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Opinion | It’s time to applaud and support Michigan school counselors

National School Counseling Week begins Monday, and that’s really good news for all of us.  Most of the time, this celebration of school counselors comes after the Super Bowl. With the Super Bowl coming February 12th this year, you have ample opportunity to throw a serious counselor celebration, replete with guacamole, chicken wings and lots and lots of gratitude.

Patrick O’Connor
A school counselor since 1984, Patrick O’Connor is a past president of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling

And Michigan families have much to be thankful for when it comes to our school counselors:

  • Parents who may remember their school counselor as the football coach with too much time on his hands will be relieved to know Michigan has extremely high standards for its school counselors. Every counselor must be credentialed, and receive extensive training in a wide array of counseling topics.  This training is typically completed with an internship of hundreds — that’s hundreds — of hours.
  • Michigan law requires most Michigan counselors receive updated training in college and career counseling in order to keep their credential. Michigan is the only state with this specific requirement, making our counselors the best trained postsecondary counselors in the nation.
  • Federal and state funding has recently been made available that can be used to hire more school counselors. With an increased demand for mental health services in a post-COVID era, these additional professionals couldn’t come at a better time, as counselors are caring, connected adults who can help students in need lead stronger, healthier lives.

This isn’t to say Michigan counselors don’t have challenges:

  • While more school counselors are on the job in Michigan, the state’s student-to-counselor ratio stands at 615 to one—the third highest ratio in the nation, according to the American School Counseling Association (ASCA).  This is headway from the days when the ratio was well over 700 to one, but it is a far cry from the ASCA recommended ratio of 250 to one.
  • Counselors often find their work with students hampered by required duties that have little, if anything, to do with counseling, as counselors are too often used as lunchroom supervisors, testing coordinators, and emergency substitute teachers.  Counselors develop strong group — based and individual strategies to meet student needs, but these strategies are hard to implement when counselors can’t see students.  And if your best memory of your school counselor is the person who changed your schedule, that isn’t a counseling duty, either.
  • Administrative support of school counselors is inconsistent from school to school.  Administrators often begin their careers with little understanding of what counselors do, which can lead to the assignment of those duties that aren’t related to counseling. It can also make it difficult for counselors to establish a schoolwide counseling curriculum, a tool that, just like the English curriculum and the math curriculum, is key to creating a strong learning and living atmosphere in schools.

Given all of this, what’s the best way you can celebrate these counselors and the work they do?

  • Thank them, both during National School Counseling Week, and whenever they help your child. One of the reasons some people don’t know what counselors do is because good counseling is usually done without fanfare — it’s important, but it isn’t public. Your thanks is a gift to these behind-the-scenes professionals, who arrive early and stay late every school day.
  • Ask counselors what you can do to support their work. Counselors often need help spreading the word about the services they offer, including mental health programs, college scholarships, and more. If you have ideas on how to increase awareness of counseling services, let them know. Letting them know you’d like to help increase awareness is an even greater gift.
  • Put in a good word for the counselors with the school’s administration. Urging them to make sure counselors are engaged in counseling tasks, and not leftover administrative duties, is one of the greatest gifts you can offer a counselor. Don’t hesitate to ask a principal what can be done to keep counselors focused on student needs. And if that state and federal funding is still around, ask about adding a counselor or two to your school’s roster.

With only a handful of school counselors (if that many) in each building, it’s too easy for counselors to think their work isn’t understood or valued.  National School Counseling Week is an opportunity to celebrate their important work; make the most of it — if you do that, it will be more than OK if you leave the guacamole at home.

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