Monday, October 6, 2014

What Do School Counselors Do?

School counselors play a vital role in the functioning of schools, and yet they are often asked, “What do you do?” The answer is that counselors are doers. Their role goes beyond scheduling and providing academic support to students. School counselors are leaders, collaborators, student advocates and implementers of systemic change. They are asked to think on their feet on a daily basis, while maintaining poise and grace. They are warm, empathic and patient individuals, who work to make students feel safe and to do no harm. Here’s a closer look at the role of school counselors. 

1) School Counselors are leaders.

At the very core of the school counselor’s role is leadership. Counselors lead by:
  • Teaching class lessons on social skills to students. For example, Melissa, an elementary school counselor, felt she could improve the climate of her school by teaching lessons about kindness to classes. After the lessons, the students created art projects, which were displayed throughout the school.
  • Implementing large-scale programs to enact positive change in schools. For example, in order to improve student behavior, some counselors are using PBIS, a program that reinforces positive behavior.
  •  Finding needs and filling them. The counselors at a local middle school saw a need for a mentoring program at their school to help students transition from elementary school to middle school and developed a mentoring program to meet this need.

2) Counselors are collaborators.

This business of training little humans for life is a mind-boggling process, but teachers, administrative staff and parents can find an ally in the school counselor:
  • Counselors collaborate with teachers. Deanna, an instructional assistant in a kindergarten class, noticed her students were struggling with transitioning to all-day classes. Melissa worked with Deanna and other staff to find ways to support these students.
  • Counselors collaborate with parents. Counselors are in constant communication with parents who voice concerns and work with them to promote the academic and emotional well being of students.
  •  Counselors collaborate with outside groups to get services.  For example, one elementary school collaborates with non-profit organizations, such as a local homeless shelter and Ronald McDonald House to ensure that students are getting food and shelter needs met.

 3) Counselors are advocates.

Counselors work to advocate for students, to empower them and ensure their needs are met. Counselors advocate for:
  • Students with special needs in need of additional services. For example, a student with autism may need a one-on-one para-educator.  Counselors can be instrumental in advocating for the student.
  • Student academic and career needs. A counselor may encourage a student to take an AP class or help find ways to pay for college for a student without financial resources.
  • Making school a safe place. According to Melissa, a school counselor, many of today’s students are facing trauma and the range of trauma. With the large role media plays in our lives, students may repeat the trauma every time they see it played on TV. School counselors provide emotional support to these students.

4) Counselors implement systemic change.

School counselors can be the key to change at a larger level. They work to:
  • Identify barriers to achievement. For example, some students may not have a quiet place to study at home and thus, might not complete homework. At a local middle school, for example, the counselors worked to start an after school tutoring club and to arrange transportation for these students.
  •  Increase access to educational opportunities. According to Melissa, a school counselor, even at the elementary level, counselors are working to implement programs to empower students to pursue higher education.

School counselors work to establish school as a positive, safe environment in which students can succeed. They are, in many ways, the glue that connects students, parents, teachers and administrators. They are truly invaluable to the schools they serve. 

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