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The Role of School Counselors in Building Strong Communities


Strong communities build strong people. Unfortunately, not all communities are effortlessly unified. In fact, many communities are fractured, and a less unified community is an inherently weaker community. Luckily, there are ways to overcome these challenges.

School counselors are uniquely situated to identify and address community issues that are impacting students. They also have the ability to address these issues through outreach and in-school counseling.

How do counselors impact the community, and how do they make their mark? Here is a look at the role of school counseling in local communities.

What is school counseling?

There are two main types of professionals who are often conflated when it comes to school counseling. School psychologists and school counselors are two different professions. The former can identify and diagnose potential mental health issues, while the latter focuses on helping students build strong communication skills and healthy coping mechanisms.

School counselors address problems that can affect students in their daily lives and have an adverse impact on their academic performance. These include behavioral and psychosocial challenges, both of which are areas where an effective school counselor can offer support.

School counseling entails offering professional help to students in an attempt to build strong, safe communities both in and out of school. They seek to unify parents, school officials and community leaders with the best interests of the student in mind.

What does a school counselor do?

A school counselor occupies many roles. These professionals must be able to shift between priorities quickly as every child is different and their struggles can vary dramatically from one individual to the next. The main goal of school counseling is to promote students’ emotional, social and academic development. This goal encompasses existing familial, community and school strengths, assets and resources. They also ensure the local community has access to relevant community resources.

The broader goals of school counselors entail fostering resilience in students and their families. This is often done by building equity-based family-community-school partnerships with the child’s best interest in mind. These partnerships involve securing respect and excellent care for all students, regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Empowerment, social justice and democracy are common tenets of these partnerships.

4 roles of a school counselor

School counselors do not have only one role. They work with students and aim to improve communities in a variety of different ways. Here are four of their most important functions.

  • Counselor

First and foremost, school counselors seek to counsel students. They help students identify their interests, capacities and abilities as well as how to use them both in school and outside of it. Students who struggle to build social bonds often receive social counseling to better enable them to interact with their fellow students and build strong relationships.

Counselors also act as coordinators, advising students about their career decisions and career orientation. Not only do they offer advice, but they also frequently help students prepare for college admissions or trade school as needed.

  • Mediator

Students deserve a safe and calm environment at school, but disagreements are part of life. When conflict arises among students, or even between students and teachers, school counselors step in.

When the altercation consists of two students, the counselor will often sit down with each student. This occurs both jointly and independently, and they discuss why the argument occurred and why each student feels wronged. The goal here is to try to remedy the perceived slights to avoid further escalation.

When the alternation consists of students and teachers, or teachers and parents, school counselors are also typically in charge of serving as a mediator between both parties. Let’s say that a student’s parents feel as though their child is being treated unfairly. Counselors will interact with the parents, the students and the teachers involved in the complaint in an attempt to help all sides come to a shared understanding.

  • Social skills instructor

Did you know that counselors sometimes put on a teaching hat of their own? We discussed the importance of students building strong social skills, but it is also important to acknowledge how those skills are developed. When it comes to teaching social skills, many school counselors act as a specialist, researcher, leader, expert and consultant.

When a student is exhibiting trouble with their social skills, a school counselor will step in. First, they ascertain where the trouble lies. Next, they rely on peer-reviewed and published research to develop a social skills curriculum that is appropriate for the individual student in question as well as their school demographic. Finally, they work with general education teachers to use the curriculum and help the student develop their social skills.

  • Friend

This might sound like an odd role for a school counselor to play, but it is actually one of the most common. Sometimes students need someone to listen to them, whether their concerns are about school, something happening at home or something else entirely. In these situations, counselors provide age-appropriate support to students that comes with professional privacy and confidentiality. They serve as supporters, listeners and believers.

In the United States, many counselors provide this type of support to students. While the friendship is rooted in professionalism, simply having someone on “their side” can be enough to give students the confidence to develop socially and academically.

What education does a school counselor need?

Because they are responsible for ensuring the well-being of minors, school counselors must complete detailed work in the industry in order to earn their certification. The exact requirements vary from state to state, but there are a few near-universal steps to consider. From the CACREP to college and beyond, here are some of the steps you’ll need to complete if you want to be a school counselor in the United States.

What is the CACREP?

Before we get into the training prospective school counselors are required to complete, let’s talk about the CACREP. An abbreviation for the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, the CACREP is the primary regulatory and certification body for school counselors in the United States.

CACREP-accredited course is typically required for school counselors to find work. Keep in mind that in addition to being accredited by CACREP, you should choose a program at a respected university. Walsh University, for example, is a well-established university with a history of producing successful school counselors.

High school and undergraduate requirements

Prospective school counselors must have completed high school and typically need an undergraduate degree before they can look for work. Note that because a bachelor’s degree is not typically enough to seek work as a school counselor, the specific degree you earn can vary. If you are interested in counseling specifically, you might enroll in a college degree path featuring primarily counseling classes. If you are more interested in general psychology, you might pursue that degree instead.

The specific degree you earn at this point is less important than the degree you’ll earn next. Choose something that interests you and is related to school counseling, and focus on earning a high GPA.

Master’s degree requirements and CLAST

The next step that most potential school counselors will need to complete is to earn a Master of School Counseling degree, or the equivalent in your state. Prospective school counselors might look into volunteering before they finish their master’s degree. This is a great way to learn more about the field. The Big Brothers and Big Sisters (BBBS) organization is a great place to start.

Once you have completed your master’s degree, you must successfully pass the College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST) as well as the Subject Test in School Guidance and Counseling in the Professional Education Test.

Once you have completed these steps, you are ready to apply for certification.

Certification and looking for work

When the time to apply for certification arrives, you will generally need to submit an online application with the Department of Education in your state, which you can also contact for state-specific rules.

When your application has been processed, you will receive a statement of eligibility if it is approved. Once you have this information, you can start looking for work. Note that you typically must complete fingerprinting with the FBI before you can begin work. Employers generally help school counselors complete this step.

Are you ready for a career in school counseling? Keep our tips in mind as you find the right career for you!