With the start of National School Counseling Week, I want to express my appreciation for the vital role counselors play in our schools. As a principal and former school counselor, I can say without question that if you don’t have counselors in your building who develop lasting relationships with students, it’s hard to be a successful school.

One thing people don’t always understand is the importance of the decisions, especially at the high school level, that counselors make related to course selection. These can be make-or-break decisions that can affect a kid’s academic success and social-emotional development. Counselors are the ones helping to make decisions about what classes students are placed in and what classes may not be the best fit. That’s why it’s so crucial to have people in these jobs who know about each student’s learning trajectory and where each student is headed as well as knowing what their interests are so they can position them to be successful.

Making sure kids get the right coursework is a big part of the counselors’ jobs, but they make other important contributions. They are there to support and guide students in situations where they are dealing with high levels of anxiety and stress, and we know depression in kids is at an all time high. Counselors also need to be able to help students deal with issues like the complexity of sexual orientation and gender identification. And with COVID-19, they are dealing with a student population that is struggling right now.

You name the issue, and it’s something that our counselors are dealing with daily. That’s why we need people in the job who are kind-hearted and supportive and who understand the landscape of what kids are going through.

I tell my teachers all the time that they need to understand where their expertise ends and where a counselor’s expertise begins. Maybe it’s a small situation where a student isn’t getting to school on time, or they’re not turning their work in on time, or their body language has changed. Teachers can use the counselor as their first referral. They can’t necessarily deal with all those issues in the classroom, since first and foremost they are there to ensure that students learn.

I’m still a licensed counselor, and I often draw on the counseling perspective in my job. I use those professional skills in how I approach conversations and situations, and in how I listen to gather information and figure out the best entry point into what can be difficult conversations. Those skills help me work with parents in a way that honors their desires for their children while honoring the direction that the school must go in to make sure students are successful.

I just can’t stress enough the importance of school counselors, and my appreciation for all that they do. They are foundational to a vibrant student body and a vibrant school, and they are foundational to the success of students, working alongside teachers, principals, and parents.

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