School counselors play an important role in schools and in young people’s lives. They are very special people who have good listening and interpersonal skills, who can empathize and view life from students’ perspectives.
An important function of school counselors is the support of children’s educational and emotional well-being in schools, and although rare, this support can sometimes be carried through to the home environment as well. School counselors encourage cooperation and collaboration between students, teachers, and parents. They teach life skills such as goal setting, perseverance, and self-motivation.
In their role as leaders in the well-being of students, school counselors interact with teachers, administrators, parents, and children to ensure that students’ needs are met. They sometimes need to employ negotiation skills as they persuade others that their ideas and methods are sound.
If you are considering furthering your career in an area where you can help develop young minds and teach them skills that will set them up for life, find out more about how to become a school counselor in PA. A Master of Science in Education in School Counseling obtained through a reputable institution such as St. Bonaventure University Online will equip you with the necessary expertise while you continue working, so there’s no need to take time out of your important work schedule to study. Through this course, students develop individual and group counseling skills, cultural competencies and communication and critical thinking skills.
Qualities of an effective school counselor
As an aspiring school counselor, there are several qualities that you require to make a difference in this challenging yet rewarding position, such as:
- Being a good listener
When in conversation with a student or group of students, don’t let your mind wander; don’t fret about time or the work that you still need to get to. The best way to learn about your students is to listen to what they are saying. Don’t make judgments until they have finished speaking. Repeat what you understood from their statement, as this gives them an opportunity to change or confirm what they have said.
You do not have to accept their opinion on matters, but you need to convey that they have the right to their own viewpoint. Ask them how they would handle the situation. This encourages them to think more deeply about a situation and come up with solutions. It will also help you understand more about the student and the situation.
- Having empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s emotions. Try to place yourself in your students’ shoes. Imagine how you would feel if the class ganged up against you or if your home life was far from happy. Empathy helps the counselor understand the situation and helps the student feel more comfortable confiding in their counselor.
- Building relationships
Building relationships with students can be a slow, careful process in which you need to sit back and listen. Your empathy and acceptance, alongside good listening skills, will win them over in time. Students need to feel that they can trust you and that you understand their needs. Your understanding of their environment and their student culture is important, as it helps build those relationships a lot quicker.
School counselors lead by example, teaching students how to act in certain situations and when to take responsibility for their own actions and educational goals.
- Exercising authority
To gain the respect of students and parents, school counselors need to exercise a certain amount of authority. Firstly, they must be granted authority to handle a specified range of tasks and be willing to wield that authority in the carrying out of these tasks. In the case of disciplinary matters, if respect is not present, the resolution of the problem is likely to be more difficult. They must know in any given situation when to act with authority and when to ask for assistance. These points should all be documented from the start of the school counselor’s employment at the school and updated when changes occur.
- Being flexible
School counselors are often called upon unexpectedly to deal with issues of an urgent nature, such as counseling a student or teacher who needs help. This situation cannot be planned for, and school counselors will have to reschedule other activities around it.
Learn time management skills and leave gaps in your day where possible so that you can reschedule appointments or reorganize your student activities when disruptions occur. However, you need to set reasonable boundaries so that you know when to cancel appointments and when not to.
Always communicate clearly with students, parents and school bodies. When rescheduling, offer participants alternative times that will suit the majority of the people affected by the change.
- Using humor
Having a sense of humor can make a difference when you find yourself dealing with a difficult situation. At the same time, don’t be insensitive to others’ feelings. Laughing along with the students at a joke is different from laughing at a student when they make a blunder.
By sharing jokes and anecdotes, students realize that you are human and can see the funny side of situations. They are more likely to accept you, and communication becomes more effective.
A good laugh goes a long way toward relieving stress levels. Learn to relax in awkward situations and try to manage them with efficiency and humor. When interruptions happen, be flexible.
- Being creative
Physical surroundings affect our moods and can enhance learning experiences and our social interactions with others. Colorful artwork and posters create a lively atmosphere, ensuring that children entering the school counselor’s office are not intimidated by the austere surroundings. Cool green or blue walls have a calming effect in offices and classrooms, and a clutter-free environment creates a feeling of space and organization.
Counseling outdoors or creating outdoor activities is healthy and fun, weather permitting, and children are often happier outdoors. Alternatively, you can bring the outdoors in with some plants to brighten up the office.
Creativity boosts individuality and promotes self-expression in students. Group activities or even one-on-one counseling can involve creativity in the form of painting or building blocks in the case of younger children.
- Developing analytical skills
In the process of assessment and counseling, school counselors make and keep notes on students’ behavior in the classroom, when interacting with peers and out on the sports field. If their home situations are unhappy or abusive, mention is made of that too. These notes, together with the teacher’s reports and the children’s grades, should be reviewed periodically, particularly in the case of students who are not coping with their schoolwork or socially.
School counselors need a degree of computer literacy and the ability to analyze data so that they can draw constructive conclusions from the information that is stored in the school database. In the absence of historical data, the school counselor can start their own database so that they can document and monitor progress, record problems and make notes on interventions and outcomes.
- Promoting equity
School counselors recognize that all pupils are equal and should be treated fairly, with respect and dignity. This applies to students of all races, ethnic groups and LGBTQ+ students. School counselors should strive to maximize the inclusion of all students and foster a culture of tolerance between them.
- Maintaining confidentiality
School counselors, teachers and principals are expected to treat all student matters as confidential, regardless of the circumstances. Students need to feel that they can trust their teachers and mentors.
The many roles of a school counselor
- Interacting with students
School counselors give instruction, appraise, advise and provide counseling. Guiding students in life skills is an important part of the school counselor’s job.
When it comes to imparting life skills and teaching students how to plan for their future, school counselors are ideally placed for the task. Their studies equip them with teaching skills, and through their experience and training, they can learn to understand the different personalities they are dealing with.
When getting to know their students, a good place to start would be a conversation about their interests and hobbies and what path they would like to follow once they leave school. This is useful information when the time comes to help students map out their individual courses for future studies.
Younger children may not need vocational guidance at this point, but a discussion about their dreams for the future teaches them about planning ahead and starts a thought process about what their options are for the future. They may change their minds many times along the way, but at least the seed has been sown.
These discussions also empower the school counselor to encourage children and let them know that they can do anything they want to, provided they work hard and persevere. This kind of discussion is very important and should take place at various stages in young people’s lives.
Another important role that the school counselor plays in students’ lives is teaching them how to study. Empowering them with strategies and techniques for effective study helps alleviate exam nerves, gives students more confidence and produces better results.
- Regular assessment
School counselors also conduct assessments and record results. Teachers can refer to these assessments when determining how to manage their students, and the tests will also highlight problem areas that may need attention. The type of assessments done should not be restricted to academics but should also include emotional and physical evaluations as well. Assessments should be repeated at regular intervals throughout the child’s school career and used towards the end of schooling to help them decide on a path for further study.
There is also an ongoing personal assessment that school counselors conduct as they periodically assess their own mindsets and methods for achieving successful outcomes, evaluate the level of achievement of their students and improve their programs where necessary. They should also take part in formal assessments with a qualified administrator in the school environment.
School counselors use various planning tools to guide the development and implementation of a successful counseling program, ensuring that the program is efficiently managed and produces effective results. With a focus on beliefs, school counselors provide children with a vision and mission statement that can be used to enforce a system of values and goals.
Counseling can include one-on-one sessions or group sessions with a small group of children who can identify with one another through common issues or challenges. Group sessions help children realize that their problems are not unique and that they are not alone. A combination of both single and group sessions may help a child who is battling personal issues but also needs the interaction with peers to convey a sense of belonging. Counseling can also take the form of play therapy, and organized games can be used as a team-building exercise.
When necessary, the school counselor may have to refer children to an expert in a field such as psychology or intervene in an abusive situation. The latter may require asking social welfare services for assistance.
- Planning and projects
School counselors plan their programs with the help of weekly and annual calendars. Their programs include lesson plans, activities and projects; classroom and group sessions; attendance at meetings and conferences; and some admin time for analysis and summary of school data. They are likely to have numerous unplanned meetings with children or teachers and should leave some free time for unscheduled interruptions.
In some schools, the counselor is responsible for school announcements, parent letters, community outreach projects and event planning. They may also manage the social media account for the school and put rules in place regarding social media posts and access rights.
School counselors advocate for matters that affect children’s wellbeing in the school, such as improvements to facilities or students’ rights. Examples of these are advocating for the establishment of a school library or serving a regular meal before school in disadvantaged areas.
- Interacting with parents
Parent meetings are a regular occurrence in schools, as they give school counselors and parents a chance to meet and review students’ progress. These meetings are used to identify problems and work out solutions that are mutually agreed upon with parents and children. Mutual consent to a plan of action regarding school lessons, homework or behavior is more likely to work when there is buy-in from all concerned.
- Resolving conflict
We’re all different, and young children and teens are just discovering themselves. Conflict can be healthy — it’s how children learn about themselves and about others. What matters is the way in which the conflict is managed.
Children are learning that they have opinions and are becoming independent, but they still need to act within boundaries. These factors often lead to conflict, and younger children don’t have the skills or the understanding to manage this. Conflict is part of life at school, and teachers and counselors are taught to deal with it constructively.
Learning how to deal with conflict is part of young adults’ development, and the responsibility of teaching them to manage conflict generally falls upon the school counselor. As a short-term solution, the school counselor will give one-on-one therapy to pupils who find themselves in conflict situations. In the long term however, counselors train children to communicate and build good relationships with their peers, alleviating the need for intervention in conflict situations.
- Supervising extracurricular activities
School counselors are sometimes asked to help with extracurricular activities, such as coaching sports teams or establishing a special interest group or club. There are many options out there, and in the words of Counselor Keri: “It’s a great way for counselors to get to know students on a more personal level and also make connections with students they might not normally see outside of classroom guidance lessons.”
Activities such as board games, practicing mindfulness, book clubs and self-care are all on Keri’s list of things to do with students after school. The various clubs enable students to interact in a more social setting, become better acquainted with their fellow classmates and get to know their school counselor in a relaxed, informal environment.
Finally, some tips from the experts
In a heartwarming article entitled: “School Counselors Reflective on What Makes Them Effective,” counselors share their beliefs and anecdotes from their experiences over the years.
Know your students and be able to see their multifaceted talents that you can nurture and develop. Know yourself and be kind to yourself. Know that you can and are being effective in your counseling endeavors.
Be that special person who children and young adults can look up to and confide in. If you have what it takes, don’t hesitate — a rewarding future awaits you.