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What’s Your Child’s School Counselor Up To These Days?

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Over the course of my twenty-year elementary school counseling career, I found that the job description changed considerably. At first, our primary focus was on individual students with difficulties relating to behavior or underachievement. Later, it also became the norm for us to provide classroom guidance lessons on a regular basis.

So far so good. Classroom lessons not only provide the general student body with information on topics ranging from bullying to test taking skills, but make us highly visible and familiar to students. Counselors in the classroom make us more accessible.

As the job description became explicitly about providing services for the whole school, we became program coordinators too, including applying for grants and keeping track of funding. Examples: mediator, student host, and patrol programs; character education club; parenting classes held in the evenings; and coordinating career day, with months of advance preparation to arrange for outside speakers, parent invitations, catering … even the timely arrivals of a fire truck and helicopter!

Any one of these programs is beneficial when considered separately. Yet once a program is added to a counselor’s to do list, it’s almost always expected from then on.

Personally, I feel that in many school districts counselors now wear so many hats that the focus on individual students who are most in need of help is being lost. Within the profession, it’s well known that we often place children in small groups not necessarily because we feel that’s the best setting for them, but because we don’t have enough twenty to thirty minute blocks available for individuals during the course of a week to consider doing otherwise.

And it’s individual attention that I’ve generally found to be most effective in fostering improvement among students who require substantial emotional and behavioral support. At the elementary level, providing such attention can even serve a quasi parental role in family situations where parent availability and ability to monitor the child’s behavior and schoolwork is limited.

The behavior of one or two students can sap a teacher’s time and attention and negatively impact learning for an entire classroom. I believe that reducing the disruptive and underachieving behavior of the most disruptive and least motivated children truly does represent a whole school service by helping to foster an environment more conducive to learning for all.

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