School counselors are essential to student success, offering guidance in a number of areas. While the traditional focus was vocational guidance, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) now includes academic, career and social/emotional development in the definition. No longer are school counselors meant to act solely as career advisors. Instead, they take holistic, data-driven approaches to help students achieve success in school and beyond, preparing them to lead fulfilling lives and become responsible members of society.
Of course, this means an ever-widening list of responsibilities for school counselors. They have a host of evolving aims and approaches to ensure student success.
Promoting Equity and Access
According to the ASCA, it is the duty of school counselors to help close gaps in achievement, opportunity, attainment and funding in their schools, districts and communities. They use data to help students, particularly those with disabilities, first-generation and low-income students, and students of color.
Furthermore, school counselors are increasingly being called upon to act as advocates for equitable treatment and policies, multicultural awareness, and knowledge disbursement among school staff and faculty. They are often on the front lines of communicating and promoting intellectual rigor and postsecondary education for students and their families.
Enhancing Student Well-Being and Achievement After Graduation
While school counselors do, in fact, still assist students with vocational concerns, there has been a marked shift in how they approach this part of their work. They increasingly promote college enrollment to increase chances of student success. They advise students on issues of financial aid, which has been shown to triple the chances of student enrollment in college. They also counsel students on college selection, college preparation, and individual well-being.
According to Andrea Diehm of the South Dakota Board of Education, school counselors seek to promote college readiness through guidance on test-taking strategies, goal setting, career planning, and emotional support.
Supporting Social-Emotional Development
Key to the enhancement of student well-being in school and beyond is the use of tools for social and emotional development. School counselors deal in student behavior and offer guidance on personal problems that might impact education and professional development.
According to Terri Tchorzynski, named by the White House as Counselor of the Year (2015), behavior modification and support takes many forms. For example, a school counselor might put together anti-bullying seminars at the beginning of the academic year, and then follow up by tracking bullying behaviors and working with groups and individuals throughout the year.
Collecting, Interpreting and Disbursing Data
Although the ASCA National Model recommends that school counselors spend at least 80% of their time in direct and indirect service to students through meetings, programming, etc., more and more hours are being devoted to collecting and using data. This is an important part of the changed school counselor role, as data informs decisions, advisement, and programming. According to Dr. Trish Hatch, data allows counselors to be intentional in guiding students rather than reactive. Data also provides the basis for snapshots of counseling department activities and outcomes for stakeholders and administrators.
It’s evident that the role of school counselor is more important than ever before. There have been calls to increase support of school counseling programs to ensure they are able to meet ASCA requirements while still engaging in the data collection and analysis that informs their practices. Many schools still do not fully comprehend the role of the school counselor, and thus the ASCA has created a set of guidelines on tasks for school counselors.