Student support staff (school counselors, case managers, mentors, social workers etc.) are rarely central to education reform conversations, but in the era of personalization, their knowledge and expertise can greatly benefit the changing classroom. Students and teachers can rely on these staff to bridge social/emotional strategies with academic learning. Emotions, research shows, direct students’ learning processes, and students are more likely to thrive academically when educators nurture staff-student relationships, teach emotional regulation strategies, and provide shelter from toxic stress (Mind, Brain, and Education: The Students at the Center Series). When considering opportunities for improvement and impact as a school community transitions to becoming more student-centered, counselors can play a crucial role.
To support the deeper integration of support staff in a student-centered learning environment, the Students at the Center Hub team interviewed a group of counselors to talk about their experiences in schools, some of which, in the process of adopting student-centered learning principles, have developed a set of tools to assist school communities in deepening the role of counselors.
Understanding the issues
Interviews with high school counselors from New Hampshire and Massachusetts supported the idea that there is room for deeper integration of counselors in a student-centered school. In these interviews, the same concerns surfaced:
- Counselors felt disconnected from the larger school community, and in some cases underinformed about the student-centered changes happening around them.
- Counselors felt their time was stretched too thin to meet demands to foster student agency, and they welcomed tech tools for greater efficiency.
- Counselors wanted more directed professional development opportunities to learn about the student-centered methods underway in the classrooms in their schools.
Creating tools to support
Based on these interviews, the Students at the Center team developed two resources to promote greater counselor inclusion and agency:
- A counselor advocacy letter to communicate the counselor’s value to reform efforts.
- An overview of technology resources that might alleviate the challenge of fostering student agency while allowing counselors to contribute more fully as participants in their school communities.
While both these tools were crafted for use by counselors, school leaders and teachers may find them useful to learn more about the counselor experience in a student-centered environment.
We hope these resources can be a reference for educators as they continue to design effective, student-centered approaches to teaching and learning. Of course, the tools by themselves are not a comprehensive strategy for improved integration of student support staff in the reform effort, but they can start a meaningful conversation to implement change.