With the national school standards movement and other school reform discussions focusing narrowly on student test scores and teacher competency, they are missing a key part of the equation when it comes to student achievement – school counselors.
School counselors have always been an important component of a student’s educational experience, but have been “left behind” in the national standards movement.
This week is National Counseling Week and a good time to remind policy makers of the role school counselors play in student achievement, specifically by helping underachieving students overcome and cope with emotional, physical and socioeconomic barriers that may prevent them from taking advantage of opportunities to fulfill their academic potential.
Almost half of my professional career was spent in School Counseling at the secondary level. Classroom teacher and administration accounted for the remainder.
In my experience, many of my non-school personnel friends have asked, “Beyond assisting students with the course selection process and college advising process, what do you do all day?”
Most counselors, I suspect, would tell you that is the easy and routine part of their job.
In addition to the academic advising process, school counselors throughout the country dedicate themselves to serving as the surrogate parent providing support and guidance – in many instances on a daily basis – for students struggling with the challenges of overcoming generational poverty, parental neglect and myriad of emotional issues. Counselors devote an inordinate amount of time to assisting students on a personal level to understand and take advantage of opportunities to grow in both the affective and cognitive domains.
Counselors’ roles in support of the classroom instruction process are often overlooked and underappreciated by the school community. Counselors assist students in developing realistic academic achievement goals, negotiating root causes for underachieving students, navigating the avenues of opportunity for extra help with their course work, accepting personal responsibility for their decisions, understanding the relationship between school success and life success, and understanding how to self-advocate and, perhaps most important, how to cope with peer pressure.
Effective school principals appreciate and understand the essential role counselors play in a comprehensive school environment. As a principal, I understood the complex role of school counselors in an ethnically and socio-economic diverse school environment. I valued the contributions the counseling team made to intervening with disruptive students, their expertise when advising about community services for students in need, their ability to resolve and mediate disputes between and among teachers, parents and students, and their role in advising teachers about prevailing familial issues that may be adversely affecting a student’s disposition.
Due to how school counselors nurture relationships with their counselees, they typically have their hand of the pulse of the school and play an influential role in advising teachers and administrators as how to best help students overcome obstacles and setbacks.
That is why this week – and every week – we should advocate for better student-counselor ratios and value the contributions school counselors provide. Without them, our schools would be very different places.