Every year the American School Counselor Association (ACSA) celebrates National School Counselor’s Week (NSCW) during the first week of February. This year, the dates for this special week of recognition are February 1st-5th. The ACSA created a hashtag for this year – #NSCW21 – as well as a theme to unify their goals 2021:
“School Counselors: All in for Students”
The overall mission of NSCW is to:
“…Focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems and highlight the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve success and plan for a career.”
Before we talk about NSCW and define for our readers – that’s you – exactly what a school counselor is and does, since their role has evolved considerably over the years, we want to point out something that made us chuckle because it’s so perfect.
It’s just so school counselor we have to share. You see, school counselors are committed to improving the lives of their students in the same way teachers are committed and dedicated to improving the lives of their students.
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Most are truly selfless and live to serve.
What made us chuckle was this. While most recognition weeks urge everyone else to make an effort to celebrate the people being recognized, what does the NSCW do as their first order of business for this year?
They asked the counselors themselves to participate in a week-long photo challenge.
The School Counselor Photo Challenge
Here’s the challenge:
Each day, post a downloadable graphic with the hashtag #NSCW21 and fill in the blank:
- Monday, Feb 1st: “I’m all in for my students because…”
- Tuesday, Feb 2nd: “I’m all in for my professional development because…”
- Wednesday, Feb 3rd: “I’m all in for collaboration because…”
- Thursday, Feb 4th: “I’m all in for building an inclusive school because…”
- Friday, Feb 5th: “I’m all in for school counseling because…”
We couldn’t let that slide by, because it reveals the mindset of almost all the school counselors hard at work as we speak, helping each of their students reach their full potential. During a week where others are supposed to commemorate, honor, and recognize them – while they enjoy the well-earned plaudits – their instinct is to help everyone out so they can do it properly.
That elegantly and succinctly defines the character or your typical school counselor, in our book: they’re awesome.
Now, on to the question many of you may have.
In 2021, what exactly is the role of a school counselor?
What School Counselors Do: Past to Present
When most people think of school counselors, the first thing that comes to mind is a guidance counselor. Traditionally speaking, guidance counselors in school offered vocational guidance. Over time, this role grew beyond helping kids in school prepare for the workforce to helping them on a variety of levels. The guidance counselor in most schools helped students think about and apply to colleges and helped craft their academic plan to support their long-range career goals. For students who weren’t college-bound, guidance counselors still helped arrange work-study programs, wrote letters of recommendation, and worked to created opportunities for students to pursue their vocation of choice – typically within the community where they went to school.
As more time passed, the role of the guidance counselor expanded further, and the modifier guidance was dropped. Counselors took on a more prominent goal in schools and in the lives of their students. In 2021, you can find school counselors in elementary school, middle school, and high school.
Here’s the consensus on the current role of the school counselor, distilled to one sentence:
School counselors work to create a future world where all students thrive.
That’s a big job – and they’re up to the task. For the sake of simplicity, the rest of this article will focus on high school counselors, since their job is different than elementary and middle school counselors – and the population we serve is made up mostly of high school students.
How School Counselors Help Students Today
First, they get an appropriate education in the field of school counseling. Step one is a bachelor’s degree. Next, they specialize in counseling by pursuing an advanced degree. Here’s what they have to do:
Minimum Requirements for a School Counselor
- Earn a master’s degree in school counseling.
- Meet state and local standards for training, licensure, and certification.
- Participate in required continuing education programs.
- Meet and uphold all professional standards and ethics defined by the ASCA.
To learn details on the expectations of school counselors as defined by the ASCA, please consult these resources:
- ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success
- The ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors
- ASCA School Counselor Professional Standard and Competencies
After completing their education and securing a position as a school counselor, they use the standards as defined by the ASCA to “develop, implement, and assess their school counseling program to improve student outcomes.”
The Role of the Counselor in Schools
According to the ASCA, school counselors help students:
- Apply strategies to enhance academic achievement
- Manage emotions and apply interpersonal skills
- Plan for life after high school: college, the armed services, or the workforce
In addition, school counselors provide:
- Academic planning and goal setting support for each student
- School counseling classroom lessons based on student success standards
- Short-term counseling to students
- Referrals for long-term support
- Collaboration with families/teachers/ administrators/ community for student success
- Advocacy for students at individual education plan (IEP) meetings and other student-focused meetings
- Data analysis to identify student issues, needs, and challenges
- Support to improve equity, access, achievement, and opportunity for all students
These roles can be divided into two main categories: direct and indirect support.
Direct support of students by a school counselor includes:
- Instruction based on the ASCA mindsets and standards for success
- Appraisal of progress and advisement on future plans
- Counseling during times of transition, stress, or critical change that impact student success
It’s important to note here that school counselors are neither school psychologists nor therapists – although, in some instances, one person may perform the job of school counselor and school psychologist simultaneously. School counselors do not provide ongoing, long-term therapy and counseling in schools. They are trained, however, to identify and act to student mental health needs and help students and families find the support they need for ongoing success.
That’s an important distinction students and parents need to understand. Now – back to the topic.
Indirect support of students by a school counselor includes:
- Consulting with parents, teachers, and other community resources to maximize student success
- Collaborating with teachers, parents, and community resources to maximize student success
- Referring families to the appropriate support – i.e. mental health support or academic support – that students need to succeed
We’ll cover the role of the school psychologist in our article “What is a School Psychologist” – keep an eye out here – it’s coming soon.
We’ll close this article with some ideas about how you can participate in National School Counselor’s Week.
What You Can Do for NSCW
At the most basic human level, you can start by recognizing the hard work school counselors do for your student and your community. Often, the work a school counselor does is not directly visible to parents or students. The work they do may appear in scholarship programs, enrichment opportunities, work-study programs, and community-based outreach efforts that may seem like they’re a typical part of what happens at school.
What many of us don’t know is that those programs appear because of the diligence and commitment of people like school counselors. Therefore, the next time your high schooler gets free tutoring, applies for a local volunteer opportunity, or attends a career fair at their school, you can silently thank your school counselor.
Better yet, give them a call or thank them in person.
Next, you can follow this link, scroll down to “Promotional Materials,” look for the “Proclamation” bullet point, and download the proclamation. Then you can get your governor, mayor, city councilperson, or school superintendent to sign the proclamation in support of school counselors around the country.
But that’s not all. When you follow that link, you’ll find a list of actions you can take to support your local school counselor. We suggest you do anything you can to bring attention to these unsung heroes. We guarantee that right this moment, they’re doing everything they can to support your child.
They’re all in for us.
It’s our turn to go all in for them.
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Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.