The role of school counselors is important and multifaceted. Some of their responsibilities include offering in-class workshops, one-on-one counseling sessions, or simply casual drop-in visits to listen to students and address their concerns.
Much of that support has traditionally relied on face-to-face interactions with students and faculty. However, in-person interaction has not been possible during the pandemic. As schools across the globe shut down to protect their students and faculty and slow the spread of COVID-19, counselors have been forced to rethink their strategies for supporting students and families from a distance.
The University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Master of Education – Counseling, School Counseling Track online program gives teachers the knowledge and real-world experience to aid students in achieving and maintaining mental wellness.
An Increased Need for Counseling Support
According to school counselors interviewed for an NPR report, students are experiencing trauma at higher rates than before. Not only have school closures forced students into isolation, but they have also affected many students’ home lives in traumatic ways. As job losses abound and the virus spreads, students experience food insecurity, illness, increased familial responsibilities and general destabilization of their support systems.
In addition, students are affected by significant shifts in virtual learning platforms, unfamiliar technology and disparities in online access, as well as administrative issues like college application procedures. It is not hard to see how the guidance and support of counselors is imperative to support students both academically and personally.
Despite the barriers, interruptions and changes, school counselors must provide programming to encourage student engagement in virtual school settings and counseling platforms, according to the position statement on virtual school counseling by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). They must ensure that all students have access to the tools required to succeed in their educational and personal development. School counselors have had to get creative with their approaches to providing such programming.
The Jobs of a Virtual School Counselor
The first task? Find the students.
When students have inconsistent internet access and unstable living conditions, it can be difficult for them to reach out for help. Counselors are finding a variety of tools to connect with students.
Email is a first line of defense for many counselors, but many are also turning to phone calls, social media, and classroom management apps. They are contacting students and their families at home, checking in to see what they need and guiding them to available tools and resources. Here are just a few of the innovative ways school counselors are getting the job done:
- Discovery Middle School’s Megan Bledsoe is generating helpful content for students to explore on their own time.
- Some counselors record helpful video tutorials on accessible platforms like YouTube, offering guidance on everything from how to use learning platforms to coping with grief and loss.
- The ASCA offers a sizeable list of tech tools and digital resources to aid in students’ social/emotional development.
Counselors and Parents
Counselors help parents navigate virtual learning environments in addition to student-centered resources. While many schools have well-maintained websites, email chains and other digital resources familiar to families, many counselors go the extra mile to support parents in understanding the rapid changes to their child’s education.
Sometimes this just means checking in to answer questions and help them make informed choices. At other times, it involves connecting parents to necessary resources, such as free or discounted internet access, information for food banks and school lunch programs, or resources to help their child cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each counselor and school will develop a unique approach to supporting students in virtual settings. Regardless of which tools they select, the ASCA requires school counselors to adhere to the same ethical considerations that shape their face-to-face counseling experiences when conducting virtual counseling. They must maintain student confidentiality, reduce risk to students and advocate for each student’s well-being.