In most schools, the administration team and school counselors work closely with one another. But it can be challenging for administrators to understand the full scope of the school counselor’s role. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding can leave a lot of opportunities on the table.

It’s easy to see why it’s so confusing. School counseling roles are less clearly identifiable than a teacher or custodian—you’d know if the students weren’t in class or if the trash weren’t emptied. But would you know if your school counselor was meeting your school’s needs? The following are ways to ensure you as school leaders get the most out of partnering with school counselors.

1. Be mindful of the school counselor’s office location.

Please stop putting school counselors in the closet. This request is only partly tongue-in-cheek. School counselors are often seen as superfluous because they aren’t teaching a class or assigning grades. As a result, many school counselors don’t have the office space they deserve. In fact, some may work out of closets—literally. The message this sends to the counselor and everyone that sees them working from an inadequate space is that they and their position are not valued.

I like to compare a school counselor’s work to that of a stagehand. While the audience doesn’t actually see a stagehand pulling the curtains at the theater, it couldn’t see the show without them. Which brings me to my next point—if you want to know what a school counselor is doing, look at their data.

2. A school counselor wishes you’d look at their data.

If you are working with your school counselors correctly, your achievement scores are going up, and your absence and discipline rates are going down. Seriously. School counselors run the numbers on everything they do to ensure it’s worth doing again. If we host a group and the discipline, achievement, and attendance metrics stay the same, it’s probably not worth hosting that type of group again. But sometimes, we knock it out of the park, and that’s when we need to replicate our approach. I taught a new school counselor how to process her data, and she discovered that the discipline rate (being sent to the office, receiving write-ups for behavior infractions, etc.) for the six students she’d hosted in small groups had decreased by 82%. An 82% decrease is a huge success and worthy of significant replication.

School counselors have knowledge on numerous topics. Don’t waste their expertise by having them attend the mandatory teacher nights where they’ll sit alone. Ask them to host workshops for your staff or your families. 

School counselors should show school leaders their data, and school leaders should review it. If you’re unsure where to start, review ASCA’s Annual Administrative Conference with your school counselor at the beginning of the school year to ensure their goals align with the school’s goals. Also, attend your school counselor’s bi-annual advisory council meetings, where they review their data with stakeholders. If you want to make them feel extra special, give them a snack budget for their advisory council, and when you show up, listen and take notes. Remember, it is not your meeting, but your presence there shows that what they are doing is valuable. The amount of goodwill this will buy you is endless.

3. Stop assigning students to your school counselor’s caseload.

School counselors use a tiered approach to support every student. We see every student through whole school programs and large group lessons, but only some students are appropriate for small group meetings, and even fewer are suitable for individual sessions.

Think of our jobs as lite triage. We often only see a student at most five or six times as they face particular challenges, and we need to have goals for each of our sessions with them—a counseling plan of action. We aren’t just seeing kids who want to see us. And we don’t need to be “assigned” daily check-ins with students because our roles are often so varied that we can’t commit to being available at the same time every day.

4. Let your school counselor play.

Don’t worry if you see the school counselor playing Candy Land or shooting hoops with a student. Yes, they’re still working. Play is a natural medium for counselors to connect with students.

Our interactions with students are deliberate, and rapport-building is essential. We want students to know they have a safe space to process their emotions when they fail a test or get their hearts broken. It looks like they’re “getting out of class” to hang out with the school counselor, but they’re getting the support and guidance they need to grow.

Elishia Basner, a former school counselor and director of The School Counseling Tribe.

5. School counselors are not hosts or disciplinarians.

Please don’t assign your school counselors to host IEP or student support-team meetings. Those are not appropriate roles. They will happily attend if that student is on their caseload, but it is outside their scope of practice to host the meetings or manage the scheduling or filing.

It’s never suitable for school counselors to assign discipline to students. However, it is well within our scope of practice to host restorative meetings or offer mediation.

6. School counselors are not testing coordinators.

Serving as a testing coordinator is antithetical to who I am, and that’s probably true for most school counselors. We are feelings people, not numbers people.

When I hosted testing as a high school counselor, the counseling office was closed while sorting through the thousands of confidential documents. It was only with some luck that I stepped outside the counseling suite one time during testing to find a student in distress. Closing the office meant I nearly missed seeing this student, who was actively suicidal.

7. Don’t assign a duty.

Committing a school counselor to a specific time and place is a recipe for a missed duty. The school counselor’s work is often unpredictable. We never know when a student will go into crisis, so we need to be able to respond promptly.

School counselors who are worth their salt won’t need a “duty” assigned because they are everywhere. Effective school counselors welcome students at the school building doors in the morning and greet them at the end of the day as they depart; they walk through the cafeteria during lunch and stroll down the hall during class changes. They’re taking full advantage of the walking office.

8. Let school counselors teach stakeholders.

School counselors have knowledge on numerous topics. Don’t waste their expertise by having them attend the mandatory teacher nights where they’ll sit alone. Ask them to host workshops for your staff or your families.

As a high school counselor, I would host several first-year orientation nights. I would prepare those students and their parents for the shift from parent-driven communication to student-led. I would welcome each family at the door and hand the introductory packet to each student, not the parent. It was a subtle shift, but parents noticed it. My job as a school counselor was to help students recognize that their decisions as freshmen would impact them as adults later.

Below are a few topics that school counselors might cover:

• Helping families improve communication skills
• Helping stakeholders learn to prevent crisis situations
• Teaching coping and emotional regulation strategies
• Teaching families how to save money for college
• Teaching study skills and ACT/SAT prep courses
• Preparing students/families for college
• Educating families on ways to protect their children online
• Teaching stakeholders the warning signs of suicidal ideation

I was surprised to learn that so few of my middle and high school counseling colleagues weren’t allowed time in the classrooms to teach students. The skills they can share with students are invaluable. Being able to pause and breathe through your anger is equally as valuable as learning a quadratic equation. Give your school counselors time to teach and then watch all the metrics that matter for success improve.

9. Include school counselors in leadership.

School counselors have a unique perspective and often see patterns that others might miss. Teachers can see things within their classroom and grade level more thoroughly than most, but they can’t see how all the pieces work together.

School counselors might recognize entry barriers into honors or AP courses, grade-level issues, or know about teacher retention issues. Maximize your school counselor’s impact by including them in leadership meetings.

10. Build capacity.

If a school counselor is not the right fit, you have two options: Build capacity or give them an exit ticket off the bus.

Build scaffolding for your school counselors, support their efforts to attend professional development, and be clear with your expectations. You will be disappointed if you walk into their office, throw fairy dust, and hope the changes you just requested magically manifest. Despite what you may have heard, school counselors do not have magic wands. Check in regularly to ensure they have the support to follow through on your requests.

Bonus: Remember, you’re on the same team. A good school leader and school counselor combo can make a great school. School leaders and school counselors are responsible for interacting with all stakeholders. This responsibility means that mistakes are amplified, but so are successes. You now have the tools you need to ensure an effective partnership. Good luck, team.

Elishia Basner, MS, is an author, speaker, and former school counselor. She is the founder and director of The School Counseling Tribe, an online platform that provides school counselors and parents with resources to better support children. Learn more at