Working without Adequate School Counseling Support

Dr. Kelly Muic
Dr. Kelly Muic
Grade School Principal; Ed.D. in Leadership and Administration, Point Park University, PA

It is unfortunate that students today face many more issues and problems than ever before. Students not only must combat daily situations with bullying and peer pressure; but they must navigate through the many problems that occur using social media and regular exposure to digital information and content. Our students today have more access to various forms of information and have the ability to communicate in a variety of ways. There are many problems that occur due to these changes in enhanced technology use and access.

Helping Students in School

From a school perspective, it is important to be mindful of developing students’ social and emotional skills. This initiative is usually led and directed by a school counselor. But what if your school does not have a full-time school counselor, or worse yet, your school does not have one at all?

School counselors are not mandated by every state. This is an astonishing fact, especially when students today need more support than ever before. School districts’ budgets are stretched thin as it is and will not usually accommodate non-mandated budget items such as school counselors. So the question remains: Who can assist students when they are in crisis? Who can help students manage their emotions? Who can help students cope with the developmental changes and general life issues that occur? Who can assist students in making career plans and supporting their academic growth?

When a school counselor does not exist in your school, how you provide the academic, social/emotional, and career development support that students need? This support will usually fall on the shoulders of all faculty and staff to provide. Primarily, teachers take on the added duties of counselor so that their students are supported. In addition, the administrators will wear the school counselor hat, as do the school nurses, building secretary, and even the custodians.

Strategies to Use When Working without Adequate Counseling Support

In addition, there are a few strategies you could research to assist in filling the void of not having adequate school counseling support. Please know these strategies do not replace the role of the school counselor, nor does it come close to what a full-time school counselor could provide. These strategies can help lessen the added duties school faculty and staff must take on in order to ensure students are provided with adequate support necessary to grow and thrive academically as well as social-emotionally.

The first strategy to consider would be implementing a school wide social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum. This could be a standalone curriculum or could be embedded in your daily school-wide and classroom routines and procedures. Please be sure to utilize research-based curricula resources. Most SEL programs will consist of developing students’ skills in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, communication skills, and responsible decision-making.

Another strategy would be to revise an existing or implement a positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) program in your school that focuses on developing and reinforcing social-emotional skills and development. A PBIS program is data driven and teaches students specific behavioral expectations that are important to a particular school. A PBIS program is guided by data and contains behavior reinforcement and acknowledgement components, as well as clearly defines a tiered system of student behavioral interventions.

Resources Outside of School

Schools can contact local agencies in your community to find out what school-based outreach services they offer. These agencies may be able to offer free classroom presentations and lessons about various topics that school counselors would typically put in place. These services could be classroom lessons on dealing with bullies, anti-drug use, anger management, coping skills, and grief and loss, to name a few. Some of these agencies may offer after school programs that could be implemented on-site at the school. Community and family workshops might also be available to assist parents and families in supporting students at home.

Schools could also reach out to parent or community organizations to inquire if they would finance assemblies or host inspirational speakers to address the student body on a particular issue your students deal with regularly. A school could also develop grade level- or classroom-driven community service projects to help students learn important social-emotional skills such as working effectively with others, effective communication, and developing empathy for others.

No matter what strategies you put in place, one should insist that adequate school counselor services be provided. All students deserve and need adequate support to ensure a chance at positive future outcomes.

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