Earlier this month a group of distinguished counselors, selected as finalists for the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Counselor of the Year and their principals visited ED to share their thoughts on transforming the teaching profession and the critical role of the counselor in fostering students’ academic success, socio-emotional well-being and physical safety.
While national conversations about gun violence continue, school-based staff are faced with what to do now to deal with students’ academic, emotional and physical welfare each day. How do we identify students who need support? How do we go beyond just identifying the issues and provide our kids with the needed help? We may be overlooking our counselors and some of the solutions they could provide.
“I see us as a model of supporting teachers to help them continue their work,” said one school counselor, underscoring the importance of providing students not only with academic and career planning help, but also with emotional supports. Another counselor shared how she created a lesson on reactive emotions to parallel a science lesson on erupting volcanoes; another talked about teaching tech skills while researching bullying. Throughout the discussion, the school counselors highlighted how the social-emotional learning can complement the academic when teachers and counselors work together. Too often, they said, teachers “do not get to utilize the expertise that we have learned about human development.” They stressed that newer models for more “active” school counselors have moved beyond the scheduling duties many may remember from days past; but not everyone knows that.
One counselor described how her school uses their Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, to consider not just the academic concerns, but which students are not connected to their school (and why). “We spend time reflecting on what was happening with these particular students, and then create a plan for next steps,” she told us.
What makes these examples different is that the work of addressing school violence doesn’t just stay with one group on staff. A principal affirmed that, “You need to have all stakeholders at the table to have the conversation” so that everyone knows what to do when a concern surfaces. Sometimes, negative incidents will occur when students know the teacher isn’t most present – in the halls or cafeteria, on the playground or school bus. And yet there are often other adults who are there, such as the custodial staff, support professionals, bus drivers, parent volunteers – and each of these members of the larger school community needs to know how to respond and whom to contact to make sure there is an appropriate resolution.
But in order for these teams to happen effectively, we need to better understand the role of the counselor. For counselors to really be able to make an impact, they need the opportunity to build relationships with students and staff, to use their expertise. And that takes time built into the school day and the willingness for everyone on staff to expect and allow our counselors, like teachers, to be educational leaders.
Jennifer Bado-Aleman is an English teacher on loan from her school in Gaithersburg, Md., while she serves as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department. Learn more about the President’s plan to make our schools safer, which includes resources that communities can use for hiring more school counselors.