Student Wellness

5 Ways School Counselors Can Support Students Beyond Academics

These strategies can help ensure that students and their families understand that there’s more to education than getting good grades.

June 6, 2024
skynesher / iStock

In many families, success is narrowly defined within the confines of traditional academic achievement. There’s a deep-rooted belief that academic success—measured solely by high grades—is the ultimate determinant of a child’s worth and future prospects. Students internalize the belief that their value as individuals hinges solely on their grades, which leads to profound feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. 

I vividly recall seeing heartbroken students on report card days, anticipating the harsh words and criticisms from parents who equated low grades with a bleak future, often invoking the notion that failing to excel academically would inevitably lead to a job flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant. 

What’s troubling is that this academic-centric mindset not only affects students’ self-esteem but also stifles their exploration of other interests and passions. The pressure to conform to rigid academic expectations leaves little room for students to discover and nurture their true potential, leading to a narrow and limited view of success.

It’s time to shift our educational focus from narrow definitions of success to nurturing the whole child—acknowledging and celebrating their diverse talents, interests, and needs. Holistic education goes beyond academics; it encompasses social, emotional, and personal development, fostering resilience, empathy, and self-awareness in students. By prioritizing the holistic well-being of students, we can create inclusive and supportive environments that empower every child to thrive and reach their full potential, regardless of arbitrary academic benchmarks. 

Below are a few ways we can nurture the whole child in educational spaces.

Self-Care Workshops

Self-care is essential not just for adults but also for students’ well-being. It’s important that we empower students with essential self-care practices such as setting boundaries, managing stress, and practicing self-compassion.

Implementation tips

  • Provide students with self-care tools during state testing season, such as breathing exercise cards, essential oils, stress balls, etc.
  • Incorporate activities like guided meditation, journaling, or mindfulness exercises into classes to promote stress relief and emotional well-being.
  • Create a designated “calm-down corner” for younger students or “mindful corner” for older students to retreat for emotional regulation during stressful times. 

Community Circles

Students face numerous challenges and often lack mutual support to navigate the complexities of daily life. Establishing safe spaces, therefore, where students can share experiences, build relationships, and engage in meaningful discussions on topics like mental health, identity, and belonging is incredibly valuable. 

Implementation tips

  • School social workers or school counselors can facilitate community circles regularly, either during advisory periods or during lunch.
  • Allow students to create prompts or discussion topics related to student experiences and emotions.

Sleep Hygiene Education

Students frequently resort to all-nighters to keep up with coursework, or they develop poor sleeping habits due to various factors, including upbringing. It’s crucial to educate students on the significance of sleep for overall health and academic success. 

Implementation tips

  • Collaborate with school social workers, school counselors, and/or health educators to deliver engaging presentations or workshops.
  • Distribute informational handouts or digital resources on sleep hygiene tips.
  • Encourage students to track their sleep patterns and make adjustments if needed.

SEL Check-ins

Students often carry significant emotional burdens on a daily basis, making it crucial to implement regular social and emotional learning (SEL) check-ins to assess their emotional needs and provide targeted support. 

Implementation tips

  • Conduct regular SEL check-ins at the beginning of the day with students using SEL assessment tools. Consider incorporating end-of-day reflections to encourage ongoing emotional awareness and self-reflection.
  • Foster a safe and supportive environment where students feel comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment.
  • Collaborate with school support staff—counselors, social workers, or psychologists—to develop intervention plans based on the results of SEL check-ins. Leverage their expertise to provide targeted support and resources for students in need.

SEL parent workshops

Many parents are often disengaged and unaware of what social and emotional learning entails and how they can incorporate it into their homes. There’s a common misconception that the development of social and emotional skills only occurs at school, which is not the case. It’s crucial to empower parents with strategies for supporting their children’s social and emotional development at home by meeting them where they are.

Implementation tips

  • Schedule evening or weekend parent workshops to accommodate parental schedules and increase accessibility.
  • Offer practical tips and culturally relevant activities that parents can implement to promote SEL practices at home. Disseminate this information through flyers, newsletters, or digital platforms to reach a wider audience.
  • Encourage open communication between educators and parents to reinforce SEL strategies in both home and school settings. Encourage dialogue and collaboration to create a cohesive approach to supporting students’ social and emotional well-being.

SEL Reflection Journals

To reinforce social and emotional learning skills beyond classroom instruction, educators should encourage students to maintain SEL reflection journals. These journals promote self-awareness and mindfulness outside of school hours by providing opportunities for students to reflect on their emotions, experiences, and personal growth.

Implementation tips

  • Introduce journaling as a regular activity during advisory periods or classroom sessions to establish a consistent practice.
  • Offer structured prompts or themes for reflection, such as gratitude, resilience, or self-acceptance, to guide students’ journal entries and deepen their understanding of themselves.
  • Provide motivation, positive reinforcement, and praise to students who maintain consistent journaling habits. Be supportive and understanding with students who may struggle to stay consistent, recognizing that building this habit may take time and encouragement.

Nurturing the whole child in education goes beyond academic achievements to prioritize students’ social, emotional, and personal development. By implementing these strategies, educators can create inclusive and supportive environments where every student feels valued and empowered. 

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