What role do school counselors play in educational environments?

school counselors

School counselors are employed to help students achieve their full academic potential and understand their strengths. They prepare young people emotionally for life after school and help them find the right professional path. Individuals working in this role can have a significant impact on the next generation of Americans. It is meaningful work that is particularly rewarding, and in addition to the high levels of personal satisfaction they experience, school counselors can expect a good salary, some flexibility in their hours, and a stable career.

What is counseling in schools?

The concept of providing young people with vocational guidance and advice in school was developed by Jesse Buttrick Davis around the turn of the 20th century. Since that time, school counseling has become a central part of the support system that academic institutions provide to care for children and adolescents.

Counselors are trained to bring a range of resources and new approaches into the school. They work in a way that can be considered student-centric but also take part in professional collaborations. One such partnership takes place with mental health counselors, who are responsible for helping the entire student body, especially individuals who need help with their emotional wellbeing. The goal is to develop and nurture a healthy and happy school environment in which students feel free and able to learn and live safely.

Throughout their career, and often during a single semester, a school counselor will assume a variety of roles. Often their practice will be based on the needs of the school, along with the work they do with other professionals, such as social workers and psychologists. These roles often overlap, and the practitioners involved will need to share their knowledge and may work together on a treatment plan, to achieve the best outcomes for a student. However, counselors generally work with students in three major areas: emotional wellbeing, preparing for college, and promoting academic achievements.

How do counselors help students in schools?

Social development and emotional wellbeing

Counselors work alongside other professionals to form a support system in the school. They aim to establish an environment that prioritizes and enables learning, as well as students’ personal growth. From time to time, they will need to focus their efforts on individual students who are managing personal problems. The counselor will respond with kindness and advice but also offer practical guidance to steer the young person toward community or school services that might help them.

Mapping a career and preparing for college

In the past, getting students into the right college was a key aim of school counselors. Today, that is no longer true, but these professionals remain very involved in preparing young people for going to college or finding a career path that matches their interests.

There is a broad range of academic courses and vocational learning opportunities that students can choose to enroll in after high school, and young people rely on the expertise of a counselor to point them in the right direction. The counselor will need to carry out extensive research before delivering tailored guidance to suit individual students.

Promoting academic achievements

One of the reasons that teachers make excellent school counselors is because they have an extensive knowledge of academic learning. In this role, they guide and advise students to ensure that everyone has the best chances of learning, gaining classroom skills and being as good as they can be. Some universities, like St. Bonaventure, now offer flexible programs designed for professionals from other fields who are planning to go into counseling but don’t have time to commit to a full-time course.

The St. Bonaventure Master of Science in Education in School Counseling is ideal for educators who want to follow a teacher to school counselor route because it is aimed at people who are new to counseling as well as those who are already working in the field. It combines online tuition and coursework with two local internships, and graduates will be fully prepared to take the licensed professional counselor exam.

Once they take on their first role as school counselors, they will work with other educational professionals to encourage academic curiosity and learning. They may also explore the various study pathways that are open to students, helping them set academic goals, pursue their dreams, and expand their knowledge. It’s not just about choosing a career, however; counselors encourage students to pursue their interests and broaden their understanding of the topics they enjoy.

How do school counselors conduct their work?

To ensure that they continue to meet the collective and individual needs of students, counselors often design a curriculum. Although they will stick with their plan as closely as possible, the activities they offer to students may be different from those provided in a classroom setting. Although counselors can deliver classroom instruction, their general role is more nuanced and unique. The teaching they deliver is related to soft skills, such as conflict resolution and practicing mindfulness, along with study skills and career progression. From time to time, a counselor may bring in people from outside of the school, such as members of a university faculty, employers, or professionals from other fields, to share their expertise.

For the most part, they prefer to hold one-on-one meetings or speak to smaller groups of students. This allows the counselor to get to know the students as individuals, follow their journey through the school and help them follow a career path of their choice. The opportunity to see this growth and success is another reason school counselors often report feeling very fulfilled in their role.

Before designing the schedule, they will consider the needs of their students, which professionals can come to the school to offer their services, and what feedback they’ve received from the teaching staff.

Another aspect of this role that makes it so enjoyable is the opportunity to work with other practitioners who are also dedicated to the wellness of young people. Counselors may collaborate with a social worker, school nurse, or school psychologist. While a social worker overseas students’ lives at home, a psychologist can evaluate students who need additional support and a nurse will manage any physical health concerns they might have. By bringing these professionals together and using direct strategies designed to help students, such as small group work and lessons on mental health issues, counselors strive to inspire students. The aim is to get young people to make healthy choices independently, act positively, and incorporate what they’ve learned into their lives moving forward.

How do school counselors see themselves?

Although they have a busy schedule, school counselors do have the opportunity to think about their role objectively. When they see how their work has nurtured the hidden talent of a student or supported another’s mental health, they know that their efforts have had a positive impact. They provide a safe space for student groups to express their feelings. In addition, teachers who have concerns about the school environment or an individual student can go to the counselor to discuss the matter. Counselors get to build relationships with the students and teachers at their school, which makes their role different from that of other professionals. In addition to helping students, they also help teachers when it comes to meeting the needs of young people.

School counselors can be around when students need their help and also act quickly to customize their curriculum should there be an incident that impacts the school. They guide young people but also empower them by teaching them how to cope with difficult situations, overcome challenges and mature as individuals. When students do not feel able to do this, whether it’s because they are in the middle of a crisis or because something is happening at home, the counselor will step in. They can connect the student and their parents with local resources, which can have a positive effect on the entire family.

The hallways of a school are busy, loud places, but many counselors see their offices as an oasis of calm. It’s a warm and nurturing space that counselors may enhance with comfortable seating, softer lights and spa sounds. Some will go further by providing fidget toys, mindfulness coloring books and pens so visiting students, teachers and other professionals can drop in to relax.

What makes the role of school counselor so distinct in the educational field?

School counseling may be one of the most fulfilling roles in the educational system, but what characteristics do people who work in this field share?

They are great communicators

School counselors tend to enjoy social interactions with students, parents, social workers and staff. This is essential for fulfilling their duties. They also need to show a degree of assertiveness to deal with the more challenging parts of their day, and they must be outgoing enough to offer honest advice when people need it.

This boils down to being good communicators, both in terms of expressing themselves and listening to the needs of others. Once it’s their turn to speak, counselors will respond effectively, but also thoughtfully, to avoid hurting the feelings of a vulnerable student or a stressed teacher. Many will be naturally good at connecting with others, but some counselors will refine these skills during their training.

Empathy is second nature

As people who provide therapy to students, school counselors get to witness how cognitive thinking and working through problems can lead to self-discovery. Watching someone make the journey to self-acceptance and self-love can be a very powerful experience, and counselors get to see this every day when they watch students recover from mental health problems and reach their ideal career goals. This fosters a deep sense of empathy in counselors as they see what their students are going through and want to provide an effective, compassionate response. Whether a child has problems at home, at school or in class, counselors can find ways for them to overcome their struggles.

They are naturally friendly people

Friendliness goes a long way in a school environment, which is more often associated with hustle and bustle. Once they arrive at the counselor’s office, most students would not be willing to open up about their career aspirations, problems at home or personal concerns with someone who seems distant and uninterested. Being warm, approachable and kind is crucial when working with young people, as well as the teaching team and parents.

Parent-teacher meetings are not just for academic progress reports; school counselors will invite parents into the school to talk about the goals their children have and how they can be attained. Sometimes, parents may not even be aware of their children’s ambitions. Other times, they may feel the dream is too far out of reach. School counselors can talk to them and give them a chance to ask questions in an open, non-judgmental space.

Cultural competency is part of their practice

School counselors help students from all races, backgrounds and walks of life. When a young person comes to them with a problem or request, the counselor should address their needs regardless of their cultural situation. With an understanding of cultural competence, school counselors also see the various aspects of a student’s identity. From their sexual orientation to their ethnicity and their gender, young people may be affected by many different aspects of their identity.

The better a counselor can perceive the ways students are influenced, the more effectively they will be able to provide support. This can help to create an educational experience that serves every student well, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds to define their future and measure their progress. Moreover, by practicing cultural competency, counselors ensure that everyone in the educational community has a voice and feels engaged with the school.

Readiness to act in a student’s best interests

Every day brings new experiences and a full schedule, which makes a school counselor’s life an exciting one. In addition to managing tasks inside the school, they often take part in outreach work that brings them into students’ homes so they can learn more about the domestic lives of their students. When they do see signs that something is wrong, there will be a point at which they have to act. This could be because a student is living in dangerous circumstances or engaging in risky behavior. Identifying a problem and then taking the next step in dealing with it can be hard, but it’s part of what school counselors do to support the long-term safety of young people.

What are the practical benefits of working as a school counselor?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for school counselors is growing at a higher-than-average rate. In part, this is down to the creation of new posts, but it’s also a result of people retiring from the profession as they get older. This need for more school counselors means that practitioners who are already employed in a school and people who are preparing to train in the coming years can expect plenty of job security.

School governing bodies appreciate the day-to-day work of their counselors, but they also recognize that parents are grateful for this support, which can make the school more popular and respected. When a counselor is on hand to help, parents know their children can reach out and ask for help if they need it. School counselors are a valued, indispensable part of school life, and they derive a great deal of career confidence and job satisfaction from that.

School counseling is also a role in which practitioners get to work independently, despite the frequent collaborations they are part of. They will have several ongoing caseloads that must be attended to, but they largely work autonomously and choose which cases to prioritize. Most schools are willing to allow a school counselor to arrange their schedule and hold appointments when it suits them. This gives counselors creative and professional freedom, which makes for a better working environment. Moreover, because they are part of the education system, counselors enjoy the same summer and holiday breaks each year that students receive.

Continuing a tradition of excellence

Even as academic programs and the lives of students change, schools will always need support from counselors. These unique professionals have established a precedent for effectively managing three key areas of students’ lives: academic guidance, social support, and career development. Having been introduced into schools over a century ago, counselors have a long history of collaborating with educators, community members and young people to support student achievement and self-awareness. Because they work separately from the rest of the teaching team, their work may not be as noticeable, but it still makes a hugely positive impact on the lives of students and the school team.