In discussions surrounding the implementation of social emotional learning in schools, there is so much advice offered to educators and district leaders. However, there are fewer discussions surrounding the role school counselors play in SEL implementation and the benefits of this for the counselors themselves (although we have written about this here). But excluding counselors from these common discussions is counterproductive for SEL progress and only undermines their importance. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) confirms that “school counselors promote mindsets and behaviors in all grade levels that enhance the learning process and create a culture of college and career readiness for all students in the area of social/emotional development” (2017). With this in mind, this blog sets outs to highlight the most effective ways school counselors can implement SEL in their schools and districts.
1. Work collaboratively with teachers
Underfunding, low teacher retention rates, and overburdening of responsibilities are often major barriers to the daily performance of school district staff. But that is not to say that SEL can’t thrive in districts despite these. In fact, as part of the SEL execution process, it is highly encouraged that the division of responsibilities between school staff is clearly defined, helping improve collaboration between staff. To read our suggestions on how to divide these responsibilities, click here, and for more information on appropriate and inappropriate activities for school counselors, read this guide.
Additionally, counselors should try to be as present in classrooms as their schedule allows. The more time school counselors can spend in classrooms, the more they can get a sense of how students behave. This will ultimately improve the quality of these sessions since counselors can tailor their SEL strategies to the areas in which they see the student struggling. Furthermore, if a counselor is present during a class when a student begins to display inappropriate behavior, they can intervene in real-time as opposed to intervening at a later date. This leaves any intervention processes to those best equipped and qualified to deal with them - school counselors themselves. ASCA also outlines that the role of school counselors is to use indirect services, such as collaborating and consulting with staff, families, and communities, in order to “promote a school environment designed to propel students toward positive mindsets” (2017).
2. Align personal values with those encouraged to students
The more in-tune counselors are with their own emotions, the more capable they will be of practicing empathy with the students that need their help. For example, in order to be able to encourage patience in a teenager struggling with a short temper, it would be best if their school counselor does not get angry and shout during sessions with them. Or in a scenario where a 4th-grade student is struggling to work well with others, they should be witnessing cooperative teamwork from the adult role models in their school. All in all, the best way to teach SEL skills is to model them, and school counselors should consider this when working with students: “As [SEL] skills are modeled, counselors will be more aware of their own actions and model these traits to other groups… By operating with a SEL viewpoint, both the modeler and follower will grow. As a result, the entire school will become more emotionally aware as SEL is paid forward” (Bolling, 2021).
The best way to teach SEL skills is to model them, and school counselors should consider this when working with students.
3. Promote adult SEL among staff
In the same vein, to better promote SEL amongst students, it is wise to also promote SEL among staff. Adult SEL brings many benefits to educators and other staff working in school districts, and school counselors can play their part in encouraging this by sharing SEL strategies with their colleagues. School counselors are natural advocators of student wellbeing, but why not share that encouragement with other adult staff, too? This is not to say that counselors should divert their efforts to promoting SEL instead of focusing on students, but rather to use the resources, research, and strategies already accessible and familiar to them to also promote adult wellbeing. This infusion of adult SEL into school-wide SEL strategies will help reignite the school counselor’s role in social emotional learning promotion and advocacy, a role often made difficult by district and national hurdles (Van Velsor, 2009).
Although there are countless ways school counselors can help implement social emotional learning in their schools, the main ways recommended by Satchel Pulse are to work collaboratively with teaching staff, to ensure personal and taught values are aligned, and to also encourage adult SEL practices. School counselors should reconsider the stereotypes surrounding their job role (which often entail sitting at a desk in their office) and instead consider being as present as possible in the day-to-day school lives of their students.
American School Counselor Association. (2017). The School Counselor and Social/Emotional Development. Read it here.
Bolling, R. (2021). Social-Emotional Learning for the Role of School Counselor. Read it here.
Van Velsor, P. (2009). School counselors as social-emotional learning consultants: Where do we begin? Professional School Counseling, 13, 50-58.