If you're considering getting a school counseling degree and pursuing a career as a school counselor, then it's important to understand what you're getting into. Being a school counselor is an extremely fulfilling career path, but it takes a particular skill set to succeed. School counselors help all different types of people from diverse backgrounds. Each student that they work with is facing a unique situation that requires a tailored approach. Having the appropriate set of skills and personality traits will allow you to thrive in your role and help countless students.
Working as a school counselor is very involved and can be hard at times, but if you're passionate about helping youth, then it's worth it. You'll likely be working with hundreds of students at any given time, of varying ages and needs. You will often need to draw on your school counseling degree lessons and use your skillset to handle each situation with the care and expertise that it deserves.
Knowing the skills and traits that will help you in this career path is essential to begin to strengthen and work on them. These 10 skills will help you succeed and grow in your career as a school counselor.
As a school counselor, you will be dealing with children who are often scared, nervous, traumatized, and reserved. They won't share their challenges with just anyone and so they have to feel comfortable talking to their school counselor. Many won't even share their problems with their own parents! Being friendly and warm, regardless of the situation, will help make students feel comfortable and foster a sense of trust. The more students trust you, the more they will open up to you. Being able to open the doors of communication with students will allow you to use your expertise to help them.
Younger students, such as those in elementary school, will fear anyone who is mean or abrasive. Older students are usually more stressed out and need someone to vent to but won't care to do so with someone they don't like. You also need to be friendly with parents and teachers. You want to form a good connection with both parties since it's vital for the student's well-being that everyone is on the same page. When you’re studying for your school counseling degree your professors will likely stress the importance of friendliness when pursuing this career path.
- Good listener
School counselors do a lot of listening. They will likely do more listening than talking. It is standard in any counseling career path that you are there as a sounding board, allowing people to get out the feelings that they've been bottling up. Sometimes, students will come to their own realizations just but talking through their concerns themselves.
You need to listen carefully to the students' struggles so you can recommend the best course of action for their particular situation. The last thing you want to do is give an impressionable student the wrong advice, so listening skills are critical. Always listen first and wait until the student finishes talking before asking questions. Students often lack self-confidence and feel like they aren't being heard, so interrupting them in any way is a big no-no.
School counselors also need to possess the skill to listen to what students don't say, such as if they are avoiding talking about something. You will learn about how to recognize this avoidance in your school counseling degree and can use that knowledge to read between the lines when listening to your students.
Self-confidence is inspiring for students, who often lack it themselves. If you want students to trust your guidance and listen to your advice, you need to be sure of yourself. If you're not confident in your skills or what you are saying, then you can't expect the students to be confident in you either. Studying hard during your school counseling degree and continuously taking workshops and programs to sharpen your knowledge will help you go into work, feeling confident in your abilities.
Knowing your worth as an individual and as a professional will motivate students to work on their own self-development. When you give them praise, they will believe it themselves, and when you tell them that they need to work on something, they will trust your judgment.
Since school counselors are dealing with hundreds of students at a time, all with various needs, multi-tasking skills are essential to avoid burnout. The job is tedious, and you're often coordinating meetings between students, parents, and teachers with external resources and community organizations. You might be planning and developing workshop content and working on a student's college application all at the same time. Being able to juggle multiple tasks at one time, and prioritize things effectively, takes a specific skill set.
Practice managing your tasks while taking your school counseling degree. You will have to study for tests, do research, complete assignments, plus everything else you have going on in your life. That, in itself, will give you some experience to draw on when you enter the working world. Building your multi-tasking skill set will help reduce your stress when working as a school counselor and allow you to remain level-headed when working with students.
Although you need to be a good multi-tasker and good at planning out your time, you also need to be flexible. You will be dealing with many emergencies, or students who are experiencing trauma and crisis. They always come first, before other administrative tasks or anything else. You need to be able to roll with the punches and adapt when students need you.
If you're working in an elementary or middle school, a teacher might send you a student who has had a temper tantrum in class. You might have been in the middle of doing some reporting or chatting on the phone to one of your contacts, but you need to drop everything and deal with the situation at hand. They could also send you a student who has lost a loved one and is struggling to cope and lashes out on a fellow student in the class. Knowing that your daily tasks and plans can change in the blink of an eye and handling them calmly is an essential skill for a school counselor.
Showing a level of understanding and sincerity to struggling students will show them they are not alone, and they have support. In your school counseling degree, you will learn about many of the situations you will encounter with students, and how to approach them with compassion. That doesn’t mean that you have to become emotional, but it means using supportive language and a tone that is genuine. You can also offer advice based on your personal experiences that students might resonate with.
- Critical thinking
While it's of utmost importance to be empathetic, it's also essential to approach situations critically. You may even feel quite emotional about the problem yourself, but critical thinking is key to reaching a constructive resolution. Critical thinking skills are useful in dealing with students with behavioral and social issues and advising students in their career and post-secondary education paths.
If a student has a concern or question, school counselors need to draw on all their training from their school counseling degree. They can then pair that with everything they know about the student to come to the best solution. They need to understand all the variables at play in each unique situation and evaluate the options before giving any guidance or advice to students. When dealing with more emotional issues, such as bullying, or family abuse, school counselors mustn't let emotions get the best of them and instead think critically to provide the best possible solution for the student.
- Appreciation for diversity
School counselors will be working with students from various cultural, religious, and financial backgrounds. No two students will have the same set of circumstances, but they must receive equal attention and care. School counselors must approach each student the same way, without bias or judgment based on their backgrounds. They will work with students of various sexual orientations, races, and socioeconomic statuses, and they need thorough respect for each person.
School counselors need to understand the diverse community that they serve to ensure they do their job effectively. Getting to know each student through genuine and friendly conversation is the best way to ensure you respect their unique background, and can tailor their counseling accordingly. For example, if a student has firm Christian beliefs and will only go to a Christian university or college, you shouldn't recommend them non-Christian educational facilities.
Understanding the students that you work with, and respecting their culture, will strengthen the bond you have with them as a school counselor, allowing you to help them better.
While listening is a massive component of working as a school counselor, communicating effectively is just as important. Youth are impressionable and can quickly get the wrong idea if you can't communicate effectively. They will often hear what they want to hear unless you can create a substantial level of understanding with them. It's essential that you can communicate your thoughts and ideas with them in a way that they can comprehend by getting on their level and speaking to them as friends, rather than in a scolding tone.
School counselors need to adapt their communication style to fit the student they are working with. They shouldn't use complicated terminology that students won't understand, since it will just make them feel inferior. There needs to be an open dialogue between counselors and students so that they can bounce ideas off each other to come to the right conclusion.
Communicating with your classmates when studying for your school counseling degree is a great way to build your communication skills. You can roleplay scenarios by coming up with student problems and trying to work out a solution.
- Sense of humor
While this may not seem like a skill you need for any job, having a good sense of humor is extremely important as a school counselor. Each day school counselors work through traumatic and uncomfortable situations with their students. Students might be dealing with less than enjoyable problems, and injecting a bit of humor into your sessions could be what turns their day around.
While you need to be careful where you crack jokes, laughing with students can strengthen your relationship with them and make them feel more comfortable. It also shows that you're human and not someone that students should be nervous or scared around. Humor can be therapeutic and helps keep meetings that might otherwise be quite heavy, just a little bit lighter.
If you've read through these skills and it sounds like you, then you're already on your way to becoming a successful school counselor. Understanding the skills and traits that will make you more effective at your job allows you to work on them. The more experience you get, the more confident you'll be, and the better you'll be able to offer guidance to students who are struggling.
During your school counseling degree, you'll get the chance to explore these skills and learn exercises you can do to develop them further. You will also gain the knowledge that you need to be confident, think critically, multi-task, and communicate effectively.
Pursuing a career as a school counselor will allow you to help hundreds, even thousands of students throughout your career. You will act as a role-model for them, guiding them forward to their future success.Updated Date: 16 October 2020, 13:11