Most of us are aware that school counselors play an important support role in today's school systems, but the scope of their work may not be fully understood. What responsibilities do school counselors have? How has their role changed over the years?
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) specifies that school counselors are "certified/licensed educators with the minimum of a master's degree in school counseling and are uniquely qualified to address the developmental needs of all students through a school counseling program addressing the academic, career and social/ emotional development of all students."
Here's what you should know about the nature of a school counselor's duties and how they have become increasingly vital to the success of K-12 students.
Emotional Awareness and Coping Skills
When we hear the term "counselor," we almost certainly think of mental health, and school counselors are indeed trained to deal with holistic outcomes for students. Counselors should be well versed in helping students of all ages manage their emotions and cope with a variety of school and life situations, no matter how unique. These professionals are also required to continue their professional development after their master's degrees to find new resources to help kids, including where to refer them for emotional or mental struggles beyond the scope of the counselor's expertise.
Coping mechanisms may include using a learned conflict resolution tools. A school counselor can teach through formalized programs across all grades and individual, one-on-one interactions. Since the ideal caseload for a school counselor is 250 students per professional, counselors must pass along these essential skills so students practice resolving conflict on their own.
Friendships and Social Skills
Student success isn't measured completely by testing outcomes and grade-level academic exercises. It is also measured by how many supportive relationships the student has both at home and in school. A student with a close-knit friend group not only develops age-appropriate social skills and emotional intelligence, but they can also experience reduced stress levels and a lower risk of anxiety and depression. A counselor can help guide students in search of healthy friendships, allowing students to develop self-esteem, as friendships directly affect a sense of belonging and community.
Even for students who don't need much personal interaction with a counselor, a formal goal-setting program is important. Counselors are responsible for identifying the milestones of well-adjusted students and determining when those goals aren't being met. A counselor can break down larger goals into smaller, more tangible task lists for students who express a desire to take more advanced classes or attend college. "How do I get there from here?" is the perfect question for a school counselor to answer.
A counselor helps integrate the basics of respect, kindness and empathy into academic and extracurricular programs. School counselors are often responsible for implementing anti-bullying and anti-harassment campaigns and can be instrumental in choosing outside speakers to share their stories with students at special events.
School is supposed to be a safe and welcoming space for all students, but keeping it that way depends on how comfortable the students feel in sharing information with staff. A school counselor can provide that safe space away from the classroom, giving kids room to express any fears within the school or home. A counselor's role in identifying "red flags" or concerns for a student's health or safety cannot be overemphasized.
Outlook for School Counselors
As schools continue to deal with new social and environmental obstacles, they will need flexible and perceptive school counselors to act as frontline advocates for students' health and well-being. School counselors need, at a minimum, a masters-level education. There are many online options for those wanting to expand their support role in a local school. Coursework can be completed in as few as 24 months, giving ambitious leaders a way to get involved in less time.
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