One misconception about social emotional learning is that it only serves to improve the competencies of young students. However, there are also many advantages to SEL practices for adults that should not be forgotten about when implementing them in schools. Following our series dedicated to SEL and the benefits for teachers, we’re now switching the spotlight to school counselors.
According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), school counselors “play a critical role in ensuring that students get opportunities to have safe, enriching experiences in and out of school, and in helping prepare students for postsecondary success” (2019). The benefits of school counselors’ presence in school districts have been long-reported as important in the development of student learning, behavior, and mental health (Reback, 2010; Carrell & Hoekstra, 2014). Unfortunately, these benefits are reduced significantly if a counselor’s work environment renders it unfeasible.
Although social emotional learning cannot solve the root issues of many workplace issues that often cause stress and burnout, such as feeling underpaid or unsafe, it can still help school counselors in many ways. Here are our top four ways that school counselors can reap the benefits of SEL.
1. Reduce burnout and demoralization
One of the biggest barriers to school counselors succeeding at their job is that, like most school district staff throughout the country, they are often overworked and prone to burnout and demoralization. In 2019, the ASCA found that, on average across all schools, for every 1 school counselor, there were 464 students. This is almost double the recommended ratio of 250 students per 1 school counselor, which means that the workload counselors often face is unmanageable. SEL can help ease this problem in two main ways.
Firstly, embedding social emotional learning into school curriculums improves how the school fares on a day-to-day basis. In fact, a study taken in 2019 showed that after completion of an SEL program, 24% of students had improved social behaviors and 22% showed fewer conduct problems (Durlak and Mahoney, 2019). Teaching students how to express themselves via SEL-inspired methods and encouraging them to deal with their emotions through positive tactics such as mindfulness means that counselors can help students in calmer, more constructive environments and away from problematic behavior. Ultimately, this means that a counselor’s job becomes easier, more rewarding, and more beneficial to the wellbeing of students, and reduces feelings of demoralization.
Secondly, SEL can help school counselors to deal with their own emotions, and help them reduce the effects of stress in the long run. Learning how to check in with emotions using self-awareness can be a highly effective strategy for school counselors, especially those prone to feeling overwhelmed or short-tempered. Developed SEL competencies can then help counselors recognize and avoid triggers and strengthen positive coping mechanisms for any triggers that cannot be avoided and reduce the chance of burnout.
2. Greater workplace satisfaction, greater impact on schools
By recognizing their own emotions, school counselors can hone in on the areas in their lives which cause the most distress. They can then use self-reflection abilities to pinpoint the areas in their school district where they’d like to see improvement. Following this, using social awareness and relationship skills, they can communicate these thoughts with other staff members. This will help develop an engaged, positive work environment and ultimately lead to higher workplace satisfaction.
The benefits of school counselors’ presence in school districts have been long-reported as important in the development of student learning, behavior, and mental health
3. Stronger division of responsibilities
Sometimes lines between the responsibilities of teachers and those of counselors become blurred, with teachers often taking on intervention responsibilities that should ideally be directed to school counselors (Barile, n.d.). In addition, the SEL progress that can be achieved by them alone is limited, and there must be a cohesive, unified effort in order to improve students’ social emotional learning. This means that teacher effort is just as critical to SEL progress as that of school counselors, and deciding which responsibilities lay with which staff member is hugely important. Whilst these decisions may differ from school to school, our recommended divisions of SEL responsibilities are as follows:
- Conversing with other school district staff members, such as school counselors themselves, to draw up an SEL implementation plan.
- Carrying out SEL practices during core lessons, such as ELA or math.
- Staying vigilant during lessons to watch out for students who may be struggling in certain SEL competencies.
- Feeding this information back to school counselors, either in-person or via a centralized SEL solution tool.
- Monitoring student SEL progress on a closer, daily basis.
- For more information on the relationship between teachers and social emotional learning, click here.
- Conversing with other school district staff members, such as teachers, to draw up an SEL implementation plan.
- Preparing and giving SEL competency-specific guest lessons, either giving targeted lessons on an ad-hoc basis for classes struggling with shared social emotional troubles (such as the ability to work together) or, for classes with fewer intervention needs, giving general SEL improvement lessons on a regular basis.
- Grouping students into tiers based on their current SEL competency levels and needs. Automatic tiering methods can make this easier for counselors.
- Embedding SEL into their counseling methods, ensuring that students with specific intervention needs receive the necessary guidance.
- Monitoring student SEL progress from a high-level perspective.
4. Save time
Assessing and monitoring students’ SEL progress can be time-consuming, taking up effort and resources that may already be in short supply for school counselors. Using a centralized SEL tool, such as Satchel Pulse, can help school counselors identify which students need SEL help and place them into suggested intervention tiers. They may also work as a grouping tool so competency-specific targeted lessons can be put into place for the right students. This saves counselors time and resources, eliminating the need for complex spreadsheets and other administrative chores. Counselors can also stop having to rely on mere anecdotal evidence to support student interventions, which can often lead to students not getting the support they need in the right areas. Additionally, student counselors can also enjoy the benefit of pre-made, targeted content being readily available, which will ultimately save them time.
School counselors can reap many benefits from implementing social emotional learning into their counseling processes and from SEL being embedded cohesively throughout their districts. Examples of these benefits include increased ability to manage stress and poor mental health (thus reducing burnout and demoralization) and the potential to save both time and resources when managing workloads.
American School Counselor Association. (2019). School Counselors Matter. Read it here.
Barile, N. (n.d.). What Teachers Need to Know about the Role of a School Social Worker. WGU. From: https://www.wgu.edu/
Carrell, S. E., & Hoekstra, M. (2014). Are school counselors an effective educational input? Economic Letters, 125, 66-69. doi: 10.1016/j.econlet.2014.07.020
Durlak, J.A., and Mahoney, J.L. (2019). The Practical Benefits of an SEL Program. Read it here.
Reback, R. (2010). Schools’ mental health services and young children’s emotions, behavior and learning. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 29 (4), 698-727. doi: 10.1002/pam.20528