Social-Emotional Learning for the Role of School Counselor

Dr. Rick Bolling
Dr. Rick Bolling
Elementary/middle school principal; Ed.D. in Leadership
School counselor smiling and sitting with a student in his office.

An individual who has grown through social-emotional learning (SEL) is able to manage his or her feelings in a professional manner while being aware of others’ feelings and viewpoints. SEL focuses on the soft skills that humans acquire as they learn to interact with one another in appropriate and respectful ways.

Through SEL, humans learn how to build strong, positive relationships with others by showing empathy, making responsible decisions, and being emotionally aware. Further, once the traits are ingrained, individuals are able to set priority deadlines, contribute to teams, and be assertive while remaining calm.

By investing in SEL, a school will have a staff that is more likely to operate at higher levels of thought and approach concerns and problem-solving from a more logical standpoint. In many ways, having strong social and emotional skills can be more important than content knowledge related to job duties. People who are positive are more likely to have longer tenures within a job and accomplish more within the role. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the degree to which an individual incorporates social-emotional learning in their daily life and actions.

SEL should be part of a culture that is embedded in daily operations as opposed to being viewed as an add-on. Rather, SEL and its related philosophies should guide daily interactions among various school stakeholder groups. School counselors are part of the school leadership team, so it is imperative that these key people know that they are valued and respected within the school community.

Operating from a SEL dimension shows value and respect in a modeled fashion. This manner of interaction will be reciprocated in other interactions if it is modeled by leadership. Therefore, using SEL to support school counselors will trickle down and the school’s culture will improve as a return on this investment. SEL can be used by a school leader to grow leadership capacity within his or her school.

Why is Social-Emotional Learning Important for School Counselors?

As vital members of the school leadership team, counselors need to know they are valued and are essential to support multiple stakeholder groups. Other school leaders should incorporate SEL in their interactions with school counselors. An emotionally cognizant culture and climate should be prioritized and discussed.

As these skills are modeled, counselors will be more aware of their own actions and model these traits to other groups. Human interaction is a critical piece of learning and development. By operating with a SEL viewpoint, both the modeler and follower will grow. As a result, the entire school will become more emotionally aware as SEL is paid forward.

Employers often agree that problem-solving and relationship skills are a much greater need in a potential employee. School leaders must model and create an environment in which social-emotional learning for counselors is prioritized.

As school counselors become more emotionally aware, time management, relationship skills, and problem-solving skills will flourish. School counselors need to work as a contributing member of a team that can be assertive and flexible. Further, the counselor must make students, parents, and teachers feel at ease. The key to all of these collaborative skills is understanding others and prioritizing their feelings and needs.

Building a strong social and emotional climate in a school will pay off with stakeholders who feel more valued and are more likely to succeed when presented a new challenge. Communication should be timely, respectful, and show an awareness of the emotions of the intended audience. A school counselor’s words and actions should have a calming effect that conveys support and empathy. Active listening is essential for emotionally intelligent communication.

How to Use SEL to Support School Counselors

Normalize Asking for Support

Principals must be approachable and mindful of the needs of counselors. Counselors will feel valued through regular check-ins in which the principal offers any support needed. Through this process, support is normalized. Support access should not be confused with micromanagement, which hinders SEL. Further, a leader should get to know the duties of the counselor so that he or she can assist when needed.

Respect Professional Boundaries

A key characteristic of a supervisor who is lacking EI is not respecting professional boundaries. Employee retention and satisfaction will dwindle if counselor personal time is not protected and respected. Principals must prioritize the counselor’s time with family and days away from work. By allowing employees to have unencumbered time with family, employee productivity will improve.

Everyone needs to have time away from work. Time off is earned, and a supervisor should only contact an employee in the event of an emergency. Counselors need time to exercise and relax. Emotionally intelligent people do not define their life and value through work, but rather know that how they treat others will define their legacy. Further, work is about quality not quantity.

Foster Autonomy and Self-Efficacy

Trust is a core value of operating through SEL. A supervisor should model self-regulation and effective time management. Praise should be given as the counselor completes a task at an exemplary level.

Micromanagement shows a lack of SEL on the part of the supervisor. If you cannot believe in a counselor to operate without constant direction and supervision, perhaps the wrong employee was hired. Further, the person really lacking in EI might be the superior if he or she is not able to let go and manage only the larger picture.

Through high expectations combined with needed support and earned autonomy, the counselor will enjoy higher productivity and increased self-efficacy while experiencing decreased stress. Positive thinking will result in a person who works better with other team members and excels more in all the diverse counselor roles.

Prioritize Relationships

Modeling and developing strong relationships will support the counselor directly in his or her role. Working on a collaborative team is a focus of SEL, and this skill is woven into almost all counselor duties. A support focus on SEL will help the counselor grow and remain focused on developing strong relationships.

A person who is emotionally intelligent will not be judgmental or close-minded. SEL prioritizes not critiquing others’ work if the person has not stepped in to try to assist in the effort. These characteristics are essential for a quality school counselor. Empathy is a core value of EI. Therefore, supporting a counselor using SEL will pay off by heightening the skills necessary to excel in the position. Supporting a counselor through SEL will enhance counselor competency.

Individualized Professional Learning Plan

Professional development plans should be individualized to meet the needs of an individual employee. Therefore, counselor professional development should be tailored to the needs of the counselor. A principal has to get to know the counselor and support the counselor through SEL to develop a personalized plan.

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