who are National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs). I am a proud woman of color, who sat for National Board Certification because I wanted to improve the well-being of the students in my school community while also increasing the number of school counselors, especially women of color, achieving NBC. There are only 18 School Counseling NBCTs in CPS and I want there to be more.

My journey to become an NBCT in School Counseling began as a professional dream. Not only did I want to be the best school counselor I could be, I also wanted to be the change agent that promotes equity and access for all the students in my school. So I began my pursuit of NBC at the worst time, in the height of the COVID pandemic, when students, families, and teachers were suffering physically and emotionally. I joined the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation’s Nurturing Teacher Leadership (NTL) candidate support program and became part of the School Counseling cohort. 

I was paired with an amazing NBCT mentor and coach, Sheryl Bond, from whom I learned so much. Because Sheryl was a seasoned NBCT school counselor and an NTL graduate herself, she recognized right away new ways in which I needed to collect and analyze data and look for trends that would inform my practice and support my students’ growth. I subsequently learned to use a different data lens than classroom teachers use, to collect action-oriented data from which I developed or determined the appropriate tiered counseling strategies I should use to focus on the needs of my students. From my participation in the NBC school counseling cohort I also learned more effective ways to advocate and collaborate with varying stakeholders to build relationships to improve my students’ learning environment by linking them and their families with community resources and partners for academic, career, and social/emotional development.

The professional development provided by my mentor and the NTL leadership team taught me how to create assessments from which I would analyze data results and make informed decisions to improve student success. For example, I learned from a formative assessment I administered, the academics, as related to high school and postsecondary planning, that my students needed help to understand. Based on these results, I was able to create a high school selection chart to help students identify their best fit and match schools. Based on a summative assessment that I also learned to develop in NTL, I discovered that my students’ high school match selections were a much better fit than they had been in past years. Through articulation with high schools, I also now organize an in-house high school fair. And through a community partnership I developed with the Trio program, I now provide opportunities for students to explore post-secondary options. I am a better School Counselor because of the data driven strategies I learned as a National Board candidate.

As an African American counselor, I identify with many of the challenges my 97 percent African American student population faces. Coming back to in-person learning was a challenge for many of our students and a large percent were dealing with trauma. The trauma among African American students was systemic. Due to lack of education, loss of jobs, low income and limited resources for their multi-generational family living situations in the community in which I work, along with long-term effects from isolation and the health risk of COVID, my students dealt with a heightened degree of stress causing trauma. 

I used formative assessment tools such as the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire and the Traumatic Event Screening Inventory, which I had learned about in NTL, to identify and address students’ needs specific to this trauma. I was able to determine their heightened anxieties and depression and help them develop coping strategies to manage these stressors. Based on the results of the assessments and other data-driven strategies, such as one-on-one interviews, I learned that many students needed Tier II group interventions such as the cognitive behavioral ‘Bounce Back’ technique which helped my K-5th grade students develop coping strategies to deal with the impact of trauma and other stressful events. I even became a Bounce Back facilitator to implement strategies which helped address my students’ needs. 

I assisted students in identifying their feelings and emotions while providing relaxation and mindfulness techniques. I also used Check-In-Check Out (CICO) as a Tier II counseling technique in which I provided immediate feedback on student behavior and increased my positive attention, which improved my students’ well-being and overall success. I now co-facilitate the Behavioral Health Team (BHT) on which I collaborate with teachers, staff and clinicians to identify and develop student support and locate necessary resources based on individual needs. As an NBCT school counselor, I now deliver more effective counseling lessons to address the academic, social/emotional and post-secondary needs of students.

NTL also taught me about Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) and helped me to identify my own biases to effect positive change within my students and school community. Because of my own life experiences, I didn’t realize I could have biases related to people who looked like me. In NTL, I learned to have a more open mind, for example, when addressing the needs of my students and families who come from under-resourced neighborhoods. 

I learned to change my mindset to one of supporting people of color to overcome the root causes of their emotional and physical challenges which may have been caused by lack of education, funding for adequate health care and poor nutrition. I have implemented CRT strategies learned through NTL to build stronger relationships with my students, their families, and community organizations. I also learned more effective ways to use small groups to help students build community and awareness of each other’s differences, which helped them to build stronger relationships with each other.  

Going through NBC was not without its challenges. The writing I had to complete while going through the NBC process was quite challenging. I had to reflect on my practices and write about them extensively. Thankfully, I had support for this through NTL. In creating a portfolio of my practice I included videos of, and writing about, my counseling sessions; explanations of my knowledge of school counseling theories and techniques; narratives of my applications of the student assessments I used and an account of how the results informed my practice; written analyses of student growth; and depictions of various collaborations that I had to submit to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). While all of this writing was difficult, I had the support of my mentor and cohort, so I was able to overcome this obstacle and become a more reflective and effective practitioner and adapt to NBPTS’s writing standards.

The professional development and support provided by both my counselor mentor and the NTL leadership team has not only made me a more effective School Counselor, it has propelled me into leadership roles within my school community and district. As a member of the CPS Model Counselor Advisory Council, I now lead, advocate, collaborate, and effect systemic change to ensure all district school counselors are fully equipped and supported to implement comprehensive, student-centered, data-informed school counseling programs that significantly impact their students’ academic, social/emotional, and postsecondary success.

I also now provide resources to school counselors throughout my district that are aligned to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model as a result of becoming an NBCT. I have created other partnerships as a result of my participation in NTL, as well. I work with the Chicago Department of Transportation Safe Ambassadors program to demonstrate walking and biking safety lessons to students and I collaborate with the Chicago Fire Department to bring the Smoke Van Simulator to demonstrate fire safety to students and educate students on fire safety.  

As a result of having met the standards of becoming National Board Certified in School Counseling, I have also been selected as a Site Supervisor for the 2023-24 school year. In this role, I will provide direct supervision and learning opportunities to school counseling interns to support them in meeting the requirements to achieve their master’s degree in school counseling. Thanks to NTL, I have increased confidence in my ability to serve in these leadership roles. NTL has provided me with the strategies needed to implement programs to address the needs of students and families while using my voice to effect positive change within the school community.

I am especially thankful for the support provided by CTU, the CTU Foundation’s Quest Center, and my mentor for the opportunity to learn and grow professionally over the two years of my National Board candidacy. Because of the NTL program, I have increased confidence and belief in myself that I can achieve all things I pursue with such diligence. Committing to the work of improving my school counseling and leadership skills enabled me to achieve my highest professional accomplishment, becoming a National Board Certified Teacher as a School Counselor. I am now among only 2 percent of CPS school counselors to achieve National Board Certification.

I hope that by reading my story many others will be encouraged to pursue the rigorous work to achieve this advanced credential and increase the number of CPS counselors who become National Board Certified. School Counselors often go unnoticed in their schools but do great work. NBC will broaden and highlight this work done on behalf of CPS students and families. I met my goal to add to the ranks of NBCTs nationwide in order to highlight the work that School Counselors do every day on behalf of students and families at the highest level, especially those Counselors in CPS. I strongly recommend other school counselors go through the CTU Foundation Quest Center’s NTL program because of the support and resources provided throughout the journey. It was an added bonus for me that NTL’s professional development process moved me up on the CPS pay scale to Lane 5.  

The journey for me continues in the work I provide daily for my students, families and school community. I will forever be grateful to NTL and the CTU/CPS partnership for providing such an opportunity to help our counselors become National Board Certified. 

NBCT Sharon Coleman is an early childhood through adult school counselor.