The guidance counselor is one person at school who wears many hats. “They are in the building as a support, and they do a great job of helping kids when they have bumps on the road whether it is from transitioning from one school to another or dealing with divorce or bereavement,” says Anthony Lunceford, executive director for secondary operations and former principal at Houston County Schools.
When a child comes to middle school or high school, the guidance counselor is one of the first people he meets. “The counselor reaches out to the child right away, helps him ease his mind, and gives him coping skills on how to deal with situations as it relates to what he is trying to do in the classroom,” says Lunceford. This is one way the counselor attempts to build trust.
The most important thing your child should know is that the guidance office is a safe place to go to talk. “The counselor does not assign grades or discipline; she truly is a child advocate, and I call it a win-win situation,” says Dr. Kim Halstead, principal at Tucker Elementary School. Parents should know the counselor is there for them too. “Parents come in and use the counselors’ services as much as the kids. They may say their child is struggling and ask what the counselor suggests or talk about the child’s social and emotional well-being,” says Halstead.
Issues are often age and grade-dependent. “Lower and elementary schools are about being nervous about school, developing good study habits, friendships, and relationships. Middle and high schools are about preparing for graduation, going to college, and being given avenues and contacts,” says Lunceford. Usually, no one else in the school is as equipped with the knowledge to deal with crisis, loss, or organizational difficulties.
You may spot the counselor in the classroom. They do mini-lessons about bullying, study skills, and sexual behavior. They also reach out to children who have problems with relationships. “Kids are so young that they do not know how to phrase their needs. That is why you need the counselor to analyze in the midst of the conversation what the real problem is or what they really need,” says Halstead. Getting organized is another common concern. The counselor works on goal setting and celebrates when students meet goals. “The counselors have parties to recognize leadership in our school and highlight success in a really fun way,” says Halstead.
The guidance counselor is excellent for conflict resolution. “If a kid struggles with staying on task, instead of being reprimanded by an administrator, the counselor would meet with him and nine times out of ten he will get to the root of the problem,” says Lunceford. If a child wants to seek out their help, they are readily available and can even be reached anonymously. “There are mailboxes where kids can put a note if they are not comfortable talking,” says Lunceford. If a child is having trouble with a peer, he does not have to go to the counselor alone. “You can meet in groups with the counselor and see a healthy way to solve the problem so it is not a punitive situation,” says Halstead. The counselor will help him settle conflicts, see differences, and understand how to get along with different types of people.
Empathy is an integral part of guidance. “Counselors try to convey understanding of how another person feels, and they promote positive relationships. They help students understand that another student might not feel like them and might get their feelings hurt when they say something,” says Halstead. Be sure that you appreciate the counselor for all that she does. “People underestimate that not just anyone can walk in and be an elementary school counselor. It is really a unique, highly trained, critical job,” says Halstead.
Without the guidance counselor, school is an empty place. “Sometimes when the counselor is out, children choose to wait until she comes back because they want to talk to her rather than anyone else because they have forged such a positive relationship,” says Halstead.
Guidance counselors leave a lasting impression on students. “It is really a complex job that on the outside looks easy but on the inside, if done right, really influences the culture of the school in an incredible way,” says Halstead.