The School Counselor: An Ally for Students, Parents and Teachers

A young student has trouble concentrating in class. Parents worry over their child’s poor grades. A teacher struggles with a disruptive student in the classroom.  

Enter the school counselor — a family ally in fostering a child’s learning and career future. School counselors help students develop strategies to manage emotions and set goals. They work with parents, teachers and administrators to help the child thrive scholastically, emotionally and socially. They are trained to assess the student’s specific needs, including learning disabilities and mental health issues that the school may need to accommodate.  

But while school counselors are mental health professionals, they are not therapists. Their primary focus is the child’s academic success. They may determine that a child’s school struggles may stem from behavioral or emotional problems, but they are not tasked with treating them. Instead, they can refer students to community resources and long-term mental health counseling if needed.  

School counselors’ roles vary from state to state, and even from school district to school district. But these professionals generally are available to:

  • Provide one-on-one help to a student experiencing bullying, a family crisis or other upheaval in their environment
  • Assess whether a child is hitting developmental milestones that are important to their academic progress
  • Collaborate with students, parents and teachers to promote students’ well-being and success 

In some cases, the school counselor will call the parents when the student:

  • Has trouble regulating emotions at school
  • Needs evaluation or testing
  • Slumps academically despite having no learning disabilities
  • Is trying to harm themselves or others 

The school counselor’s role also varies at different educational stages. In elementary schools, they may help teach social, emotional and foundational skills for academic success. In middle schools, they may help students transition from childhood to adolescence, helping them manage relationships and understand their identities. High school counselors tend to focus on preparing students for higher education or vocational plans but can also help with social and emotional challenges.  

Here are some simple tips for parents on working with a school counselor: 

Identify the school counselor. Call the school front office and ask for the counselor’s name and contact information. Or check the school website for specific information about the school counseling program. 

Set up a meeting. Schedule a time to talk with the counselor about your concerns over your child’s school experience. Let the counselor know of any issues at home that might be affecting your child’s motivation, focus or mood. The counselor can strategize with you on how to address any problems, including making sure teachers are aware of any issues that might be interfering with the students’ learning.  

Make your child aware. Advise your child that the school counselor is their advocate, whether they’re struggling with bullying, feeling anxious about schoolwork or having trouble making friends. They should know the counselor aims to help them perform well and steer them to resources they may need.  

Understand the boundaries. Remember that the counselor provides a safe space for your child to share private thoughts and emotions — including those they have not discussed with you. Unless the counselor is concerned that the child is a danger to themselves or others, the interactions with the student will remain confidential.