MIHAIL KOGLNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania – A soldier stands in formation during a monthly Army National Guard drill weekend, prepared to maintain and execute his military skills, training, and readiness.
At 8 a.m. Monday, a school counselor at an elementary school gathers with teachers ready to assist students in the classroom. By 8:40 a.m., he makes the rounds to check in with his students.
This routine is a snapshot of what Maj. Sean Q. Spooner, a logistics officer with the New York National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division and a Williamson Elementary School counselor, does as he transitions from drill weekends back to his weekday career.
Although Spooner's civilian educational background is a Master of Science in Education with a concentration in school counseling, and his military background as a logistic officer may seem different, the balance between both equips him for success.
"I've never met someone that does both before," said Spooner. "I'm sure there are, but being a school counselor and an Army officer leads to a unique skill set."
Spooner further explained that active listening and communication skills are the biggest pieces for developing both students and soldiers. As a school counselor, Spooner's mission is to provide kindergarten to fourth-grade students individual counseling, small group counseling and teach social-emotional learning to meet their needs based on their developmental level.
"I teach feeling identification and basic social skills to kindergarteners," he said, explaining the different approaches he takes with his third and fourth-grade students. “We go over bigger coping skills and explore deeper topics such as conflict resolution and peer mediation."
"It speaks to the military side as well," he said. "It's one of the things that, as an officer or a non-commissioned officer, you must be able to communicate with your company, platoon, or audience."
Capt. Philip J. McGrath, the personnel officer assigned to the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade in Latham, New York, has followed Spooner throughout his military career and believes his skills translate to how he leads his soldiers.
"Spooner is a person that may see someone in a crisis and sees that as not a challenge but an opportunity to help," said McGrath. "I've seen him engage with a soldier like he would with students in the classroom."
National Guard soldiers often have opportunities to serve alongside their active duty counterparts. When it was time for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division to rotate to Europe, Spooner volunteered.
"The 10th Mountain Division needed logistic officers to work in the G-4 Shop," Spooner said, referring to his interest in the mission.
The G-4 shop refers to the logistics office at the general staff level for an Army division or higher. Soon after, he was packed up and ready to deploy.
In addition to performing his Army duties while deployed at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Spooner continues to hone his skills by volunteering at a local Romanian school with Cpt. Micheal J. Kearney, the 10th Mountain Division headquarters and headquarters battalion chaplain, to strengthen the partnership within the community.
During the summer months, he worked with students at Targusor School by implementing social-emotional learning in an interactive way, which can lead to incorporating social-emotional topics. While some students did not speak English, that was not a barrier stopping Spooner from providing support.
"It's cool to find engaging ways to communicate without talking," said Spooner. "We were running out of things to do, so I taught them a team-building game called 'the human knot.'"
The human knot is a team-building exercise that involves team members forming a circle, grabbing random teammates' hands, and untangling themselves without breaking their hold. It's a chance to build self-esteem in students.
"Activities and interactions like this make me miss my job at home," Spooner said cheerfully. "Getting to interact, hang out, and get them involved with the students."
In addition to working with local students, Spooner has met with some Romanian school teachers at the request of David Haas, a community projects coordinator for the Salvation Army and the Rotary Club stationed at MK Air Base.
"Haas found out what I do on the civilian side," explained Spooner. "He wanted to see if there was any way we could help the school, which I was all for."
At the beginning of September, just in time for the beginning of the school year, he met with the teachers to discuss some skills that could bring social-emotional learning concepts into the classroom. An idea was implementing morning meetings, a classroom practice used to cultivate a culture of student-teacher interaction, build a sense of belonging, and kick off the day. One of the questions raised was how to care for students who struggle with self-esteem since that has been an issue in school-aged students.
He explained that asking simple questions in a morning meeting setting like "Would you rather go to the beach or hiking?” can build connections between classmates to establish similarities and interests between one another, which builds upon a sense of belonging, leading to improving the students' self-esteem.
"Once you establish an environment that builds upon self-esteem, you can teach positive affirmations, positive self-talk, and growth mindsets," said Spooner.
With the school year also starting back in New York, the teachers and the staff miss his presence.
"Since the day he started, I invited him to sit with me," Peggy Donahue, a Williamson Elementary school teacher, said. "From that moment, it seemed as if I have known him for years; he is funny, has great communication skills, and is friendly."
Teachers and students' parents also feel the impact of his skills as they consider how they will teach.
"The kids, parents, and teachers alike adore him," said Donahue. "We have found that the parents talk about Spooner because the students talk about him at home."
From his hiring at Williamson, Spooner impacted students' and teachers' teaching and learning styles. He took leadership roles as the district pupil personnel services curriculum coordinator and as the elementary school intervention specialist, where he worked alongside other counselors, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists.
The Pupil Personnel Service team provides support and intervention services to promote academic achievement, social and emotional development, language and motor development, and functional behavior.
"He isn’t a person who just works and then leaves," said McGrath. "The future is in good hands with people like him who genuinely care for and advocate for others."
McGrath explained that the National Guard motto ‘Always ready, Always there’ fits Spooner's character.
“He is always ready to lend a hand, not because he is being directed to by an order but because he cares,” said McGrath. “He is that see something, say something person in a helping aspect for both soldiers and students.”
Even though serving in the military and being a school counselor is not the same occupation on paper, it can still impact the communities and those involved.
"Both professions are helping and serving the community," said Spooner. "Whether serving the greater country, a school district, or a smaller community population, it is a call to service."