The school counselor is often a prominent figure in a student’s life, as counselors hold an important role in helping young people develop and progress. Citing the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), Andrew Roush from TechNotes quotes, “Gone are the days of school counselors sitting in their office simply handing out college applications, making schedule changes for students who want to drop a class, or waiting for a crisis to occur. Instead, today’s school counselors are vital members of the education team. They help all students in the areas of academic achievement, career and social/emotional development, ensuring today’s students become the productive, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow.”
Some of the everyday tasks of a school counselor include academic guidance — such as helping students choose classes, manage after-school activities and look for colleges. However, they also provide important emotional and psychological support by referring students to appropriate mental health practitioners, addressing behavioral issues, communicating with parents and being a point of contact between students, faculty and staff.
The New School Counselor
It is unsurprising that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to this professional field. According to research conducted in 2020 by the ASCA, respondents have pointed out that “having access to students in a virtual environment (68% rate extremely challenging/challenging) is their biggest day-to-day challenge at work, followed by providing counseling and lessons to students in a virtual environment (62%).” Adapting to a virtual format has been difficult for everyone, and although many schools will resume classes in person this fall, technology will continue to grow as a tool for learning and communication among school staff and administrators.
This brings up the question: what is the future of the school counselor? In the ASCA research report, results indicate that the biggest challenges are yet to come. The demands of the job will shift to dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic, especially the spike in mental health issues affecting a larger than usual portion of the student population.
Of the school counselors who responded, “73% follow up with students who have not participated in virtual classes; 53% follow up with students who have not returned since schools reopened; 48% participate in attendance/check-ins; 45% have increased responsibility regarding SEL implementation; and 34% have new/additional duties before/after school, bus/hall/lunch duty, etc.” Understanding trauma, crisis management and emotional intelligence are increasingly crucial to the role, which is why school counselors are encouraged to learn about these subjects in-depth.
The Role of Advocate
Aside from COVID-19-related issues, professionals should continue working to dismantle biases and prejudices in the school environment. Sexism, homophobia, transphobia and racism are still prevalent issues within school environments. Student populations largely composed of individuals with minority or low-income backgrounds will suffer the lasting effects of the pandemic more intensely, as socio-economic problems have disproportionately affected these communities. Educators will have a role in making these students feel safe and validated in the classroom. Here again, ASCA offers a list of resources for anti-racism work.
Despite all-new challenges, counselors who have managed to be flexible and adaptive are better equipped to deal with the ever-changing troubles of student populations. As Roush notes, “the current moment in education is likely to have lasting effects as time progresses. Some see this as a sign that counseling services are more important than ever in education.” Cultivating a school environment that prioritizes students’ mental and social health will be the way forward for this new generation.