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The Evolution of the School Counselor

Today's guest blogger is Kwok-Sze Richard Wong, executive director of the American School Counselor Association, who was recently featured in Learning Forward's The Learning Principal on the changing role of school counselors.

Although the general public usually associates school counselors with mental health services, school counselors are actually educators whose primary focus is to help students achieve academically in school to prepare them for success in the future. While teachers help students learn the actual subjects, counselors help students address other factors that could present obstacles to learning.

Based on this idea, some school districts are moving school counseling from their office of student services to their office of instruction.

To prepare school counselors to meet their changing roles, professional learning for counselors, teachers, and administrators must also expand.

Years ago, all school counselors were required to have education degrees and several years of experience teaching in a classroom before they could become counselors. Only a handful of states still have that requirement. Consequently, some counselors don't have the educational experience or knowledge that they had in the past. If they don't gain that knowledge in their graduate programs and don't receive it through professional learning, they learn it on the job, which is not the most desirable.

School counselors also should have some of the same training that administrators have, particularly in areas such as organizational management, leadership, and collaboration. The work of counselors cuts across all departments in a school, so they must know how to work with educational professionals at many levels. Their effectiveness depends on their ability to collaborate with other educators in the building.

Data-based decision making is a tremendous shift for all educators, but particularly for school counselors. School counselors are increasingly collecting and analyzing data to identify needs in a school, to determine the most appropriate programs to address those needs, and to monitor and evaluate their programs to assess their success and to improve them in the future.

Conversely, if teachers and administrators are trained about the new roles of school counselors, they can work more effectively together. With the pressure to demonstrate academic achievement, primarily through standardized test scores, teachers are reluctant to release students to meet with their counselors or to allow counselors time to present classroom guidance lessons. Many teachers don't realize that working with their school's counselors can enhance academic achievement, not detract from it. Similarly, many principals don't understand what school counselors can and should do, so they assign the counselors to non-counseling duties that take them away from working with students toward academic success.

If teachers, administrators and other adults in a school building had more training in areas such as human development, abnormal behavior and development, and other counseling-related topics, they could be more effective educators. Of course, we don't think teachers and other educators should be school counselors, but if everyone had knowledge of some counseling principles, they could incorporate those ideas into their own practice and work more effectively together for the benefit of the students.

Too often, educators operate in silos: Teachers teach. Administrators manage. And school counselors counsel. In actuality, they are all integral to academic achievement and should be engaged in making sure the school as a whole runs smoothly.

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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