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The Competencies and Skills You Learn in a Master’s Program in School Counseling

While many professions allow you to work with children, becoming a school counselor is one of the most meaningful ways to contribute to the success of schoolchildren. When you become a school counselor, you provide guidance and support to students in an educational setting. Not only do you work directly with students, but you also collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents. This enables you to address students’ academic, personal, and social development and career needs. 

Traditionally, in the US, school counselors were responsible for helping students transition to college or work. However, their roles have changed over time, and now counselors work to enhance students’ overall well-being, facilitate their academic success, and promote their personal growth and development. 

If you are keen to work as a school counselor, you should consider getting a master’s degree in school counseling. Even if you are currently working, you can still become a counselor. You can enroll in an online masters school counseling program. St. Bonaventure University offers an online Master of Science in Education in School Counseling.

This comprehensive program equips you with the competencies you require to become an efficient and effective school counselor. The program prepares you for the licensed professional counselor exam. Since this program is online, you can easily manage your personal and professional obligations.

The program has a practicum and internships. You can get hands-on experience in your community. The university provides internship placement support. That makes it easy and convenient to find the right practicum and internship positions that suit your requirements. 

Importance of Getting a Master’s Degree in School Counseling

If you want to become a professional school counselor, getting the right qualifications is essential. A master’s program provides you with the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies to effectively navigate the complexities of school counseling. 

The program helps you develop a wide range of competencies and skills necessary for effective school counseling practice. You need a sound knowledge of the different counseling techniques, methods to assess and evaluate, collaboration, crisis intervention, and advocacy. You receive specialized training that focuses on the unique needs and dynamics of educational settings.

It is prudent to remember that the ages of school-going children vary. That is why you need to know how to deal with and help students of different ages. The master’s program equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the theories, principles, and practices relevant to school counseling.

As a school counselor, you must also follow ethical guidelines and professional standards to be effective. When you enroll in a master’s program in school counseling, you learn these standards and guidelines. They help you make ethical decisions, maintain confidentiality, and draw clear boundaries so that you do not cross them and become culturally competent. 

You need to be a licensed school counselor to work with students in educational settings. A good master’s program ensures you get the knowledge and practice to sit for the licensed professional counselor exam.

History and Evolution of School Counseling

If you want to grasp the foundations of school counseling fully, it is important to delve into its history and evolution. 

As stated earlier, school counseling has undergone significant changes over the years. These changes reflect the shifts in educational philosophy and societal needs. 

School counseling emerged in the early 20th century. During that time, mainly vocational guidance helped students make the right career choices based on their aptitudes and interests.

However, over time, school counseling evolved into a comprehensive approach. Today, it encompasses academic, career, and personal/social development and has become an integral part of the US educational system. It is considered an essential part of school life as it fosters holistic development in students and promotes their overall success. 

Roles and Responsibilities of a School Counselor

Before you decide to enroll in a master’s program to become a school counselor, it is important to understand the responsibilities of a counselor. While you will help students succeed academically, you will also address their personal and social needs. This role is perfect if you enjoy interacting with young people and adults. You will never have a dull moment as a school counselor and will be busy throughout your working hours. 

A school counselor is much more than just imparting words of wisdom and hoping for the best. The role of a counselor is complex and diverse. It encompasses numerous responsibilities so that students transform into functional and successful adults who contribute to the good of society. 

One of your primary responsibilities is to help students develop effective study habits and set academic goals. You also help prepare them for college or university so that they can select the right course. You monitor their academic progress and implement interventions to enhance their learning outcomes during their time in school,. 

As a part of helping students select the right course or get ready for work life, you help them explore their interests, strengths, and career aspirations. You provide information about their career options, perform career assessments, and provide guidance on college admissions, vocational training, and scholarships. 

Students come from different backgrounds and may have varied issues affecting their personal and social development. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2021-22 academic year, around 56% of students had problems with misconduct, 48% disrespected teachers and school staff, and around 49% displayed rowdiness outside of the classroom. The surveyed school attributed this to the pandemic. 

As a school counselor, you address mental health and wellness among students, facilitate conflict resolutions, and support healthy relationships between students. You achieve this through individual and group counseling. 

Recently, the US has witnessed a spate of school shootings. These incidents have been traumatic for students, their families, and school staff. Your training as a school counselor allows you to respond to crises like accidents, trauma, and emotional distress among students. If required, you collaborate with external resources and provide immediate support to the students, their families, teachers, and staff to help them cope with difficult situations. 

It is best to remember that school counselors never work in isolation. They often collaborate with parents, teachers, school administrators, and community organizations. These partnerships help you create a positive and inclusive school environment. You advocate the individual and collective needs of students and contribute to the development of effective policies and programs in the school. You also serve as a resource for the school community. 

Your master’s program in school counseling prepares you for your role and responsibility as a school counselor. It teaches you different techniques and strategies based on numerous development theories, such as Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  

As you can see, you require many skills and competencies to become a school counselor. You gain these competencies by enrolling in an accredited master’s program in school counseling. That allows you to become an effective and result-oriented counselor. 

Being a Change Leader for Students

As students prepare to leave school and enter institutions of higher education or the workforce, they are often confused. You play a role in helping students explore and plan for their future careers. You must know about career pathways, labor market trends, and educational requirements. Equipped with this knowledge, you guide students to make informed decisions about post-secondary education, training, and career choices. You learn how to guide students so that they choose the right career path aligned with their interests, passion, and acumen. 

Students may come to you with different issues that they cannot discuss with their parents or guardian. In such cases, you must maintain confidentiality, respect students’ rights, and uphold professional boundaries. You prioritize the best interests of students and maintain the trust and integrity of the counseling relationship.

Counselors also need to know how to counsel students. That is a major part of your role as a school counselor. You need active listening skills, effective communication skills, and empathy. These skills enable you to establish trust and rapport with students. Using your counseling skills, you can hold individual or group counseling sessions. These sessions guide students when they face personal, academic, or social challenges. Counseling can also help when students, schoolteachers and staff face a crisis. 

However, you cannot counsel students if you do not know their strengths and weaknesses. That means learning and understanding the different methods of assessment and evaluation so that you become proficient in them.

These techniques allow you to understand students’ strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Using a variety of methods, you administer and interpret assessments so that you find out about each student’s career interests, academic performance, and mental health. Remember, you need outstanding data analysis and interpretation skills for this purpose. This enables you to develop appropriate interventions.

If you want to lead and initiate positive changes in your school, you need leadership skills. You can utilize these skills to participate in decision-making, promote policies that support students’ well-being, and advocate the importance of comprehensive counseling programs.

Many schools are cutting budgets, which could affect the student counseling department. So, having the right skills allows you to position yourself as an advocate for systemic changes. You can make sure that the school does not compromise the needs of all students. 

You may also be called upon to intervene in case of a crisis. This requires assessing the severity of the crisis and providing the proper support or intervention. At times, it may be necessary to coordinate with school administrators, mental health professionals, or emergency services. When you have the expertise in handling and managing crises, you can ensure the safety and well-being of students during challenging times.

Conflicts are part and parcel of school life, and more often than not, you will be called upon to mediate and resolve conflicts among students. Whether it is bullying in school or online trolling, you need to act to make the student feel safe and secure. This involves facilitating constructive communication, promoting empathy and understanding, and guiding individuals or groups.

Using these skills, you steer students toward resolution and reconciliation. In addition, you also help students acquire these skills to empower them to handle conflicts. These skills help students throughout their lives, even when they become adults. 

Working Within a Diverse Environment

The US is a melting pot of cultures, and this diversity is visible in schools. So, without cultural competency, you will be lost in school. Every student has a different culture, and you need to understand that to be an effective counselor. Culture can forge a student’s experience or prevent them from expressing their thoughts or opinions. This can have a profound effect on students, especially if they come from a restrictive culture. 

Cultural competence enables you to understand the cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds of students and their families. When you spend time respecting and recognizing diverse perspectives, you can effectively address the unique needs and challenges students from different cultural backgrounds face.

No school counselor works alone. You need to collaborate and work closely with teachers, parents, administrators, and other stakeholders. Building strong partnerships enables you to create a supportive and inclusive school environment. That, in turn, allows you to address the needs of the students. 

Collaborating With Parents and the Community

As a school counselor, you can do just so much and no more. Your knowledge and understanding of students may not be complete. Their situation at home, relationships with parents and siblings, the immediate surroundings, and friends outside of school can affect a child. That is why you must rope in parents and family members to ensure holistic support. When you speak to parents, you will gain valuable insights about each student. That allows you to create a tailored counseling approach that truly benefits the students. 

Involving parents and family in the counseling process can be tricky. Some parents will be more than happy to participate in the process, while others may object to it. So, you need effective communication and persuasion skills to build partnerships with parents and families. It is also an excellent way to cultivate a strong home-school connection. 

It may be a surprise to learn that school counselors also often partner with community organizations and agencies. Many times these organizations are a way to provide help that you, as a school counselor, may not be able to offer. 

Working in conjunction with community resources enables you to establish partnerships, understand the different resources the community offers, and get to know other professionals who may provide additional support services that students and their families may need. Using community resources, you can provide students with comprehensive support, such as professional therapy, that extends beyond the school setting.

The Way Forward

The field of education evolves and changes constantly. So, the role of a school counselor also changes. Hence, it is important to be aware of the changes and focus on professional development so you know how to incorporate them into your counseling sessions. 

A good way to stay abreast of the latest developments is to focus on reading the latest research, trends, and best practices in counseling and education. You can also participate in workshops and conferences or join professional organizations to expand your knowledge and skills. 

Furthermore, you can think of using technology to improve your counseling efforts. You can check online to see the digital tools and platforms to plan your counseling sessions, send reminders to students, create a counseling calendar, and access external mental health resources. By incorporating technology into your practice, you can reach more students and provide timely and accessible services to them when the need arises. 

Your knowledge, passion, and skills have a profound impact on students and their academic, career, and personal growth. That is why it is necessary to hone the skills to make you a well-rounded school counselor.

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