It is almost a decade since I undertook the Post Graduate Diploma in School Guidance and Counselling. Becoming a guidance counsellor seemed a natural evolution of my professional role in education and I can honestly state that the course marked my professional ‘coming of age’. While I had qualified initially as an Irish and French teacher, I began my teaching career in London in special educational needs. Returning to Ireland, I taught French and Irish for many years to all levels. I trained in SPHE when the programme was first developed and then became the SPHE/Pastoral Care Coordinator in my school. Having spent almost a decade working to develop and maintain systemic student supports, I realised that the role of guidance counsellor would suit me. I undertook the course in 2005-2006. It was then a full-time course, with lectures in the Education Department at Maynooth University on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. School placement was on Monday and Friday. I remember it as a very intensive year with many essays and deadlines, but also a hugely enriching and rewarding experience. I was fortunate to have secured a position as a full-time guidance counsellor in my own school by the end of the course and the transition from classroom teacher to guidance counsellor was seamless for me.
Returning to full-time education in 2005 had re-ignited my passion for learning and I was keen to pursue further education and training in the area of guidance and counselling. I secured a place on the Masters in Education (SGC) programme. At that stage I had been practising for three years as a guidance counsellor and I thoroughly enjoyed undertaking a self-reflective critical enquiry into my practice. My thesis examined how I as a guidance counsellor could provide a reflective space in school for senior students to reflect on their spiritual development. The willingness of my students to participate in an open and honest exchange in the group over a two month period was inspirational. I learned so much from them that year and I remain very humbled and grateful to them for that experience.
On completion of the M.Ed SGC I was invited to deliver some lectures to students on the post graduate diploma in guidance and counselling course and also to supervise guidance counsellors studying for the M. Ed SGC. Working with guidance counsellors interrogating their practices was really exciting, so I was very pleased when later asked to do similar work in the Adult and Community Education department also.
The guidance counsellor is a key figure in the school’s pastoral care system and (s)he plays a central role in all decisions affecting students. I found managing the guidance and counselling service in a school with over 600 students challenging yet very rewarding. Many of the skills and professional qualities I developed in the role prepared me well for a move into management. In 2009 I applied for a position as Deputy Principal and happily I was offered the job. I have been working as a deputy since then, with a brief interlude for a time while I undertook a piece of research for the Catholic Schools’ Partnership in Maynooth. I love the role of deputy because I find it similar in many ways to the role of guidance counsellor. I currently work in a school where we are deeply committed to the social and emotional development of our students as well as their academic development. I daily utilise all of the skills learned on the guidance course and honed in my practice, and I honestly believe that I am better both personally and professionally as a result of doing the course.