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Modernizing the School Counselor

Posted by on February 4, 2015

guidance counselorWhen the first school guidance counselors (update: thanks to those in the profession who took the time to educate me on their title) emerged in the late 1800’s, they were almost exclusively vocational counselors, their purpose to assist students in transitioning from an educational environment to a productive piece of society. Quickly, this morphed to helping students determine the career path best-suited for their innate abilities, interests, and skills. It didn’t take long for those in the trenches to connect student success after school to the path followed during school–which included much more than grades. Counselors took on myriad tasks, such as:

  • helping failing students find a remedy
  • encouraging teachers to make connections between what they taught  and occupational problems
  • consulting student standardized tests to determine what should/could be expected of students
  • urging students to stay in school
  • interviewing students leaving school to validate their decision
  • promoting character development
  • teaching socially appropriate behavior
  • assisting vocational planning
  • promoting best practices in academic development (readiness to learn and achievement strategies)
  • encouraging career development and planning (academic advising, school to post secondary or career transitions, and workforce effectiveness)
  • ensuring appropriate social skills and self-management as well as facing challenges to school success including bullying, suicide, addictions, and abuse
  • providing connectedness to school, community, state and nation
  • helping students understand societal events such as Sandy Hill and Hurricane Katrina

By the 1990s, the functions of school counselors seemed to be settled science (according to  Norman Gysbers). Their job was full-time rather than part-time paper-pushing. They were responsible for the whole child, not just their future vocation. The focus had moved to individual competencies rather than deficiencies. These responsibilities were accomplished via a team approach with all other stakeholders, the counselor expected to vertically integrate their job with those above and below them in the educational hierarchy.

In short, these professionals were tasked with the mental and psychological well-being of teenagers wending their way through the greatest change period of their lives-from child to adult.

When NCLB’s five primary goals (three predictably addressing curriculum and achievement) included two that referred to school climate, affective development, and the opportunity to graduate from high school, nothing seemed settled anymore. Really, is anyone surprised, given today’s educational environ, that counselor duties are expanding to encompass not just the child, but the families and community, in topics that well-exceed the traditional such as:

  • cyber-bullying
  • sexting
  • the student’s online footprint
  • online college and career applications
  • high-tech applications for college and jobs, including videos, interactive CVs
  • online resources for parents to use outside of school as well as during
  • the openness of student sexual preferences
  • the changing education environ–less authoritative and more teamwork
  • problem-solving–any problem–that transcends the academic and encompasses food, money, friends, and more
  • the need at times to simply be a friend–does it surprise anyone that some students just need that person who has the student’s best interests in mind and not some visceral personal agenda that has no thought to what serves the student
  • an open door–always be available. Don’t be backed up with data entry, writing reports, filling out forms, attending meetings. Put the student first.

Besides the complexity of the topics above and despite (or because of) what The Hechinger Report cites as an average caseload of 471 students per counselor, other problems face these non-teaching professionals:

  • support from the schools
  • enough time in their day
  • tech training–school guidance counseling, like every other corner of education, is a lot techier than it used to be. The professionals doing these jobs need PD to keep up.
  • training to stay on top of legislative guidelines and changes that affect schools, students, parents

Some skills never change. The best school counselors tomorrow will have the same qualities that made their predecessors great, namely: a depth of knowledge in her/his field, the ability to deal with frantic adolescent questions, the writing skills to compose recommendation letters that sound authentic and honest, the moral code to never sugar coat what must be said and never–NEVER–lie, the natural enthusiasm for students that means s/he is always genuinely happy to see them and always willing to answer questions, and the organization to know each student’s name as well as what they’re passionate about (classes, college applications, hobbies, etc.). Truth, those type of critical skills apply to teachers, too.

During National School Counseling Week–Feb. 3rd-7th–take ten minutes to drop by your school counselor’s office and say ‘thank you’ for the part they play in each child’s future.

–First published on TeachHUB

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a columnist for, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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