Tuesday, February 5, 2019

What Your School Counselor Wish You Knew About Their Job

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

National School Counselor Week is upon us once again, and it seems to be getting more promotion than ever before. Since most of this work is done behind the scenes, publicly celebrating the tireless efforts of these dedicated professionals means even more to school counselors, where something as simple as a sincere “thank you” can go a long way.

Amid the thank-you notes, group photos, and cakes and cookies being prepared for school counselors, parents and educators sometimes wonder if there is more that can be done to support the counseling work done in their local schools. Needs of individual counseling programs vary greatly, but as a rule, the school counseling profession could make great strides if communities worked together to focus on these counselor issues:

A larger understanding of what school counselors do  School counselors are trained to help students in three key areas: academic success, social and emotional development, and career and college awareness.  Counselors receive training in how to develop programs and services that meet the individual needs of their students and communities, all centered on these three areas.

An understanding of what counselors shouldn’t be doing  People are often surprised the list of counselor duties doesn’t include things like schedule changes and standardized test supervision.  It’s hard to say just when these duties became part of a counselor’s role in some schools, but it’s clear that they keep the counselor from offering the services they were hired to complete.  Since there are only so many hours in a day, this can easily limit student access to a counselor, and that prohibits student growth.

An appreciation for counselor caseloads  Given everything counselors do to support students, the American School Counselor Association suggests counselors can only be completely effective if they’re working with not more than 250 students—and even then, meeting students needs is a challenge. Unfortunately, the average public school counselor has a caseload of 494 students nationwide, with some states having an average caseload of over 900.  Throw in duties that don’t really belong to counselors, and you can see why your child might not be able to see a counselor—especially if they’re one of the millions of students attending a school with no counselor at all.

The need for updating of their training  Trends and issues in mental health and college and career opportunities are always changing, and counselors need to stay on top of these changes in order to best serve their students.  Professional development is available in these areas, and is often free—but many counselors can’t get to the training if they can’t leave their building.  Many schools only have one counselor, but if they don’t get out to get the updates, their effectiveness starts to fade, and that benefits no one.

What they should be called  Like so many other jobs, the role of a school counselor has greatly expanded in the last thirty years—so much so that counselors generally prefer being called “school counselor” rather than “guidance counselor.”  It may seem like a small thing, but as school counselors know, small things can make a huge difference.

If you’d like to keep the support of your school counselor going past National School Counselor Week, take a moment to ask your counselor what the community and district can do to support their work.  Since few people ask, your question might catch them by surprise, but be patient—they’ll be happy to share.

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