National School Counseling Week Resource Guide (2021)

This year’s National School Counseling Week will be celebrated from February 1-5, 2021. Sponsored by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), National School Counseling Week aims to bring public attention to the unique contribution of school counselors within US school systems, and how students are impacted by what school counselors do.

Nationwide, more than 100,000 school counselors will participate in the week’s festivities, with many schools hosting events and activities that highlight the benefits of a comprehensive school counseling program. This year’s theme for National School Counseling Week is “School Counselors: All In for All Students.”

It’s hard to overstate the importance of today’s school counselors. From championing student success to unlocking student potential to helping students and families navigate the path to postsecondary education and a meaningful career—to everything in between—the compassionate and complex work of school counselors changes lives for the better every single day.

To get a deeper look at who school counselors are, what impact they have, which pressing issues they face, and all the ways that you can get involved in National School Counseling Week, read on.

Meet the Expert: Eric Sparks, EdD, CAE

Dr. Eric Sparks is Deputy Executive Director for the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). He earned his master’s of education (MEd) in school counseling from North Carolina State University, and his doctorate of education (EdD) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Sparks previously served as a high school counselor and as Director of School Counseling for the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina.

Who Are School Counselors?

School counselors are highly educated, professionally certified individuals who help students succeed in school and plan their careers. Over the years, the roles and responsibilities of school counselors have matured and evolved; today, they’re an integral part of the total education system. The schoolwide programs that school counselors implement have a significant impact on improving student achievement and attendance, while also reducing issues with discipline.

“School counseling is 100-plus years old,” says Eric Sparks, EdD, Deputy Executive Director for ASCA. “Starting as vocation guidance in the early 1900s, school counseling has shifted from a job position to a service and finally to an organized K-12 schoolwide program that improves outcomes for all students.”

The modern framework for school counseling is the ASCA National Model, which provides consistency and standardization for school counseling programs across the country. The National Model emphasizes the use of data-driven methods to quantify the impact school counselors have on student achievement and success.

But data-driven doesn’t mean impersonal: school counselors are focused on teaching students the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to succeed academically and to be prepared for post-secondary education and careers.

“By implementing a school counseling program, school counselors encourage all students to develop mindsets for success, such as a positive attitude toward work and learning, self-confidence in their ability to succeed, and using their personal abilities to their fullest,” Dr. Sparks says. “School counselors also teach all students behaviors to help them succeed throughout their K-12 experience and to be prepared for the next steps in life.”

What Impact Do School Counselors Have?

School counselors help students form healthy goals, mindsets, and behaviors. With the aid of a school counselor, students learn to develop effective collaboration and cooperation skills, to practice perseverance, to develop time management and study skills, and to learn self-motivation and self-direction habits.

“Research is clear that students must use these mindsets and behaviors to achieve the high standards set in academic curricula and to be successful at home, in the workplace, and in the community,” Dr. Sparks says.

Research also backs up the importance and efficacy of the work of school counselors. A 2012 analysis of six statewide studies, published in ASCA’s peer-reviewed journal, Professional School Counseling, found significant improvements in student learning and behavioral outcomes when school counselors were empowered within comprehensive, data-driven school counseling programs. A 2012 study of Missouri high schools also found that students who have greater access to school counselors are more likely to succeed academically and behaviorally in school.

In dozens of different cases, academic research has shown that school counselors and school counseling programs, when properly and effectively implemented, have a positive impact on students’ academic development, college and career readiness, and social-emotional development. The more access students have to school counselors, the better they perform.

What Are the Top Issues for School Counselors?

Reducing Student-to-Counselor Ratios

Academic research has emphasized the importance of students’ access to school counselors. But in many settings, the ratio of students to school counselors is so high that it prevents school counselors from engaging with each student at the appropriate level.

ASCA recommends a ratio of no more than 250 students to every school counselor. Unfortunately, only two states currently meet that standard; the national average is 430 students for every school counselor. Reducing the ratio further will allow school counselors to have a more measurable impact on student attendance, student wellbeing, and student test scores.

Supporting Appropriate Use of Time

As evidenced by the high student-to-counselor ratios across the country, student counselors are spread too thin. Unfortunately, other burdens on a student counselor’s time spread them out even further. Today’s school counselors have graduate-level educations but are still being called upon by school administrations to perform tasks such as building master schedules, supervising classrooms, or assisting in administrative tasks.

Too often, school counselors are seen as all-position workhorses, instead of the highly specialized professionals that they are. A major push for school counselors across the nation is to institute a requirement that a minimum of 80 percent of a school counselor’s time be spent on direct and indirect student services. Anything less than that comes at a significant cost to students.

Advocating for Student Issues

Many of the most important advocacy issues for school counselors revolve around issues related to students. These issues include:

  • Preparing for a safe return to school during and after the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Reducing and removing racism and bias in schools
  • Promoting safety through conflict resolution and harassment prevention
  • Increasing access to broadband services that support online learning and student development
  • Building out community resources for mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and multiple forms of trauma

Empowering more school counselors to positions within a school’s leadership team would ensure that more students have compassionate advocates in decision-making roles.

How Have School Counselors Adjusted to the Covid-19 Pandemic?

With lockdowns and school closures impacting the ability of school counselors to operate in person, the profession has had to adapt quickly to shifting and unconventional circumstances. Since March 2020, practically all school counselors have moved their professional activities online and have managed to help students manage this period of upheaval.

The migration to an online-only environment has been challenging, but school counselors have managed to replicate many of their services in a digitally distanced fashion. It’s possible that after the pandemic ends, some of these digital offerings could stay in place, and act as a hybrid set of resources for students.

“Now that school counselors, students, and families have become accustomed to online activities, school counselors can continue to use online resources to expand their reach and share their expertise with students and parents,” Dr. Sparks says.

“In many cases, school counselors may continue providing classroom lessons and activities in an on-demand format that will allow students and parents to access content at any time when they most need it. School counselors can then follow-up to provide support and advisement that is tailored to the student’s unique needs.”

Where Can You Learn More About School Counseling?

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is the definitive source for all things school counseling. Founded in 1952, ASCA has a network of 50 state and territory associations, and a membership of approximately 40,000 school counseling professionals. ASCA promotes student success by expanding the image and influence of school counseling through leadership, advocacy, collaboration, and systemic change.

In addition to hosting the annual National School Counseling Week, ASCA also acts as the central hub for America’s school counselors. ASCA’s website offers valuable information and resources on everything from legislative affairs to standards of practice to certification and licensing requirements.

Whether you’re an aspiring, new, current, or retired school counselor, ASCA membership is a must-have.

How Can You Get Involved In National School Counseling Week?

Supporting school counselors and the work they do can be as simple as clicking a button. From participating in daily photo challenges on social media to ordering purchasable posters and stickers, it’s never been easier to show your support.

You can also help school counselors get governors, mayors, superintendents, and other public figures to sign a proclamation in support of National School Counseling Week, thus bringing heightened attention to the work of school counselors.

It’s never too early to get started. New and aspiring school counselors can follow ASCA online for updates and inspiration on Twitter (@ASCATweets) and on Instagram (@WeAreASCA). And whether you’re a student, an administrator, a school counselor, or simply an ally to a more compassionate and comprehensive education system, ASCA has a list of resources for you on its National School Counseling Week page.

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog

Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California, and he believes a strong society demands a stronger mental health system. Since early 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging topics in counseling, research, and healthcare education. Drawing upon interviews with hospital CEOs, healthcare professionals, professors, and advocacy groups, his writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best.