Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Three Ways to Celebrate National School Counseling Week

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

It takes a lot for me to recommend another counseling article in this space, let alone use the first few sentences to tell you to go read something else. That’s what makes the article by NACAC CEO Angel Perez all the more compelling. Angel’s now in charge of one of the biggest college access organizations in the world, and he owes it all to the counselor who, despite the standard ridiculous caseload, tracked Angel down, asked him about his college plans, and then helped him live the dream. If you’re somehow getting through National School Counseling Week without enough props for all you’re doing, read the first half of Angel’s story. Twice.

The second half outlines many of the key things that need to be done for counselors and for the counseling profession so we can be more effective in our work. This is a great call to action, but it did occur to me all these items had one thing in common—they are completely out of our control. More counselors? Administrative decision. Better training in college counseling? Graduate school decision. Time to talk with more students? Closer call, but as long as we’re still changing schedules, not our decision.

This means only one thing— it’s time to take action now. As in, this week.

Look, it’s pretty reasonable to say you aren’t going to get much more attention than this week, unless you do something really nuts like put 45 students in an American Government class when the contract limits class size to 35 (Yup—and man, did we get attention!) If this is the only time you get a major spotlight, now is the time to use that spotlight and engage in some meaningful conversation. I’m not suggesting you start talking about counselor ratios at the cupcake reception they throw for you, but this is probably the best time to pick your top three needs, and see what can be done about them. What they are depends on your school and your needs, but here’s my standard starter list to get you thinking:

Get what you do in writing. It’s still pretty amazing how many counselors show up for work each year with no effective job description. Most union contracts don’t deal with this, since counselors only make up about ten percent of the membership.

That’s why, as always the ASCA agreements form is your best friend. ASCA has updated its counselor model, so there are some reports of difficulty finding this form—but when it comes to being clear about who does what and when, it’s tough to beat this outline. You may not get rid of schedule changes in a year, but an annual discussion of this form is a strong foundation for change. Take a look, and remember, if it’s not in the agreement, you don’t do it.

Does anybody know what you do? I have long said that the main problem with our profession is NOT that people think they know what we do. The problem is they think they know what we do—and they’re wrong. But do we really have time to set them straight?

The answer is, kind of. If you’ve got a counseling department web site, it’s about a day’s worth of work to build a page talking about all you do. It would be great to include a “typical day” scenario, and you could spend a minute in the summer creating a video where you talk about your work. Administration can support this work by giving you a webpage if you don’t have one, and by referring others to it in activities like parent orientations—once the administrators read the page themselves, of course.

Build your team. Even if you have the right ratio and incredible resources, there’s no way you do your job without help. The Counseling Advisory Committee does that, since they are the key advocates of your work, both in the school building and the community. If pro football teams have cheerleaders, you could benefit from getting some as well. Look here on how to start one.

Write your grad school. The first three are just suggestions—this one is something you really need to do. Angel’s column briefly supports my favorite pet peeve—better training for school counselors in college counseling. There are about two dozen counselor training programs in the US that offer a class in college counseling. Others teach college counseling with career counseling, leaving about 20 hours of instruction in college counseling—as if that’s enough to even scratch the surface.

It’s time to write your grad school program, thank them for the credential that allows you to follow your passion, and urge them to create this separate class. I have tons of syllabi from folks who have taught the course, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel—they just have to jump on the bike, and all they need is someone to tell them to do that. Take the time.

And thank you for all you do.


  1. Could you send me a syllabi so that I can contact my grad school program? I am very interested in following through.

  2. Does it have to be a grad program or could a college create it as part of a CEU for professional credits? My institution has done that in the past. I'd welcome an example syllabi as well for consideration. Thank you!