After the Sandy Hook tragedy, President Obama called for increased mental health support in school settings. Counselors are qualified to work with students in individual counseling, small group counseling and large group support. Besides being leaders, advocates, collaborators and systemic change agents, counselors have training in crisis intervention and are often called upon to assist in small- and large-scale crisis situations. However, if school counselors are engaged in too many non-counseling duties, then their effectiveness is reduced.
In some schools, for example, the school counselor serves as the test coordinator and may spend hours preparing the testing materials. Additionally, counseling services cease during the dates when tests are administered. This sometimes results in the counselor not performing his or her functions for a month or longer.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recognizes appropriate and inappropriate duties, which can be a challenge for those in school systems that use their school counselors as data entry clerks, testing coordinators, substitutes for classroom teachers, record keepers, or in disciplinary roles.
The following table shows a checklist of appropriate and inappropriate counselor duties.
- Individual student academic program planning
- Interpreting cognitive, aptitude and achievement tests
- Providing counseling to students who are tardy or absent
- Providing counseling to students who have disciplinary problems
- Providing counseling to students as to appropriate school dress
- Collaborating with teachers to present school counseling core curriculum lessons
- Analyzing grade-point averages in relationship to achievement
- Interpreting student records
- Providing teachers with suggestions for effective classroom management
- Ensuring student records are maintained as per state and federal regulations
- Helping the school principal identify and resolve student issues, needs and problems
- Providing individual and small-group counseling services to students
- Advocating for students at individual education plan meetings, student study teams and school attendance review boards
- Analyzing disaggregated data
- Coordinating paperwork and data entry of all new students
- Coordinating cognitive, aptitude and achievement testing programs
- Signing excuses for students who are tardy or absent
- Performing disciplinary actions or assigning discipline consequences
- Sending home students who are not appropriately dressed
- Teaching classes when teachers are absent
- Computing grade-point averages
- Maintaining student records
- Assisting with duties in the principal's office
- Providing therapy or long-term counseling in schools to address psychological disorders
- Coordinating school-wide individual education plans, student study teams and school attendance review boards
- Serving as a data entry clerk
Reprinted from The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs, 3rd Edition (2012)
7 Ways to Support School Counselors
So how can administrators support their school counselors to be most effective as outlined in the ASCA National Model?
- At the beginning of the school year, meet with your counselor and complete the annual agreement that outlines goals, use of time and other responsibilities. Identifying the counselors' responsibilities maximizes their effectiveness.
- Review the list of inappropriate and appropriate duties in the ASCA National Model to rediscover any duties that are not in line with best practices, and then decide which duties can be reassigned to other personnel.
- Allow time for direct services to students. Direct services include presenting the school counseling curriculum in classrooms and conducting small-group and individual counseling. If there is concern that students participating in counseling will miss academic time, there may be ways to build in small group counseling during student lunchtimes. This means allowing the counselor to provide services during lunch rather than monitoring the cafeteria for lunch duty.
- Counseling is not what it was when you were in school. School counselors are Master's level professionals with specific training in counseling skills. They can be a valuable asset for helping students cope with everyday stressors that interfere with learning. They can also help students with academic and career concerns, as well as personal and social concerns.
- School counselors are trained to evaluate if student learning is positively impacted by the school counseling program. Meet with these professionals to see what programs or activities have been evaluated, and what the outcomes are. For example, if a counselor is working with students on anger management, have behavior referrals decreased? Have student grades improved?
- Support counselors' recommendations for changes and programs that will benefit students and the school as a whole.
- Review the ASCA National Model's recommended roles of the school counselor. You may discover that the counselor at your school has skills that are underutilized. Counselors support the school's overall mission and can make an incredible difference if used appropriately.
In the comment thread, tell us about what counselors have done for your school or child.