TLC – Trust and Authentic Engagement Pt. 2: “Open Trust-Building Conversations”

A counselor talks with a client
Image via The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth

In Part 1 of this “Trust and Engagement” series, we discussed strategies to help school counselors build and restore student trust where it would not evolve naturally, particularly in diverse school environments.

Since trust grows to the extent that each student feels meaningfully supported by their counselor, it can be challenging for counselors to sustainably provide individualized guidance and support to a student body with very different backgrounds and needs.

Even if school counselors recognize the gaps needing to be closed for under-resourced students, the additional time and energy needed to close those gaps can lead to burnout unless effective strategies are implemented by counselors to manage their time and the expectations of others.

In this second and final post of the series, we will explore how ongoing, open conversations with students can help the student-counselor trust continue to grow in ways that are empowering for the student and sustainable for the counselor.

Here are some ways counselors can approach their interactions with students to deepen those relationships and have a greater impact:

  1. CLARIFY roles and expectations necessary for students to reach their goals. If a student’s family is unfamiliar with the college admissions process, counselors should recognize that their genuine “support” will require more than encouragement and practical information-sharing. To have a shot at competing, under-resourced yet capable students will need counselors to clearly map out a picture of the competitive admissions process, and break down responsibilities for students and their families each step of the way.
  • EMBODY and MODEL what is expected from the students. Explicitly detailing roles and expectations is a good starting point for student-counselor conversations, but to build trusting relationships counselors should also demonstrate and model expectations. If counselors are willing to go into homeroom classes to speak to kids and ask hard questions, remind them of deadlines, and affirm their potential, students will be more motivated to rise to the expectation and seek out counselors at critical moments and deadlines in turn.
  • Speak to and work with each student in a way that makes them feel SEEN and VALUED. This is less about hours of one-on-one time, and more about making the most of every moment: looking students in the eye, asking probing questions, listening to the stories, and writing down names, goals, and challenges for context so counselors can give and request updates along the way. Counselors are also in the process of building trust IN their students. If they know a student is genuinely trying but struggling, they will go above and beyond. When they know a student personally, both the counselor and the student benefit. It is impossible to deeply bond with every student, but counselors can get creative to learn students’ personal stories. For example, once they have identified different groups of students with similar goals, counselors can work with them together, and set aside special lunches or other meetings to discuss specific challenges or deadlines. Counselors can collaborate with community members who have experience in mentoring or coaching groups or individuals toward specific goals.

About TLC

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting. For more information, go to:

About the Author

MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.

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