Within my small Title 1 elementary school in East Tennessee there are numerous professionals working daily to meet the multitude of needs of our students. Our team includes a principal, associate principal, classroom teachers, special education teachers, related arts teachers, interventionists, an English language learner specialist, a family liaison, a variety of therapists including speech, occupational, and physical, and me…the school counselor.
I am charged with supporting the growth of every student in the building. The role of the school counselor is one that has transformed drastically throughout the years to ensure the success of all students.
Gone are the days of the “guidance counselor,” as even our title has been changed to “school counselor” to reflect the expansion of our required training and roles in the schools. A position that was once focused mainly on vocational guidance has now expanded to include college and career readiness, social and personal development, and academic achievement.
Coinciding with this changing role is the shift in the training requirements to be a school counselor. Once an add-on certification, a school counselor is now a master’s level educator with specialized training in child development, learning strategies, counseling techniques, and social skills development.
What exactly does a school counselor do? We work with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members to provide the necessary supports and services to ensure student success.
During a typical week at my school I may perform the following: teach whole class lessons on social skills, counsel students individually and in groups, collaborate with teachers and administrators on student behaviors and needs, arrange referrals for community resources to meet family needs, perform numerous home and community visits, meet with parents and families on current family issues, collaborate with community members about providing student support, oversee a district mentoring program, support classroom teachers with problem behaviors, and plan and execute school-wide service projects and community engagement events. In short, if there is a student or family need that is impeding student success, the school counselor will address it.
For example, “John” was a fourth-grade boy who was experiencing numerous academic and behavior problems in class. He had recently become physically aggressive with another student and was beginning to accumulate office referrals. His grades were dropping, and he was uncharacteristically distant during class.
During a collaborative meeting, the classroom teacher referred John to me and we began meeting individually. Through our sessions, I learned John was living in a traumatic home environment with his mom and three siblings. They were often hungry, as dad had left the home and mom was unable to find work. I immediately connected John and his family with a resource for food and a list of community resources for assistance. In addition to individual sessions with me, John was placed in an anger management group at school where he learned and practiced more effective ways to deal with his emotions. Finally, John was assigned a high school mentor who would meet with him weekly to provide positive peer support.
After two months of services, John’s grades showed improvement and his classroom behavior improved dramatically. John is just one example of a student who has benefited from the multitude of services offered by a comprehensive school counseling program.
In short, a school counselor is an advocate for kids—all kids—and works diligently with all stakeholders to facilitate student success. The school counselor supports the entire team as we work together on the common goal of ensuring all students graduate college and career ready. In my opinion, it is the best job in the building, and one I am proud to hold.