School counselors are proactive in the classroom
Describing the role of school counselors, Frank Shockley uses two key words: “proactive” and “triage.” They’ll always respond to whatever issue a child or school is facing. But, more than ever, they’re trying to teach life skills before the problems can arise.
National School Counseling Week is Feb. 3 to 7, to celebrate the unique contributions of school counselors and their impact on student success.
They cover academics, behavior and possibly more mental health than ever. It is a singular position — not a teacher or administrator, but definitely a team player.
“We’re like the middleman for all of it — that’s kind of our role,” said Shockley, a school counselor and vice president of the Delaware School Counselor Association (DSCA).
There’s been a shifting mindset, and job description, from “guidance counselor” to “school counselor” in the last decade or so.
So, what’s in a name? It’s the idea of being reactive versus proactive.
“The mentality of a guidance counselor years ago was ‘I’m going to react when something comes up, but I’m not going to do preventative and proactive work to make sure that things don’t happen,’” Shockley said.
“School counselors — we are proactive. We are focusing on behavior, we are focusing on social/emotional [issues]. We are focused on the whole child, not just one aspect,” he said. “We wear so many hats in our schools.”
Not only Shockley does work with elementary- and middle-schoolers at Southern Delaware School of the Arts (SDSA), he actually teaches classroom lessons.
Lessons are age-appropriate: how to be a good friend in second grade; interpreting emotions and non-verbal behavior in fourth grade; and resolving conflict or advocating for oneself in seventh grade.
If students have trouble with these concepts, Shockley might host a smaller, eight-week discussion group on that topic, such as discipline/disrespect or building social skills.
Schools also look for trends in their data, such as attendance, academics or behavior.
“We use that to tell the story of what’s happening. Maybe fourth grade needs some more lessons on being a kind friend,” Shockley said. “Data can tell you if there’s a small group that needs to be formed. It could even just be a small group that talks about attendance and why you need to be here at school … something informal and supportive.”
But counselors are not therapists (unless they also train for that certification).
“Our role is short-term,” said Shockley.
Personally, if he notices a significant issue after about five one-on-one sessions with a student, he may suggest that a district therapist or mental health counselor get involved.
“A lot of times, school counselors are triage” who can identify what steps are needed next.
Of course, high school counselors also need to get those ninth-graders to graduation and prepare them for life after that. But there’s a more comprehensive outlook, besides college, career and academics.
School counselors aim to put “tools in their toolbox.” So Shockley is proud to see kids use the skills and coping mechanisms that they have learned.
Shockley said he loves education, but counseling is his niche. Having earned his master’s degree in 2015, he now teaches online courses for the next crop of counselors. He is one of many Indian River School District graduates who returned to work for the district.
All IRSD schools have least one regular counselor (and usually more). IRSD also employs 20 mental-health counselors, 11 school psychologists and a variety of specialized staff for physical, mental or educational needs.
By Laura Walter