What Makes School Counselors Special?

In honor of National School Counseling week, a list of traits, qualities, and attributes that I believe make school counselors a unique, critical, integral, and valued part of a school community.

  1. They are specialized educators who have a deep passion and knowledge about school counseling.  School counselors are educators who have a master of education in school counseling.  They have passed board certification and are members of a professional school counseling organization (ASCA and ISCA shout out).  School counselors made the choice to become a school counselor because they believe in the value and impact of counseling in the academic setting.  They did not just “get” the job because they were “nice” or “smiled a lot” (though both of those do tend to be true statements).
  2. They appreciate silence.  Counselors are great at allowing space for silence.  Long.Awkward.Painful.Silence.  We know that silence allows time for reflection, thoughts to be formulated, and for honest response that might not be shared if silence is not allowed.  We can sit in silence and appreciate it for all that might be happening in that space and time.  We don’t feel out of place with it but actually relish the power that silence has.
  3. They are a perfect balance between being empathetic and pragmatic.  Counselors are not bleeding hearts.  It is a common misperception that we are overly-emotional, highly-sensitive individuals who can solely focus on feelings and emotions.  Not exactly true.  We might have a highly developed sense of empathy but we also have the ability to put emotion aside to focus at the issue at hand.  We set aside emotion to support a student and focus on solutions.  We use logic and reasoning to support a student, staff, or parent in crisis without becoming the crisis.  While we understand empathy, we realize that being too empathetic hinders a counselor from doing her/his job.
  4. They are experts at unpacking.  School counselors help unpack thoughts, ideas, problems.  They help unpack questions, concerns, and conflicts.  They help unpack anger, sadness, and frustration.  They unpack all day everyday to help people think about their thinking and make sense of what direction to head next.
  5. They are highly skilled at time management, triage, and organization.  Like I have mentioned before, a school counselor’s time is not her/his own.  Being able to assess a situation and prioritize tasks is a regular part of a school counselor’s job. While there might be a general idea of what a day will hold, being able to adapt to support students is what the role is all about.  Finding times and ways to flex your schedule and work-load is not a point of stress for counselors — just a norm.  Rescheduling a meeting, canceling a group session, and putting guidance planning on hold — all with a smile on your face — is easily done if it means supporting students.
  6. They feel comfortable on the iceberg.  School counselors have a very unique role where still many people do not understand what they “do.”  Typically they have a team of one other person or maybe they even are the sole counselor in the school.  Due to confidentiality, they do not share much about what happened during their day.  They are not teachers but not administration.  School counselors are floating around on their lonely little iceberg and you know what — it’s okay.  It’s okay because passion drives them and keeps them centered on the big picture of knowing that students are supported and achieving academic success because of their unique place and role.  Yes, it might be a little lonely or frustrating at times to not quite “fit in” with any one school group, but overall — the ice is nice.
  7. They have perfected the face. The face that says “I do not judge.”  The face that says, “I am open and willing to listen.”  The face that holds back bias, frustration, anger, pain, fear, joy, excitement, sadness, etc., from whomever is sitting across from you, sharing with you, confiding with you.  It’s not that we don’t show emotion.  It’s that we have learned that showing our feelings can halt the process.  So, we sit in neutrality and show that on our face.
  8. They trust the process.  School counselors know that we are just one little piece of a big puzzle for many of our students.  We do not expect revolutionary change.  We do not expect miracles.  We trust that there is value in the work we do and that we are positively impacting the students and school community even if we never see major or direct results.
  9. They know they are bigger than the word guidance.  Guidance is an outdated, antiquated term that refers to getting people into post-secondary education.  School counseling is a comprehensive program where trained, certified individuals support all school stakeholders in the academic, social-emotional, career, and global (internationally) domains.  We are not antiquated.  We are current.  We are the future.


The list could go on an on.  Maybe I am biased but I still believe that school counselors are vital pieces of the school community web.

Why do you appreciate your school counselor?  

What is a skill they possess that makes them a key stakeholder at your school?   

A Question to Determine Motivation for Change

Change cannot be forced.

I am a firm believer that change can only happen for an individual when they want to change.  As a counselor, I often work with students on developing pro-social and positive behaviors (re: changing behaviors from undesirable behaviors to more desirable behaviors).  With teachers, I consult and provide feedback around areas of concern with specific students or groups of students (re: changing current practices to better align with student needs).  With parents I meet to discuss strategies to help a student academically, behaviorally, and socially both inside the school and inside the home (re: changing specific systems in place to maintain continuity for the student).  A large majority of my counseling discussions center around change — changing behaviors, interactions, norms, conversations, and expectations.   For change to occur the student, parent, or teacher must have motivation to change.  This individual needs to see the value of change or understand what in the long term what would be different or better if change occurred.  There has to be a drive to want to change — motivation.  In other words, I cannot — no matter how hard I try — force another individual to change.

Change can be challenging especially if a certain behavior or pattern is working for you.  Change takes time, energy, and investment.  It also takes a future vision of what life would be like after things change.  Without this vision, the need for change might be unclear.  Therefore, I have come to realize that before jumping into a support plan with a student or teacher, there is value in asking a simple question.  That question is:

“Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make things different for you?”  

If the answer is “yes,” then we have someone who is willing to put in the work and reflection (however long that may be) to change their current behaviors, actions, responses, situation, etc.  If the answer is yes, as a counselor I know that the work that will be done to create meaningful, lasting change will be mutual.  I will not be working harder for change than the student or teacher and the outcome for the individual is usually much more positive and sustainable.

If after asking the question, the student or teacher responds with a “no” or “I’m not sure” then this is a good indicator that the individual is not fully motivated to change.  The current behaviors, situations, or interactions are working and changing might be too big, scary, or overwhelming.  Perhaps the vision of the future (post-change) is cloudy or unclear.  The individual might not fully understand the benefit of changing, at this point.  

If the response is “no” I do not lose hope.  Rather, I typically thank the person for her/his honesty.  Then, I remind the individual that the only person who can change is the person him/herself.  So, at this time, what the “no” response tells me is that I am going to be doing work for the student or teacher instead of with the teacher.  I typically let the teacher or student know that they should go and reflect for a few days on:

  1. What the individual would like to see differently?
  2. If change occurs, how would life be different (better, improve)?
  3. What the individual is willing to do to for things to be different?

Over time, most people realize that work has to be done for change to occur — hard work and self-reflection.  I have found that sometimes hours, sometimes days, or sometimes months have to pass.  However, more often than not a situation occurs that causes the motivation for a student or teacher to change and make something better for her/himself. Then, when I ask the question, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make things different for you?” the answer has become a solid yes.  Let the counseling support begin!