The Evolution from ‘Guidance Counselor’ to ‘School Counselor’

My dad was a high school guidance counselor.  He was really good at his job in the terms that he created.  He was fantastic at meeting with kids and helping them navigate the trials and tribulations of the high school years.  What he wasn’t great at was fitting into the traditional ‘Guidance Counselor’ role.  The scheduling, SAT administration, college admissions prep just wasn’t his passion.  He felt like the students needed so much more in the social/emotional realm and some of his administrative duties got in the way of doing what was right for the kids.  Luckily, the other guidance counselors he worked with loved the more traditional aspects of the job.  They made a great team.

The guidance counseling profession has been around since the early 1900’s.  However, it didn’t become ubiquitous in high schools until the 194o’s.  This was driven by the U.S needing to test, recruit and train military personal.  Following the war the role of the guidance counselor was that of career prep.

Fast forward to 2016 and it is easy to see that the job of the school counselor is much broader in scope. School counselors  work in all grades in order to support the needs of the whole child.  Walk into most schools and you will find a school counselor who is providing group lessons in classes, having individual sessions with students and working with small groups of students to deal with social issues.  They are part of 504 and IEP teams and they work with families to support basic needs.

As the role of the school counselor has expanded so has the education and training needed to become certified.  School counseling programs are multi-year master’s degree programs. In addition counselors must pass state licensing tests.  In 2003, the American School Counseling Association published “The ASCA National Model: A Foundation for School Counseling Programs.” This is a framework designed to professionalize school counseling and help to create a standardized model across the United States.  

The difference in title from Guidance Counselor to School Counselor might seem trivial.  It is just a name, right?  While that is true, the move to School Counselor is an effort to accurately reflect the nature, importance and professionalism of the job.

I grew up telling people my father was a Guidance Counselor.  In title he was.  However, the job that he really did was more in line with what we know of School Counselors today.  The level of care he had for his students was inspiring.  He helped them through times both dark and jubilant.  He fought to have the time to address all of their social and emotional needs.  I’m proud to be carrying on his work. It is an honor to call myself a school counselor.

What is the role of the School Counselor?

The role of the School Counselor is big and it can vary school to school.   The actual responsibilities of School Counselors can be different depending on state, district and school.  At least one commonality exists for all School Counselors and that is that our job is to foster the social and emotional growth and well being of all students.

So how does that happen?  At MDES I see each grade from K-5 on a weekly basis to do whole group lessons.  These lessons include but are not limited to the following topics: friendship, kindness, emotions, teamwork, bullying, internet safety, conflict resolution, decision making, self-esteem, advocacy, social skills, and mindfulness.  For 6-8th grade, I work with the teachers and provide lessons when needed.  Topics that often need to be addressed are bullying, cyberbullying, leadership and dealing with anxiety.  I also co-teach a couple of units of the health curriculum.

When not teaching classes I work individually with students.  I have many kids that I see on a weekly basis.  Often kids are referred to see me because they struggle with anxiety or depression.  Sometimes students need some extra help with social skills and we will meet to address those needs. Students are referred through teachers, parents, 504 or IEP plans.  Kids are also really great at referring themselves.  They are fantastic self-advocates.  Of course, students are also welcome to drop-in when issues arise.  My goal is to help students learn how to navigate through tough situations with adults and peers alike.

I strongly believe that kids learn best when their emotional needs are addressed.  As such, I try to create a safe space for all students to access.  I’m lucky to work with fantastic teachers and an administrator who sees the needs of the whole child.