Utilizing School Counselors to Promote SEL in the Classroom

Some would argue that teacher demands have increased over time. In a publication written by policy fellows of TeachPlus MA, a teacher is directly quoted by saying, “Because my school is underfunded, I am not only the English Language Arts and ESL teacher, I am also the social studies teacher because that job was cut. I am the librarian… I am often a counselor. I am the registrar creating grade reports and the attendance officer calling home…” One could argue many teachers across the state and nation feel similarly.

A solution to this widespread concern for teachers is intentionally collaborating with your School Counselor to revise their role in schools and classrooms. The following blog highlights and identifies ways you, as a teacher, can collaborate with your School Counselor to promote social-emotional learning in your safe haven, the working-living-breathing classroom.

Incorporate a Plan for a School Counselor to spend more time in your classroom.

The unique and frustrating aspect of being a School Counselor is that we are qualified to do many actions in support of students. The problem is that often School Counselors’ schedules and demands are not properly balanced. If you can find some time to plan (my favorite!) with your School Counselor, I would recommend doing so. There are so many innovative ways that, as a team, you can plan how to collaborate. What would this look like? It could look like…a Counselor in your room for one period a day, rotating homerooms throughout the week, solely checking for executive functioning skill development which has been pre-planned into your content curriculum. It could look like a Counselor in the classroom as the teacher is teaching, and if a student has a meltdown or issue, the Counselor can attempt to address it within the classroom, or physically close to the classroom, in order to decrease out of classroom time for students.

In order for this to work, and not feel as if another thing is added on to the Counselor’s plate, you can use the MA Model Framework 2.0 as a guide for your collaboration. This way, you are speaking both the language of your content and of the counselor’s world. This could also be a springboard for envisioning a creative and new model that produces results for students. Additionally, find existing resources about SEL that you can share with one another to help you build a shared language about your work together. (TransformEd has free resources online that provide definitions, descriptions of student behaviors, and strategies to implement in the classroom.)

In order for us to effectively collaborate, this would require us to let go of our traditional view of counselors in their offices all day long. Many times, this simply looks like counselors teaching explicit lessons on SEL, with no follow up or data tracking to see if these lessons are actually translating into the classroom. To truly incorporate your Counselor within your classroom and improve SEL learning, why not collaborate? It would challenge us as educators to be the most effective at time management.

Restorative Justice Circles & Practices

This past year, working in grade 6, I was able to collaborate with my teaching team, and came into classrooms about once a week to lead restorative justice circles with each homeroom. As the Counselor, I took the lead, while teachers were great supports for our various circle topics.

Since this was my first year, I would note that there are many opportunities for improvements, but to be able to execute this on some level was a great experience. There are many curricula out there; I happened to use Teaching Restorative Practice with Classroom Circles.

Restorative practices can also be utilized for teaching alternative behaviors, rather than punitive punishments. If you are in a school system which has historically only relied on detentions and suspensions for consequences, consider some natural consequences with your School Counselor. These may be more effective, and actually teach alternative positive behaviors.

For example, two students had gotten into a physical fight. They did receive a “disciplinary action” but coupled with that action was an opportunity for restoration to the community they took away from. We explained to the students that one of the ways they took away from our community was creating an environment that could be emotionally triggering for students who were just walking by their fight. They could have unintentionally instilled negative feelings and emotions to bystanders. As a result, we decided together that a way to instill positive feelings and emotions to bystanders was for them to work on our garden courtyard restoration project. Many students and passerby staff have already commented on the positive work that has already been completed, and these two students can and will add to this positivity.

This is just one example of what restorative practices can look like. Counselors can be an important addition to classroom restorative practices as they typically have more time than a teacher does to engage in the deep level of conversation necessary for overall impact on the student.

Components of Student-Centered Learning: Agency & Open Walled Learning

Many schools are exploring student-centered learning. One component of this exploration, as defined by Education Reimagined “Learners at the Center: Practitioner’s Lexicon” is Learner Agency. The authors define Learner Agency as “…involving the availability of meaningful choice and the learner’s wherewithal for exercising that choice, such that they develop into responsible owners of their own learning” (pg. 6).

The Student-Led Conference is a great way to tap into a Learner’s agency and choice. One school in particular, University Park Campus School in Worcester, MA, has provided great resources to model their school-wide student led conferences practice. The following is a link to a video highlights this work: Student Led Meetings: Empowering Student Voice. Since a large part of the role of the School Counselor is developing student advocacy, they typically will be willing to engage in collaboration regarding this project. Working alongside a Counselor, you can plan when all of the pre-work will be done, the explicit instruction regarding advocacy skills and practice, as well as the actual meeting times. Again, Counselors should have more time for deeper one-on-one conversations with the student in regards to advocacy skill development than a teacher. The teacher brings the content knowledge to the table, as well as instruction for specific advocacy skills in their content area.

Another area of collaboration to consider with the School Counselor is providing Open Walled Learning Opportunities. Again, defined by Education Reimagined, “…the experience is not walled in”. This can often look like a field trip, which is something the School Counselor can help plan and facilitate. These possibilities can be endless, and with collaboration with the School Counselor and solid planning, this can be a great way to develop a true Student-Centered Learning environment, develop Learner Agency and Engagement, and work towards increasing student outcomes.

These are just three suggestions for collaborating with School Counselors. Get out and start planning, collaborating, learning, and growing!

By |2019-10-29T14:59:24-05:00October 29, 2019|

About the Author:

April Brunelle is a Middle School Counselor at TechBoston Academy in Dorchester, MA. She has worked at the middle school level for 5 years in both the city of Boston as well as Fall River, Massachusetts. Her interests within counseling include preparing students for college and career development at the MS level, restorative justice, and School Counseling curriculum planning. She will be completing a Yoga Teacher Training this winter.

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