While school days should be happy, this is not always the case. Issues in the classroom and at home can have an impact that can cause stress, anxiety, and unhappiness on the part of the student. For the sake of their mental health and academic success, students must realize they do not need to struggle alone with any issues and that many can help them, including their parents, peers, and teachers.
However, one professional’s role is to support them—the school counselor. These talented individuals are trained through programs such as online masters in school counseling to support students as they navigate the school’s academic and social landscape. Their education and practical training prepare them with many strategies that can help students during their years in school.
What is a school counselor?
A school counselor plays an integral part in the education of children. They offer students support and advice on academic and social skills to allow them to thrive in the school environment. This means achieving better grades, displaying good behavior, and building strong friendships.
It is an incredibly varied role where they might be mediators, advocates, consultants, supporters, and observers throughout the day. Their function, too, can vary according to the age of the children they work with. While it is a challenging and demanding position, it is also very rewarding as the counselors see the students’ progress through school and reach their full potential.
No two days will be the same for the school counselor; even within that day, they may see students facing various challenges. However, there are some common challenges that students face and that counselors will support them with.
As children grow and develop, family dynamics can shift. There can be many ways that family dynamics can impact a student’s education. While there are often many positives, it is with the problems that a student might seek support. Students may feel that their parents’ rules are overly strict and do not consider how the student is growing up, causing friction at home. Sometimes, students feel pressured by their parents to achieve certain grades or follow a particular career path. There might also be problems with siblings or changing family dynamics, such as a divorce and a new marriage. The counselor usually aims to help the student form stronger bonds within the family. Whether the counselor also discusses the family dynamics with the parents will depend on the problem and the child’s age. However, they may facilitate good communication between students and their parents that can improve relations and help the family best support their child in their education.
Relationships with peers
School friendships can seem all-important to students and are often difficult. Falling out with a friend or group of friends can seem devastating, and the need to impress can lead students to behave in ways they would not normally do. As students get older, they may form romantic relationships and, eventually, perhaps sexual relationships, often needing advice on how to deal with breakups and pressure. The school counselor may also be the first port of call for a teenager who has just found out she is pregnant.
When supporting students with their relationships with peers, there may be several strategies, including mediation to help resolve friendship issues or helping to support a student’s confidence in navigating relationships while remaining true to themselves. If a student is being bullied or harassed, they can also help them report this to the appropriate authorities.
Preparation for life beyond school
This is an aspect that will particularly concern counselors in high schools. Thinking about life beyond education can be overwhelming for students with various choices on what to do next. Counselors can talk to students about their interests, looking for strengths and skills to nurture. They can also guide a student’s struggles, such as poor timekeeping and organization. Through identifying career and academic goals, the school counselor plays a vital role in preparing students for their life beyond school.
Growth and development take place throughout childhood, but hitting puberty can be a particularly challenging time for some students. The school counselor can be a good person to talk to for students concerned or confused about the changes in their bodies and the accompanying emotional and psychological effects. They may also run programs on growth and development for all students to access.
Poor behavior at school can take various forms, such as being disruptive in class, being rude to teachers and fellow students, failing to complete work, or submitting a low standard of work through vandalism and violence. There are often complex reasons behind poor behavior in school, and the school counselor can help unpick these and work with students on strategies to improve their behavior, leading to better academic and social outcomes.
Social and cultural issues
The school counselor needs to be familiar with the social and cultural influences unique to their school and within that school to individual students. Some may work in an affluent area while others work in a room with high poverty levels. Some schools draw a large number of students from a particular ethnic background; others might have a large proportion of students who follow a specific religion, or it may be that the school has students of several different faiths. By understanding the social and cultural influences on a student, they can better tailor their strategies for supporting them.
Interventions and strategies
School counselors come to their work equipped with the knowledge of several different strategies and interventions they can use to support students. These can be used individually or in combination to help improve the student’s well-being.
Although each school and each student within that school are unique and must be approached individually, the counselor may use similar strategies to get results. Counseling interventions and design form a key part of counselor degree programs, with school counseling students learning about them in theory and having the chance to put their knowledge into practice during their practicums and internships.
If you are interested in a school counseling career, you must study and gain licensure through an accredited program. School counseling can be viewed at the university in person or through an online program, allowing you to check online from anywhere.
A good example of an online Masters School Counseling degree program can be found at St Bonaventure University in western New York, whose accredited MSED in School Counseling equips both students with the skills and strategies they need. St Bonaventure will also help secure practicums and internships for their students in their local area, even if that local area is as far away from the university. Regardless of how or where you study, upon completing the course, you will be well-prepared for the professional counselor exam and thoroughly know the interventions and strategies you can use once you start work as a school counselor.
Different schools can have different approaches to counseling, using other systems to provide the framework the school counselor works within. Often, school-based interventions are based on a multi-tiered support system, depending on the student’s needs, with all students accessing tier-one interventions. In contrast, further interventions are used only for those students who do not respond to earlier levels.
Tier one interventions
School counselors can set expectations for behavior in the school and ensure that everyone knows what they are. They will also make sure that the correct behavior is modeled accurately. They can also find ways to acknowledge students who always practice and model appropriate behavior or go beyond what is expected with a points and rewards system. This, in turn, can incentivize further students to meet or exceed behavior standards.
School counselors may also organize regular meetings of the school community that can be a useful way of identifying problems or considering strategies to improve aspects of school life to enhance the student’s emotional, psychological, and academic well-being. Ideally, these meetings will be proactive, identifying problems and solutions before they significantly impact the students.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) should be carried out in schools. These teach self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The school counselor may be involved in planning and delivering these lessons or supporting other staff to have them. As students grow older, the school counselor may run programs on the issues facing young people, such as on development and puberty or drug and substance abuse prevention.
The school counselor also considers ways to boost the mental well-being of all students every day. They may implement daily mindfulness activities, or they may also introduce quiet areas, sometimes called peace corners or Zen dens, that can provide a refuge for students who are overwhelmed or experiencing anger issues or for any other reason that a student feels like they need time out of the bustle of school life.
There will always be students who need extra support on a short–, medium–, or long-term basis. Depending on the issues they are experiencing, one or more tier two-level interventions may be used.
Students can be supported to self-monitor their behavior or use a reporting system such as Check In or Check Out, where teachers provide feedback on behavior throughout the day, providing information on a report card.
Group work can be useful in this tear, with the school counselor running group counseling sessions or encouraging circles and conferences so the whole class can engage with and respond to the issues facing a student or group of students. The school counselor may also set up mentoring programs to provide students with extra support or encourage greater independence by giving students school jobs, something that can do wonders for boosting a student’s self-esteem.
For students who are easily overwhelmed by school, the school counselor might recommend breaking cars or sensory tools to help them cope. To get to know an at-risk student better, build a rapport, and gain a greater insight into how students are managing, the counselor may implement a 2 x 10 strategy where they spend two minutes a day with the student for ten consecutive school days. There are no rules for what is discussed in those two minutes, but it can be on a topic of the student’s choosing.
It’s not always easy to say when each tier begins and ends, with some aspects of deck two blurring into the level three interventions. Individual counseling, for example, is generally considered a tier three intervention, but if it is only for the short term, it may be regarded as tier three. Typically, tier-three interventions are for a relatively small number of students. Still, these are the students whose issues are severe and, if left unsupported, can have serious implications for both the students themselves and the wellbeing of other students and the school.
Other tier-three interventions include a personalized behavior plan to support a particular student in improving their behavior. Sometimes, it may be necessary for a student to have their schedule if they cannot manage the established program.
Crisis intervention can be implemented if a student intends to harm themselves, including those at risk of suicide or another student or staff member. In these interventions, the counselor will work with the student and their parents as well as other staff in the school with the safety and wellbeing of the student, other students, and staff in mind.
While school counselors provide valuable support to most students, including those who need a tier three intervention, there will be some occasions when more is required. In this case, the school counselor can make an outside referral so the student can get support and treatment if necessary.
This is generally needed if the student requires more than can be provided in a school setting, if more extensive evaluation is required, or if there are concerns about a student’s mental health. School counselors may refer a student to include counselors, psychologists, and therapists, or it may be that the counselor recommends to a student’s parent or guardian that they need outside support; it is up to them to identify the professional. Often, the counselor remains involved with the student, providing coordinated care with the outside agency.
The advantage of referring students for outside support is that it can give them greater privacy and not disrupt their learning. For students whose problems are caused by an issue at school, such as bullying, support away from school can provide a safe place for the student.
A vital role
Growing up can be difficult, and school counselors play a vital role in helping students develop to their full potential. All students benefit from having a school counselor as they access programs that support their development and take part in exercises designed to promote good mental health. From friendship issues to academic worries to family problems, the school counselor is there to provide guidance and advice.
Through the tiered intervention system, school counselors can tailor their support to meet students’ different needs, with some needing relatively little help while others require a great deal. School counselors provide this support without judgment to see all students flourish academically and socially in the school environment.
School counseling is an incredibly rewarding career where you work with young people every day, seeing them develop and grow. Helping them to reach their full potential in both academic and social terms fulfills a valuable role in society and truly makes a difference.
If it is a career that interests you, consider taking the time to find out how you can enter the profession with an online master’s in school counseling. School counselor courses are widely available at universities across the country. But even if no one is near you, that does not mean you have to give up on your dream. You can study to become a school counselor online with courses offered by top universities. With the ability to learn in the comfort of your home and through practicums and internships available in your local community, these online courses proved a thorough preparation for the school counseling licensure exam.
Once licensed, you are free to seek employment in schools and colleges, in a varied career where no two days are the same, but where every day you make a huge difference in the lives of young people as they navigate the social and academic landscape of education.