The School Counselor: Catalyst, Caregiver, Communicator and Collaborator...
It is no surprise to most parents/guardians that being a kid these days is more complicated than when they were children. Values have changed, and dramatic increases in social problems are being experienced by families at all socioeconomic levels. Parents who want the best for their children feel overwhelmed and frustrated. They are looking to the educational community for some solutions.
What may come as a surprise to parents/guardians is that there are efforts in their local schools to do just this, and the catalyst for these efforts is the school counselor. Professional school counselors throughout the country have taken the challenge seriously. Many have developed exemplary and prevention-focused programs. These comprehensive counseling programs are designed to meet the educational, career, social and personal needs of all children as they enter the 21st century.
In New Hampshire, state minimum standards for education have mandated that all schools have a written guidance plan. One type of program that works to implement such a plan is the comprehensive developmental model. Another program model is National Standards in School Counseling. While not all schools subscribe to these models, they are recommended and supported by the American School Counselor Association and the New Hampshire School Counselor Association.
These models are designed to meet the needs of all students, not just those perceived as "needing counseling". Our state is very fortunate to have many schools that use the New Hampshire Comprehensive Guidance and Counseling Program (NHCGCP) Model. This program has been in existence for several years and was organized to support school counselor's endeavors to expand professionally and to be accountable to their school districts.
The original handbook for NHCGCP was endorsed by the State Board of Education in 1987, and is recognized as an important resource for the implementation of the state's mandated written guidance plan.
In New Hampshire, all school counselors at every educational level (elementary, middle/junior and secondary) are required to have a Masters Degree, specializing in Guidance and Counseling. All counselors must be certified by the State Department of Education. Certification is renewed on a three-year basis and continuing education is required.
Approximately half of the state's school counselors are members of the NH School Counselor Association (NHSCA). NHSCA's mission as a professional association is to promote excellence in school counseling, to advocate for the role and programs of school counseling and to provide professional development opportunities for its members.
The task of school counselors is to advance the development of all students'. Counselors are the human development and human relations specialists in their school. While the needs of students may change and evolve throughout their school career, the counselor's program, interventions, and services, remain fairly stable. The method of delivery, however, is adjusted from the elementary to the middle to the secondary level to meet all students' needs.
Counselor functions generally fall into three categories: counseling, consultation and coordination. Counseling is perhaps the most obvious of the interventions provided by the school counselor. Parents however, may not always understand the various ways that their child receives this service.
Large group (or classroom) guidance is the most efficient way to ensure that all students receive counseling in areas of development such as interpersonal and communications skills, conflict resolution, decision making and problem solving. The successful acquirement of these skills is fundamental to the healthy development of any child.
They are also those skills that have been identified by the US Dept. of Labor as necessary for successful job performance in any future occupation. Large group work involves the counselor identifying a specific developmental need and addressing it with a large group of students. This might be as diverse as doing a unit on feeling words with first graders, to teaching conflict resolution skills, to talking to a group of high school juniors about completing successful college applications.
Small group counseling involves a counselor working with two or more students who may have similar issues in their lives, or in school, or who may be experiencing developmental difficulties. These smaller groups are generally problem centered and short term (6-8 weeks).
They focus on students' needs. in areas such as study skills, behavioral concerns and the many challenges associated with social development and the family such as divorce, substance abuse or family violence. The small group experience involves sharing ideas and feelings. The group offers students the opportunity to gain knowledge and practice skills learned.
Individual (one-on-one) counseling is built upon a relationship of trust and acceptance. The student is helped to manage their own personal, educational, social and career development. Crisis counseling is one component of individual work. Individual counseling also deals with issues of academic progress and the planning of educational and career goals. The student's goals are discussed based upon the outcome of the school's student assessment program, and the student's own portfolio of work.
The school counselor is also a consultant in the school and in the community. The counselor works with teachers, administrators and education specialists regarding classroom problems or concerns about individual students. As a member of the school's team, all of these educational professionals work collaboratively to see to it that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
In most schools, the counselor works with the special education team both in the referral process and in the development of the student's educational plan. In the community, school counselors are involved in school/business partnerships and serve on advisory boards. School counselors are catalysts for change and involved in school improvement programs.