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Strategies for Counselors in Culturally Diverse Schools

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As school populations across the United States diversify, education professionals emphasize the importance of cultural competence: the ability to effectively work and address students’ needs in cross-cultural situations. This fact is particularly true for school counselors, who take on many different responsibilities in schools and often assist students with personal and academic challenges.

What is cultural competence? Essentially, this concept is about appreciating all the aspects that help form a student’s identity. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies “language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups” as relevant influences that counselors should be aware of when assisting students.

Obviously, this is a broad, multi-faceted topic that is unique to each student. However, the more counselors can understand what influences students, the more effectively they can assist them and foster equitable opportunities for the student body.

Students in the Master of Science (M.S.) in Education – Counseling, School Counseling Track online program from the University of Wisconsin-Superior (UW-Superior) gain an appreciation for the ways cultural influence manifests in the classroom. They will apply those skills and knowledge in on-the-job counseling situations.

Benefits of Cultural Competence in Counselor-Student Relationships

The primary benefit of practicing cultural competence is a deeper understanding of students’ needs. The more counselors can appreciate and understand the full scope of influences on student behavior, the more effectively they can create an educational experience that better serves each student. A culturally competent staff also helps create dynamic, interactive opportunities for students where they work with counselors to define their own goals and measure progress.

Practicing cultural competence allows all members of an educational community to feel more involved and have a voice in organizational operations.

Strategies for Counselors in Culturally Diverse Schools

The M.S. in Education – Counseling, School Counseling online program from UW-Superior includes a Multicultural Counseling course that teaches the fundamental tenets of cultural competence. Along with the history, evolution and application of multicultural counseling, students will learn how to reflect on their own potential biases and how they affect work. Students will also study theory and media to deepen cultural understandings.

Additionally, students will learn a variety of strategies for improving cultural competence in their counseling work, such as the following best practices:

1. Create a positive framework toward learning about cultural groups

Counselors should always remember that they’re trying to improve their connection with students and find positive ways to do so. Creating an environment where students feel accepted in spite of potential differences is critical. Set a good example for students by celebrating the various cultural elements of a school’s community and treating that diversity as an asset.

2. Invest in ongoing learning and the pursuit of culturally congruent skills

One of the more practical and critical elements of cultural competence in schools is a continuous pursuit of knowledge and tools to sharpen culturally congruent skills. Professional educators are lifelong learners, as are counselors. By furthering their cultural understanding, they can frame issues in ways that allow for cultural context.

3. Listen, be open and flexible

Culturally sensitive communication involves staying aware and informed of cultural differences, which means avoiding assumptions about a person based on their demographics. By making an assumption about someone, you might be harming them in the process. Making informed, respectful adjustments is part of what cultural competence is all about.

Counselors should listen and be open. However, Counseling Today notes that counselors might sometimes need to directly broach a topic themselves if they sense there’s something the student wants to discuss but does not want to initiate the discussion.

4. Understand broader cultural contexts

Macro cultural and social influences are complicated and nuanced, so absorbing and learning from as much content as possible is never a bad idea. Counselors should be willing to consume literature, media, professional texts and journals, news articles and more in order to broaden their understanding of different spheres of culture, as well as their intersections.

An advanced M.S. in Education degree with a focus on school counseling will equip professionals with the necessary skills to support students from various backgrounds and experiences, which is crucial in this modern, diverse world.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Master of Science in Education – Counseling, School Counseling Track online program.

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