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School counselors are vital to the well-being, happiness, and educational success of young people across the US. In the past, as a rule, these specialists were generally based “on-site” in offices within the schools themselves.
Today, however, more and more professionals manage their work online. A significant number of jobs harnessed remote technologies in order to protect employees following the outbreak of COVID-19, and a large number of organizations maintain these practices to this day.
In this article, we’ll explore the role of the school counselor, discuss why their duties may need to be performed remotely, lay out a few of the benefits of online working, and examine a range of popular forms of online counseling.
Finally, we’ll delve into the training and qualifications required to become a school counselor.
Why do schools have counselors?
Something akin to school counseling – vocational guidance – was first introduced into schools in the early 20th Century. It was mainly designed to help students to decide on their future career paths and help them to determine the achievements and qualifications they would require in order to qualify.
Today, school counselors have a much wider workload. We’ll delve a little more into what that usually involves in the section below. However, here we’ll discuss why the role exists within educational institutions and how the school counselor has become a key member of staff.
As time goes on, our understanding of child and adolescent psychology has vastly improved. We have always known that the school years can be a very challenging time for young people, but today we have far greater knowledge of behavioral and emotional development than ever before.
At school, young people form friendships and relationships, begin to come to grips with their own identity, come to understand and process rules and morality, and face some of the toughest challenges of their lives so far.
Grades and tests can put a huge strain on young people. Fear of failure or of standing out from their friends in terms of their performance can leave a mark that lasts.
It is also during their school years that students really begin to become aware of their physical development – something that can cause embarrassment and confusion.
They may experience their first feelings of attraction and rejection. They may become curious about their sexuality. They may be teased or even bullied. They will start to become aware of the wider world – of national and global politics – which can often be divisive and scary.
They will also start to look into their futures and start to make plans about their careers and lifestyles.
While teachers are able to offer a certain amount of support and mentorship, their chief role is to educate within their set subject. For this reason, schools appoint counselors to advise and guide young people through this turbulent time in their lives.
What does a school counselor do?
School counselors provide vital holistic support to students of almost any age. They are hired by schools to help mitigate the personal barriers faced by young people and so require a wide range of skills, qualifications, and forms of experience to provide the best possible service.
They apply specialist techniques to help students:
- Improve their interpersonal skills
- Understand and handle their own emotions
- Work through difficulties with friendships
- Manage their responses to problems stemming from their home lives
- Work on their academic performance and develop methods to improve it
- Make plans and set goals
- Decide on their next steps in their education
In addition, counselors may refer students to other services if they feel the requirement is there.
They may also advocate for them in different areas of their school life, work alongside students’ family members and school staff in deciding how to handle certain issues, record and analyze data relating to the most common issues presented by school attendees, and make decisions on how to solve them.
Not only do they provide listening services and support to young people who are struggling, but many counselors are tasked with designing and implementing school counseling programs and delivering sessions for full classes, like any other teacher within the school system.
School counselors are employed in elementary, middle, and high schools, and colleges and universities have their own equivalents.
There are many reasons why students might decide to visit a counselor, both inside and outside of school, and these reasons may vary depending on their particular needs and the type of institution they are attending.
Why remote counseling may be necessary
As we mentioned above, remote working has become the norm in a wide range of sectors. Although a great deal of teaching was done online at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, most educators, students, and families find the in-person school experience to be far more effective.
However, many adjacent roles, such as that of the school counselor, are often now undertaken remotely. Some combine in-person duties with online activity.
There are a number of reasons for this. One is that, in many cases, counseling sessions are managed on a “one-to-one” basis. This means that the pressures of controlling a large class remotely are reduced.
In addition, it removes restrictions related to time and location. Depending on how sessions are arranged, students may be able to select a time that is more suitable for them. Where family members are asked to be involved, this also means that meetings can be worked around their other duties such as work and childcare.
In situations where a problem is keeping a young person from attending school, they may still reach out to the counselor remotely to discuss their concerns.
Many people who are struggling with emotional or psychological issues may find face-to-face interaction difficult. An interesting further benefit of remote counseling is the creation of a comforting barrier, making it potentially more likely that anxious students will attend sessions.
There are also operational and financial matters to consider. If a counselor is not based in a school, they, therefore, do not require an office, and the space may be used in other ways.
Also, the risk of future pandemics remains, and providing a more flexible method of working helps schools in the planning for potential emergencies of this kind.
Below, we’ll discuss a few of the ways in which a school counselor may be able to provide their services remotely.
Virtual counseling sessions
This approach may be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about remote working methods for school counselors.
Using video conferencing software, it is possible to maintain a personal element. Counselors can better read the expressions of the students with whom they are speaking, and, in turn, students can be reassured that there is a real person on the other end of the call, listening to them and taking their words seriously.
Video chats can be supplemented with screen-sharing technology and email (discussed further below) to provide reference material, helpful infographics, and worksheets.
In addition, multiple people can attend a single counseling session simultaneously, which means that full classes or numerous family members can still benefit from group work.
Of course, virtual counseling does rely on students having a suitable internet connection in their homes and being willing and able to attend sessions at set times.
These times may be discussed with students and their parents, but this method, as with many remote approaches, does pose a certain risk in that attendance is not assured.
Creating an online chat function is another excellent way for counselors to interact with students on a remote basis. As they are not face-to-face, they may work well for students who struggle with opening up in person.
They are also extremely quick and easy to access and do not require appointments to be made at particular times. This means that students can message any time of the day or night – during or outside of school hours.
Of course, school counselors may not be available around the clock. However, online chat functions can be programmed to share relevant signposting material and information out of hours, as well as contact details for certain services in case of emergencies.
It must be noted that automated systems are not – and should never be – a replacement for human-to-human advice and assistance. However, they may be useful tools to provide aid to those who need it even at times when direct interpersonal contact is not possible.
These resources make excellent additions to school intranet systems and provide a great way for students to receive quick, straightforward answers and guidance without having to wait.
Webinars and workshops
Under the “virtual counseling sessions” section above, we briefly mentioned the idea of group, class, or family sessions.
Online webinars and workshops are a great way to reach multiple students at once, whether they are a class, an entire year group, or just a number of young people experiencing interpersonal issues with one another.
These sessions may be run live, or they may be pre-recorded. The latter makes a superb asset for any teacher or school administrator as they may be used whenever a situation calls for it.
Workshops may include specially designed materials such as worksheets, quizzes, informative handouts and more, all tailored to match the material presented.
A range of interactive online resources may also be used to support the process, making webinars and workshops more dynamic and engaging and offering a further dimension that is difficult to achieve in an in-person environment.
It may also be possible to monitor engagement with sessions of this kind, helping ensure that all attendees are learning actively.
Again, a good internet connection is required to ensure full efficacy. While webinars may be designed for independent engagement at a time that suits the viewer, workshops may require group engagement and so are likely to require appointments at times that suit everyone involved.
One of the simplest ways in which students may engage with counselors is via email. While this option does not come with the dynamic resources offered by other methods in this list, it still offers significant versatility when it comes to time.
Students can email their counselors at any time of the day or night. Again, as with online chat, counselors may not be available in person 24 hours per day; however, when they are unable to respond, it is possible for them to set up automatic replies containing useful signposting material.
Email is a superb way for students who are nervous about face-to-face interaction to reach out to a counselor. It also enables the counselor to prioritize cases and responses and to develop a “paper trail” for their own reference – a record of all suggested solutions and advice that have been provided to date regarding a single case.
While some people struggle with phone conversations – particularly about their mental health and well-being – others find it far preferable to a face-to-face meeting or a series of written messages, as it has the personal touch of direct conversation without the intimacy of seeing facial expressions.
This form of remote counseling is particularly useful for students who wish to communicate with counselors outside of school hours. Of course, it is vital that the counselor has a dedicated phone number available for the sole purpose of providing support of this kind.
As with methods like email and live chat, counselors may not be able to provide a 24-hour service of this kind. However, they may be able to set up answering machine messages that offer signposting information or a phone menu system that can help to refer a caller to a specific service if their issue is urgent.
Surveys and assessments
Online surveys can be exceptionally helpful for counselors. Resources of this kind can be made accessible on the school’s website or intranet system or on the counselor’s own site, if they have one. Of course, all surveys and assessment documents must be made as accessible and straightforward as possible. A long-form can be a severe friction point for a young person who is simply trying to reach out for help.
However, using this option is a great way for counselors to assess students and decide which type of support they may need. They will have a record of all responses given and can use this to inform their next steps. One vital issue regarding resources of this kind is data protection. Any counseling forms filled out by students seeking guidance or assistance must be kept entirely confidential and must be stored as securely as possible.
Qualifying as a school counselor
You may be reading this article because you are wondering how to become a school counselor. We’ll be going through the steps below to help you plan your own journey as effectively as possible. It is worth noting that the precise licensing and qualification methods for school counselors vary from state to state. However, a degree from a reputable university such as St. Bonaventure University will be to your benefit. The flexibility and comprehensive nature of their Online Master’s in School Counseling Education (MSED) will teach students how to communicate with children through play therapy and theoretical frameworks.
How long does an MSED in school counseling take?
Most MSED courses take two years to complete, and this time can be distributed in whatever manner suits your additional commitments.
One of the best things about an MSED in School Counseling is that many courses of this kind are available to attend online. This means that, no matter where you’re based, you will not need to up and move to a new city. You can manage every element of your further education from home. Universities like St. Bonaventure provide online courses that retain all of the components of a traditional course without the burden of relocation or disrupting existing work or family commitments too much.
In addition, you can study at a time that suits you, fitting all of your schoolwork around employment, childcare, and other duties and responsibilities. It’s also more affordable. No commuting is required, and you don’t need to pay for accommodation away from home during term time. Many MSED courses offer internship placement options, so there is also the possibility of in-person learning if you require it.
The future of school counseling
A career as a school counselor is an exceptionally rewarding one. You will be supporting young people throughout their formative years, helping them to make decisions that will shape their future and helping them to deal with challenges that are key to their development as people.
As technology progresses, its impact on our working lives will continue to be profound. For this reason, as you study for your qualification as a school counselor, it is extremely important that you continue to study its impact on your role and how you may be able to integrate new elements into your work.