Christina Tillery: a passion for counseling
“I am inspired by the potential of public schools and the impact that they can have if funded properly and equity issues are addressed,” said Tillery, SOE two-time alum and school counselor at Highland Springs High School.
VCU School of Education two-time alum Christina A. Tillery (M.Ed. '16, Ph.D. '20) is a school counselor at Highland Springs High School in Henrico County. She was previously a high school social studies teacher in Charles City County Public Schools.
What drew you to the field of education?
I had always had a passion for working with young people, even when I was a teen myself. After my sophomore year as an undergrad at the College of William & Mary, I applied to the VCU School of Education. My acceptance to the program helped develop me into a secondary social studies teacher. I became a middle school history teacher in Charles City County Public Schools, where I strived to be an engaged teacher by attending community events, community church services, and supporting students’ activities in those four years.
As a teacher, I enjoyed teaching the content and helping students create a strong bond with history. However, I yearned to continue to build deeper relationships with students beyond the classroom, which sparked my interest in school counseling. As a school counselor, each day I have the opportunity to help young people take steps to be the best version of themselves academically, mentally and socially.
Who inspired you to pursue study in this field?
No one person inspired me to pursue a career in education or specifically school counseling. It has been my personal experience in public schools that I have cherished so much and the acknowledgment that schools can be a great resource to strengthen students, families and communities. I am inspired by the potential of public schools and the impact that they can have if funded properly and equity issues are addressed. I genuinely want to be a part of the movement that reimagines schooling and evokes students’ change.
Why did you pick SOE to pursue your M.Ed. in Counselor Education?
I was thoroughly impressed by the warm environment that the faculty created during our interviews. They were able to take a highly stressful and competitive experience and turn it into a genuine conversation about our passion for the counseling field. That is when I knew that SOE was the place for me. I wanted to be a part of a program that was dedicated to my transition into a school counselor and my growth as an educator.
How did your master’s program help prepare you to be a high school counselor?
Recently, Dr. Joseph Williams of the University of Virginia wrote, “...when you merge a mental health counselor with an educational leader, what you get is a school counselor.” VCU equipped me with the knowledge and skills to address mental health in a school environment and be a fierce advocate for my students.
“VCU equipped me with the knowledge and skills to address mental health in a school environment and be a fierce advocate for my students.”
Any tips for students who are considering entering SOE’s M.Ed. in Counselor Education program?
Yes, continue to do your research on the program and reach out to our fantastic faculty. I would encourage you to reflect on your “why” and how you will dismantle oppressive systems and barriers as a counselor.
What made you decide to pursue your Ph.D.?
I love the school counseling profession. In the school environment, we are a direct connection to mental health support for many students. Additionally, as we navigate life during a pandemic, the mental health needs of our K-12 students are rising. There is a need for more dedicated, anti-racist school counselors in the field at all levels. I am excited to be a part of developing the next generation of school counselors. Also, I am committed to the advancement of counselor education and scholarship pertaining to school counseling. Practicing school counselors desire to see themselves and their students in the research that also promotes policy changes that will benefit the profession and our most vulnerable students.
How can we learn more about your research?
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Karla Allen, adjunct professor in SOE’s Counselor Education program, for the Virginia School Counselor Association’s podcast SCOPE (School Counselor Opportunities and Professional Engagement). We spoke about my research on creating safe spaces for Black girls in schools, school counseling advocacy, and overcoming the “Nice Counselor Syndrome.” It was a great conversation surrounded by reflection. You can listen to the episode here.