Guest Author: Lacey Wallace, M.Ed., LGPC, NCC
When I tell people I am a school counselor, they respond with “Oh, you’re a guidance counselor? I barely remember my guidance counselor.” School counselors are often perceived as the schedule changers or the gatekeepers of college dreams. On the contrary, I believe school counselors are the most untapped resource in the schoolhouse, not only for students but also for parents/guardians.
School counselors were formerly called “guidance counselors” as their focus was solely on course selection and career guidance. The profession has transformed over the years to respond to the needs of students and provide mental health counseling and support. The 21st Century School Counselor develops a program that addresses the social emotional, academic, and college and career needs of all students. School counselors analyze data to create programs and interventions that address the needs of students and families. They advocate for equity and systemic change to create inclusive, welcoming environments where all students can learn.
School counselors help students to develop attitudes, skills, and knowledge to ensure success after high school through classroom lessons on topics like stress management, goal setting, conflict resolution, empathy, and career exploration. School counselors conduct group counseling for students having trouble regulating emotions, experiencing grief, or planning for college and career. School counselors assist individual students when they have difficulty with organization, transitions, or school avoidance. School counselors provide interventions that are brief in nature due to the size of their caseload but are also a convenient resource for community referrals like counseling, financial assistance, and extracurricular activities. In the event long-term counseling is more appropriate for the child, school counselors (with permission) can coordinate directly with community counselors to ensure the most appropriate supports are implemented at school and provide updates about the child’s progress.
School counselors are a great place to start for parents/guardians who aren’t sure whether their child’s experience is developmentally appropriate or a cause for concern. They have training in child development and understand the cognitive and social demands of the school day. School counselors are knowledgeable about community resources and appropriate school supports and interventions, as well as understand the warning signs for concerns like depression, anxiety, and suicide. I remember a parent calling me during the school day because her daughter was texting her from the bathroom asking to be picked up because someone made fun of her in class. I assured the parent that I would fish her daughter out of the bathroom and see if her daughter was able to get calm enough to stay in school, while letting her know that I would follow-up to share the outcome.
There are also times when circumstances change at home or something happens that disrupts a child’s day-to-day routine or functioning like parental separation, the death of a loved one or pet, a new baby at home, or news of a sudden move. Oftentimes, families like to keep information private while school staff wish they knew so they could proactively address changes in behavior. It is completely understandable that families might want to keep information private during challenging times. School counselors can work with families to keep confidentiality while providing just enough information to teachers to create supports at school to ensure success for the child. As a middle school counselor, it was so helpful to know if a student’s family was separating so we could make plans for homework completion and organization to prevent the child from experiencing academic challenges at school due to recent familial changes.
If your child is having trouble transitioning at the start of the school year, tackling organization, or struggling to get to school on time because they don’t want to go, call your child’s school counselor. If your child is struggling academically and you think there may be something more going on, call the school to set up a conference with not only the teachers, but include the school counselor. Even if the concern is not one your child’s school counselor is equipped to address, they will surely provide you with guidance and suggestions for next steps. Wishing you and your child a great school year! …but if you find that it’s not so great at times, call the school counselor.
Author: Lacey Wallace, M.Ed., LGPC, NCC
Lacey Wallace is a School Counseling Specialist and a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor in Maryland. She worked as an elementary and a middle school counseling department chair before becoming a School Counseling Specialist. She works with school counselors, providing consultation and professional development. Lacey has contributed to professional school counseling literature and consults with local schools as they develop data-driven counseling programs. Lacey is also a private practice counselor who specializes in working with children and adolescents facing transitions, anxiety, depression, suicidality, self-regulation, and executive functioning concerns in the private practice setting.